Thunder Thighs!

Dead Sea, Jordan

From Crossing the Dead Sea

I almost didn’t go cycling with Tareef today, between last night’s engagement party and that third glass of red wine, and the horrendous wind and ominous clouds in Amman. I knew, though, that if I could just make it down the street to meet the club at Safeway, I wouldn’t regret it. I was right. The ride was beautiful, and not too hard, from the south end of the Dead Sea about two thirds of the way north (i.e. downwind, which is totally the way to go!).

And I got some nice compliments from people who would know.
First there was Sawsan, who I consider one of the best of the amateur cyclists. She came up behind me pedaling away furiously on a relatively flat stretch (it’s all about momentum for the next hill!). “Shift up,” she says. “I can’t,” I say. “I’m already on 8th gear.” I have to repeat myself, but then she says, “Wow! Your legs are really strong!” And suddenly I had an image of my best friend Phredd, with a backpack out on the Appalachian Trail, shouting, “Thunder thighs!” (I don’t think this ever happened, but it was a vivid image, just the kind of thing we would’ve done on the trail!)

Sometime later, Ammar came up beside me. He’s one of the true professionals, and the one who most frequently passes out advice to riders. He wanted to point out that I had made noticeable progress in the months I’ve been riding with Tareef. This was really nice to hear because, while that was part of the point of joining, it’s sometimes hard to tell oneself. As I’ve told Aktham more than once, sometimes I feel like I’m in worse shape from week to week.

I’d also like to thank my two heros of the day.
The first was Anas, another of the professionals in the club. On the two occasions, last week and this week, that the Tareef buses drove past the hot springs along the Dead Sea Highway, both sides of the road were mobbed with young men in their tighty-whiteys, and I was really not looking forward to riding past it. Then, when I saw the sign for the hot springs, I realized that I was riding alone, and couldn’t see anyone else back to the next curve behind me. But much to my relief, as I came up to the edge of the mobs of people, I saw Anis coming back the other way, and then watched him turn around and wait for me. He escorted me past the hot springs, reaffirming what I love about Tareef: they not only arrange the trips, but they are really great about making sure everything goes well for everyone.
Ahmed came to my rescue not once, but twice! First, when I ran over a nail and popped the inner tube in my rear tire, he was the one who stopped and called Nader for me to get a new bike, and Ahmed and Hatem kept me company until Nader arrived. That was in the first 7km. Then, though he probably doesn’t realize it, he came to my rescue again in the last kilometer. There I was, a little ways ahead of Ahmed, minding my own business, when a powder blue sedan full of shabaab (young men) pulled up alongside me, shouting something I didn’t understand in Arabic. I ignored them, so they stopped on the shoulder ahead of me, clearly hoping I’d take the narrow little bit of pavement left to their right side. Instead, I swerved out into the street to pass them (uphill, no less!). So, of course, they pull off the shoulder and, as they drive past, several hands reach out the window and thwack me. Fortunately, they didn’t stop again, but I knew I was never going to make it the rest of the way up the hill. So I stopped, and waited for Ahmed to catch up and walk up the rest of the hill with me, to the outlook that’s becoming our regular stopping-point for our Dead Sea excursions.

As luck would have it, we also encountered Sam and Ester and her parents at the Dead Sea.

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