Day 15: Wadi Musa – Karak: Speeding Along the King’s Highway
Saturday June 4, 2011, 137 km (85 miles) – Total so far: 1,376 km (855 miles)
Today was going to be a long day. I knew that if I wanted any chance of visiting the Dead Sea before my flight from Amman on the 7th I was going to have to put in some serious mileage today. I decided to aim for Karak, 137km and 2,200m of climbing away from here. I didn’t think I’d make it but I decided to make an attempt anyway hoping to cycle all day until dark and find a spot to wild camp near the road.
The climbing started straight away with a solid climb out of Wadi Musa on some pretty crazy gradients. I was already coated in sweat by the time I got out of the town! The road continued just like yesterday, winding up and down through the barren mountains with few signs of life outside the villages. Today I knew was going to be the trickiest day. As I have said earlier nearly every cyclist travelling this road to Karak gets attacked with stones. My plan was to keep an eye on anyone I saw who picked up a stone and either start talking to them in Arabic or if they were about to throw one start shouting “police” and pointing behind me. It was an unusual plan but I hoped it would work!
Early in the day I passed through the town of Shobak opting not to visit the nearby crusader castle as I didn’t have the time. After Shobak the scenery really improved. Great views were opening to my left now stretching down towards the Dead Sea and Israel. After a couple of kilometres with great views I reached the lookout point over Dana Nature Reserve. The view was impressive with a valley dropping away into the distance with the small village of Dana perched on a cliff above it.
The region I was passing through today was certainly very different from the earlier parts of Jordan I had visited. In all the villages I passed through, most of the shops were surrounded by metal cages. Some even had slots where food would be handed out to the buyer! Going by this it seemed to be a rough enough area, the people weren’t as welcoming as the others I had met so far. I wouldn’t say it was in any way hostile, I just got more of a luke warm reception in the villages I was passing through. The kids were still pretty friendly though it was just the adults that gave me this impression.
I continued on past more great views until I reached Tafila. I realised here that if I was to reach Karak by nightfall I’d have to start pushing the pace. Despite all the climbing I still had a good bit of energy left so I was up for it. I stocked up on food here and set out at a quicker pace to cover the 65km from here to Karak. I still had around 4:30 hours of daylight left but I knew some pretty heavy climbing still lay ahead of me.
I descended down into the 900m deep Wadi Hasa, a large canyon. The King’s Highway descends to the bottom of this before climbing up the opposite side. On the road since leaving Dana I was invited for tea by two Jordanian families but as I was in a rush I had to decline these offers which was a bit annoying. I also had to turn down an offer to spend the night with a Jordanian couple as I was again in a rush and couldn’t figure out where the village they were living was (They were passing by in a car.) I would have liked to have 2 days for this section as I would have been able to accept these offers but it was not to be.
As for the terrorising gangs of kids this route is famous for, they never materialised. A few kids picked up rocks as I was passing by but I either started talking with them in Arabic, asking their name, how they are etc. and they dropped/didn’t throw the rocks. And in one case where I was pretty sure I was going to be hit I tried my strategy of shouting “police”, the boy seemed a bit confused and didn’t throw the stone in the end. Somehow I had avoided the stone throwing, abuse giving, spitting kids, maybe it was because I looked angry with my new beard, maybe they were all inside sheltering from the heat, maybe they saw the Irish flag and knew I was from a neutral country and wouldn’t dare attack me! Or most likely it was just sheer luck! Anyway I was delighted to have avoided all the hassle, the worst I had in the end was an adult throwing a pen at me from the back of a passing truck, that was it!
After already climbing 1200m+ that day I now had to do the 900m climb back out of the canyon. It was a tough climb with no respite and I found it very difficult, nearly cracking before the top. The heat was strong again and flies were surrounding me on the climb dancing around my face. Swatting at them did nothing so I just had to sit there and put up with them. This, accompanied with me being low on energy and getting tired, aswell as a growing headwind was a bit agitating. I kept refuelled with another pack of biscuits and eventually reached the top. I was pretty much spent now but there was only 25 (mostly flat) kilometres left to Karak. The road to Karak was very well populated with wide open land either side so I couldn’t wild camp and would have to ask a family could I camp on their land. I wanted a good rest tonight so instead I continued on for Karak in the fading light.
Just as the sun was setting I arrived in Karak absolutely wrecked. I was surprised I had managed to cover the 137km with 2200m climbing on a loaded bike. It took 8:30 hours of cycling in the end and was honestly one of the best days cycling I can remember. It was a tough full days cycle through spectacular scenery on a quiet road, with great climbs and great weather, what more could I ask for!