Tall Tales is a collection of our favourite crazy bike-related stories from our favourite riders, racers and industry legends.
Everyone has that story that they wait until the end of the night to pull out when the anecdotal oneupmanship starts to get into the final round. Tall Tales is a collection of our favourite bike-related stories from the best in the business.
Yeti ambassador and Lumix-wielder extraordinaire Dan Milner brings us this week’s Tall Tale that involves some ‘soft’ Lebanese kindapping.
Words and photos by Dan Milner.
We’re sitting in a 1990’s Landrover on the top of a road pass, in the dark. Waiting. And waiting. Fifty metres beyond a dust smeared windscreen, a steam of dim torches ebb and flow in and out of the darkness, a string of lights threading their way towards a single illuminated shack. “It’s a shop,” explains Ziad, our driver and fixer. “Syrian refugees.” I’m puzzled.
Not about Syrian refugees —after all the Syrian border is not too far away— but about exactly why we are sitting here post ride, hungry, tired, dehydrated and still in our sweat encrusted jerseys. “You will see,” is the best we can pull from Ziad by way of explanation. I slump back into my battered vinyl seat and another 20 minutes goes by. I shelve my control freak tendency; adventure is, after all, a true proving ground for the virtue of patience.
Then out of the darkness headlight beams arc across the dark sky and strobe our sun-beaten faces. A Humvee pulls up alongside us, and I see its bodywork a patchwork of beige Army camo fatigue. Words in Lebanese are exchanged through the open windows, our Landrover’s V8 growls into action to wheeze exhaust fumes into the cab through a hole in the floor, and we pull out behind the army truck. “Now you have your surprise!” says Ziad. To be honest, all I needed now was food, a shower and a bed. Oh and a beer. Beer was easy to get in Lebanon at least; established mountain bike trails, not so much.
Coming to Lebanon to mountain bike was always going to be a gamble. It’s a country that, unfortunately and wrongly, still sports an image of hostages-chained-to-radiators than epic mountain biking. But the Lebanon Mountain Trail, a long distance hiking trail that runs the 420 Km length of this country had enticed Kamil Tatarkovic, Tibor Simai and me to come in 2016 and try to ride several sections of this waymarked route.
Some, mostly the naïve or ignorant, doubted the sanity of our trip, but the established image of places like Lebanon are there to be challenged and re-written I believe. The trail itself was created to re-unify and re-connect the various villages that lie along its path, many that had previously been devastated by conflict in the 1970’s and 80’s. Sure enough some sections of the LMT were serving up incredible singletrack, but today would prove the toughest of our 6-day ride. We’d spent a whole morning carrying bikes over lumpy boulders and dragging them through tangled, wheel-snatching junipers. ‘Surprise’ was the last thing I needed now.
We coast down from the pass behind the Humvee, all the way back to the outskirts of the same town that tail-ended today’s ride. Two hours ago we’d sat on the kerbside and sunk bottles of orange soda and watched muscle cars pull burnouts along the town’s main street, while waiting for Ziad and our luggage-transporting Landrover to arrive and lead us to our overnight gite. But instead we’d been driven to a Lebanese pass. And now we’re back at the town, following a Humvee through some army gates and into a well-lit compound surrounded by gun turrets and camo netting.
Still baffled, we tumble from the Landrover and follow the Humvee’s driver into the building. We have trust in Ziad —nothing is awry here— but we are perplexed. Are we in some kind of trouble? We’re led upstairs and into an office where Rudolf, a 35-year old Special Forces Colonel is waiting for us. He’s a wall of rippling muscle, biceps straining to escape his T-shirt, his handshake vice-like. His teeth perfect.
“Your friend Raja called me and told me about your mountain bike ride, and I wanted to extend my hospitality,” he explains about our soft-kidnapping on a Lebanese pass. And in a moment I realise the extent of social connections that military officers must have across Lebanon, a now-peaceful country that has seen way too much conflict over the decades. The Raja he’s referring to is a Lebanese mountain guide and ex-army officer who helped me plan our ride before organising Ziad as our driver.
We sit and talk; us quizzing our host about the special op’ ISIS-combat missions he flies just over the border into Syria (“ten minutes by helicopter”) and he about our LMT ride and the possibility for Red Bull sponsorship of his forthcoming world record parapente attempt. Around us his office shelves are buried beneath ski-touring trophies. A TV in the corner streams an action sports channel.
While soldiers carry artillery rockets past the door, others lay out an array of fried chicken, bread and baba-ganoush on the coffee table that sits surrounded by dirty kneepad-clad legs. I eye up the table through vegetarian eyes. Thank fuck for bab-ganuoush I think.
You will be able to track down all of the crazy stories in the Tall Tales series here.
Why not check out our Wise Words interview with the same Dan Milner here?
Read all our other unique content on our Features page here.