Wednesday, June 6, 68 k

OK, this is it. The day I was warned about. It's the beginning of the rock-throwing region plus there's some sort of ugly climb. I'm up at 4:45. I'm rolling at 5:55 am. Dang! - I'm still 15 minutes later getting started than I could've been! I have two dog events. I sprint, and win. Jeez, Are we back to that part of the trip! Lot's of kids out. Those that show interest have candy tossed at them. One or two kids get close and sort of half-jump at me, but no real issue develops.

Last night's details seem to be accurate. Better the devil you know. I stop and snap a photo of what must be my first wadi. It's an enjoyable drop. I play it safe, speed-wise, due to the sharp bends, but I'm still having a great time. At what looks like the lowest point, I pass a bus that had passed me minutes earlier, then follow the bend to the right, starting to pedal to maintain some momentum on what might be the beginning of the climb out. There is a bunch of water on the asphalt-too late to avoid it-I'm going to get splash-marks on myself-front tire is shaking-out-of-control - sh*t - I'm losing it-bike slips out from under me - I'm under bike - I hear bus - it's on my tail! I'm sliding and trying to dig my nails into the asphalt to scoot myself, and the bike I'm attached, to the side of the road before the bus rolls over me. He's around me - he's passed me! I jump up and wave to indicate I'm OK, but he doesn't even slow-down.

Wow!

I take an inventory: forearm, just below the elbow, scraped up, as is the left leg, just below the knee; my hip stings, but it seems to have been saved by the clothing. I came out OK, and ironically that's because the road surface was so slippery that it didn't rub-off chunks of me as I slid across it. Wow! I grab a small wad of tissue paper and use my water bottle to work the dirt out of the road rashes.

I get back on the bike and start riding. Hmmm-perhaps these top-of-the-line Continental tires need a bit more tread than they have. It's funny how the locals have always been touching the tire surface. I thought it was the hardness that impressed them. Maybe it was the baldness that confused them! It's 7:05 am. Gonna be a long day!

I have more dog-action, this time a pack of about ten of them starts trotting across a field toward me. I get off the bike and they slow down. I pick-up a few way-too-small rocks, fling them and the dogs back off.

I'm in Dhiban at 7:50 am, just under 2 hours. A short distance later I spot what must be the mother of all wadis. This bastard looks like the Grand Canyon! I stop to take a few photos, and then stop again at a viewing area. I time the drop at about 15 minutes, but I've been riding the breaks, since I'm a little gun-shy after this morning, plus there's no out if things start going bad. They wouldn't even find the body.

At 8:33 am I'm at a reservoir at the bottom and now climbing. It's hard and it's hot. Maybe lower elevations trap the heat, which would explain last night's advice not to take the Dead Sea route. I commit to climbing for a half-hour before stopping for a break. Parts of the climb-out require that I stand, but I'm progressing and thus can see no reason to interrupt my progress. I skip the break.

At 9:30 am I'm out. There's an empty restaurant up at a viewing area right on the edge. They charge me 1JD for a small generic soda, and won't negotiate price if I buy a few.

The rest of the ride is attractive, if unremarkable. I stop to take a postcard-type picture of a shepherd with his flock-a biblical image… Timeless. He's pretty far away, so the shot is a scenic: a splash of color surrounded by golden fields. Then he reaches into his robe, then moves his hand to the side of his head. Even at this distance I can tell that he just answered his cell phone. Oh well… I guess times have changed. He's noticed me, and wanders over. We struggle to communicate. I give him some of the candy that I've been lugging around. He brings up Bush, and I share my politics. He approves. He poses for a photo, and I hand him the camera to take one of me. He holds it up to his face, but has the lens pointing at himself. We fix that, but the resulting photo still isn't the single "memory shot" that I'm starting to think about.

Jordanian roads are well marked and I keep pushing toward Karak. Just a few minutes from Karak is what must be the steepest stretch of road I've ever seen. It's just a short little climb, in a downtown, but wow. I'm standing in the pedals and the chain is slipping. I manage to get off the bike without falling, and push it up the last few yards.

I coast down the next hill and there in front of me is the Karak castle, perched atop a steep hill. I stop to take a picture, but the camera won't turn on. Damn. I ride on. Following Lonely Planet's suggestion to look for accommodations right by the castle entrance, I head up the hill. About 70 meters from the entrance is the Hotel Towers Castle. The owner, an Egyptian with good English skills, asks what I'm looking for and I say "Quiet". He takes me to the back and up one level of stairs and I'm offered a room with the view literally to the next country. I agree to 12JD (which is breakfast plus private bathroom plus balcony) and then join him for tea. Then I go back to the room, shower, then clean up my wounds. It dawns on me that that useless hand disinfectant that I've been carrying is actually exactly what I want right now - it's alcohol! And those bandages I've been carrying (the same ones as on the Vietnam ride and maybe even the Europe '84 ride!) are finally being put to good use.

I wash my very dirty gear. With my laundry now hanging on a line on the deck, I head up the street to the Karak castle. It's well-worth visiting. This castle's epic story-Heroic knights defend against overwhelming odds, then, because of their fine defense, are awarded their freedom-is the one that the Orlando Bloom crusader movie Kingdom of Heaven is based on. As impressive as the castle is inside, the best photo was the one from below that I missed a few hours earlier. The camera's working again, so I'll get that tomorrow. I go back to the hotel and relax on my deck. The wind's blowing like hell, perhaps that's because this is the highest point around.

 
 
Approaching a wadi - It looks like you're about to ride over a cliff..
 
It looked like I was dropping into the Grand Canyon.
 
Soon my timeless image was interupted by the shepherd's cell phone..
 
A closeup of my shepherd friend.
 
Karak: One serious-looking fortress.
 
This is a picture taken from the inside of the outer wall. Note how small the two guards look (top, center)..
 
 
 
 
  Next: Karak to Petra  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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