MTB South Africa: Shawn Benjamin mountain biking in the Negev desert in the vicinity of Metzoke Dragot.
While I was in Israel recently I borrowed a mountain bike and experienced the most exhilarating trails imaginable. I was based in the Dead Sea Valley on Kibbutz Mizphe Shalem which is about 60km south of Jerusalem almost 450 metres below sea level. The numerous trails included Wadi Pratzim, Mount Sdom, trails around Mizphe Shalem and Metzoke Dragot and the Sugar Trail which was my favorite of all the Holy Land trails.
This trail is an old trade route used to transport spices and condiments from the Dead Sea towards Jerusalem. Today, with the help of the modern mountain bike and a shuttle to the top, we enjoy the trail in the opposite direction. The Sugar Trail ride starts in Ma’ale Adumim, adjacent to Jerusalem, and one very quickly finds oneself isolated and in a completely different world…. There is nothing like the quiet, solitude and peace of the desert!
The riding of this trail is fairly technical, although the trail is one of the most frequented in the Judean desert and thus is usually in quite good condition. The rolling surface is very fast, part of the charm of riding in the desert – but beware surprise rocks and gravel in the turns. One can lose grip out there in a blink. An hour into the ride one will be feeling a lot more confident and at home on this very particular trail surface.
The views towards the Dead Sea along the way are scenic, and give good opportunity for a little rest (sorely needed, because although this trail is shuttled from top to bottom starting at 600 meters altitude and ending at 350 meters BELOW sea level, there are a couple of steep climbs along the way as one passes between valleys). Zooming along some of the fast open sections riders have the opportunity to really let loose and carve up some turns, freeride style, but we must always remember that the desert is a fragile environment, a balanced eco system and we try to leave it as we found it. The trail ends at Kibbutz Almog, next to the Dead Sea, which is where you would have parked a second vehicle to get back.
Israel, being a very small country (smaller than the Kruger National Park) it is very easy to do a ride in the morning and then spend a productive balance of the day visiting one of the many attractions such as Masada, Jerusalem, Dead Sea and a host of other places. It is of course well known as the melting pot of various religions and a fascinating place to visit for this reason alone.