The first wave of exhaustion hit right around the northernmost part of the Kinneret. Highway 92 meets Highway 87 so far away from the Kinneret that as I strained to get a glimpse of the water I wondered if we'd accidentally pedaled into Syria. Catching the 5 p.m. bus back to Jerusalem, which I had insisted upon strongly on multiple occasions, was quickly becoming impossible. When we thought we had reached Neveh Hadar, more than three-quarters of the way around the lake, it was actually Kfar Nahum - we still had 50 percent of the ride! And when we asked about a shortcut along the shoreline to Tiberias, the construction workers on the side of the road laughed and pointed skyward toward a large, hulking hill. "There's nowhere to go but up!" they said, smirking.
Sweating, straining, and struggling up the hills around the Kinneret gives you an appreciation for the rolling landscape of Galilee that you can't understand from the comforts of a car. The landscape changes so dramatically as you circle around the water, from cities to moshavim to barren rocky hills, that you'll feel as if you rode through time as well.
A bike trip around the entire Kinneret, or just parts of it, is a perfect family outing for the Hanukka break. While the ride will take less than eight days, you'll still witness an incredible miracle: circumnavigating the entire water supply of Israel, under your own power, in just a few hours. When you bike around the entire body of water, you can appreciate the true size of the Kinneret - every last meter.
The easiest place to start and end a round-the-Kinneret trip is Tiberias, since the city boasts bus options, hostels and bike shops. Starting in Tiberias and biking in a clockwise direction will have you climbing steep yet short hills at the beginning and finishing off with an easy afternoon on shaded bike paths. The western side of the Kinneret is busier and more built up, so riding mid-morning will help you avoid heavy traffic. The eastern side offers better views and quieter roads, as well as some opportunities to get off the main highway on new bike paths and dirt roads.
Plan for at least five hours to complete the Kinneret bike tour - six if you want to take frequent breaks. Bike enthusiasts will argue that true aficionados can whiz around the lake in roughly two hours, while every bike store I asked in Jerusalem assured me that four hours was the absolute maximum. Right
. We finished in exactly five hours and couldn't have done it any faster, given our clunky mountain bikes. For kids under 12, try the eastern half of the ride from the Ma'aleh Gamla Junction to the Tzemah Junction, which should be about a three-hour ride with plenty of stops.
In the north, between Capernaum and Ginossar, a new stone path with vine-covered trellises and benches beckons bikers to get off the saddle and enjoy a snack and the view. The 6.5-km bike path between Kibbutz Ma'agan and Shizaf-Rotem beach was finished two years ago and funded by the Jewish National Fund and the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry Industry, Trade and Labor. Plans are currently under way for a bike path that circles the entire Kinneret to draw more bicyclists and tourists to the area, and some parts have already been completed.
But you don't have to wait for the bike path's completion, since about 95 percent of the highway riding is on newly paved roads with wide shoulders. Around Tiberias and a few spots in the north, the shoulders disappear, but generally cars give plenty of space and honk at you only about half the time. Biking against traffic (on the left-hand side of the road) in the shoulder is the safest way to ride on highways. In Tiberias, the roads are quite narrow and it's advisable to ride on the sidewalks.
The two big hills around the Kinneret are located near Sussita Beach and Ginossar. The top of the hill on the east side of the Kinneret, near Sussita, offers a panorama with views of Tiberias, Safed and the Arbel. Called the Nokeyev Overlook, it commemorates a battle in March 1962 when eight Golani soldiers were killed in combat against Syrian troops, and offers the best views.
The bike ride can be tailored to a variety of interests, with plenty of spots around the Galilee to explore just seconds from the main roads. Bikers fascinated by world religions should stop at Rachel's Tomb in Tiberias, where Rabbi Akiva's wife is buried, or the churches around Capernaum where Jesus performed various miracles. The Byzantine and Ottoman ruins on the Berniki hill, above Tiberias's Old City are perfect for history buffs, as is the peaceful cemetery at Kibbutz Kinneret, the resting place of Rachel the Poet and other famous early Zionists. Looking for something a little more lighthearted? See ostriches at Kibbutz Ha'on, at the southern tip of the Kinneret.
Our bike trip around the Kinneret had special meaning. It was our last adventure, for the time being, with two American friends who were just days from being drafted into the IDF. Watching the afternoon sun peek over the Arbel as the golden rays danced on the Golan Heights across the water, my friends had a chance to experience the land in a gorgeous and physical way that they carried with them to their induction a few days later.
As for Hanukka miracles, I wish I could say I rolled up to that 5 p.m. bus to Jerusalem just in time, ice coffee in hand, looking snazzy in my Spandex shorts. But some miracles are impossible, no matter how fast you pedal.Cycle tips:
Bikes can go on most buses, but they'll make you pay a full fare for your two-wheeled friend.
Bike rentals are available at a variety of Tiberias locations, including:
Aviv Hotel & Hostel.
NIS 60 a day for a mountain bike, including helmet.
Call (04) 671-2272 or go to http://ilh.hostels-israel.com/en/hotel-aviv/hostelMaccabike Trail Mix (for six people)
300 gr. dried papaya, roughly chopped
300 gr. dried pineapple, roughly chopped
300 gr. shelled peanuts, almonds, or walnuts
1/2 kg. granola
400 gr. raisins or dried cranberries
300 gr. yogurt-covered raisins
2 bags Hanukka gelt, crumbled
2 dreidels for use during snack breaks (optional)