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Krak des Chevaliers to somewhere or other

I was actually beginning to like the mountains

If I could make that first climb up to the Krak with those ridiculous gradients and find my way along the ridges of the Jebel Ansariyya mountain range anything seemed manageable

I plotted a route back through the mountains towards Hama. I really had no idea far I'd have to ride, but from the days just gone I'd seen a whole network of small back roads that would surely have to take me to the other side of the mountains and from there it couldn't be too hard to find the orontes river and follow that to my destination. The ride through the mountains was amazing. The road surfaces were pretty mediocre and in parts it seemed that the road was just a collection of patched potholes, just like Australia really. The large eucalyptus' lining both sides of the road reinforced this feeling of being in Australia. There were lots of tiny villages where few tourists and even fewer cyclists ventured. I was the centre of attention as I slowly negotiated the narrow roads winding between mud-walled houses, avoiding flocks of sheep, trying to avoid the unmarked ditches that seemed to have been dug years before and just left unfilled. Invariably someone would step out into the road in front of me holding up their hand for me to stop, and we would eventually slowly work our way through the by now familiar litany; Where did I come from? Where was I going? Did I like Syria? And of course the inevitable; Why?

So far so good, there had been some pretty grueling uphills but also some great downhills as well, I was averaging just over 20 km/h and feeling good about the world and myself. I should have known it was going too well. My nemesis this particular day was an unmarked mountain that had multiple roads snaking over or around its summit. Which one should I take? Easy, I'll just ask. As I rode into the village I was passed by a pickup and a motorcyclist both going in the opposite direction, the motorcyclist turned to watch me and while he was busy watching me he collided heavily into the back of the pickup that had also stopped, the driver and passengers hanging out their windows staring at the trike. The motorcyclist lay on the ground, villagers ran to him and pulled him to his feet, he was clutching his stomach, the volume of the voices rose. I'd pulled to the side of the road and as I stood up to go back to the scene, a young man came running towards me, waving his hands in a shooing motion saying Go, go. I went

As I hadn't had a chance to ask about the right road, I stuck with the one I was on. The climb was long and slow. Near the top a man and boy were busy repairing a tractor, I stopped and taking my maps I walked over and after the normal greetings and salutations asked them about the road. After a great deal of repetition, by all of us, and some impromptu 'map' drawing in the dirt it seemed that this road led me off further into the mountains not out of them, I wasn't sure but they seemed to be saying that the road on the left of the mountain was the go. The road on the left was back at the foot of the mountain; so, it was back downhill towards the village

The turn off to the road was hard to negotiate, incredibly steep with a large sandrift, my trike was heavily loaded and getting through the sand was hard going; the steering was dead, the slick tyres were spinning but I battled on up the short slope and onto the, marginally, better paved road. So, it was up and over the mountain again. This time I reached the summit and I could see the road curving back away eastwards into a long valley, but I wanted to go westward. Maybe, there was another road somewhere, and anyway, right now the prospect of a long downhill was pretty inviting. Down I went, I didn't let the trike go but rode the brakes not letting the speed go to far over 60 km/h. But there was no other road, in fact there was nothing at all. I reached the bottom and decided it was time for a break

I was carrying a bit of food and fruit, I reached for the 1.5 litre water bottle in its cage under the trike, it was empty - a large dent and a small hole told the story, a hit from a stone. I'd already used most of the other water I was carrying; I'd obviously have to watch my water consumption, as there was nowhere I could refill the bottles out here on the road. As I sat on the trike eating, a lone motorcyclist came along the road, so it was my turn to stand in the road with my hand up. A stroke of luck, the motorcyclist was a soldier returning home for the coming 'weekend', he spoke English and knew the area. I was on the wrong road; I'd misunderstood, the tractor guys had obviously been telling me not to take the road on the left! So, it was back up the mountain, again. I was felling a bit low just now, so it was straight into the granny gear and a steady 5 km/h push

Thanks to the soldier I knew where I had to go now, the correct turn off was back in the village! So back into the now quiet village I went. The bike computer was showing I'd done almost 80km, but as I came into the village I saw a sign I'd missed in the earlier confusion, the town I'd started from was a mere 25km away. I'd done a needless 55 km up and down the mountain. At least I was now on the right road. At first the road was fine, but it was too good to last, the road curved towards the mountain. I really wasn't looking forward to yet another ascent. The road turned a blind bend and rose very sharply for a few hundred metres to another small village. Again I dropped to the granny and spun my way up to the village where I decided I'd stop for a glass of tea, but the village was so small there was no teahouse. Although the day's distance wasn't much, nor had the mountain been half as torrid as the Krak I couldn't help feeling that all in all this hadn't been a great day. I sat on the trike trying to gather the will to push on up the mountain when the soldier reappeared. Come, my friend he said I've been to my house and everything is prepared for you, you must stay with us this day and night. All that self-pity just dissolved in the light of such warmth and I followed the motorcyclist through a maze of narrow, rutted, dirt paths deep into the village, to the house. And so began what turned out to be an amazing couple of days, as I stayed with my new-found friend in this nameless village, joining the family life, helping out in the fields and orchards during the day, playing cards or watching satellite TV during the nights