“You might come across a minefield, but they’ll have warning signs,” we’d been told as we set out. The problem for us three Western mountain bikers was that all the signs were written in Arabic, and neither I, Czech Kamil nor German Tibor could read what they said. These ones were easy to decipher though, thanks to the skulls and crossbones painted on them – probably the most internationally recognised symbol.
This incident was by far the scariest I’ve had in 30 years of mountain biking, and it happened while we were riding for six days through the mountains of Lebanon, about 50 miles from the Syrian border. You could question why we were riding near Syria, but Lebanon is actually a peaceful and welcoming country. It’s just that it’s had its own civil wars in the past, and here and there you find remnants of this conflict – such as a minefield or two.
Riding the long-distance Lebanon Mountain Trail for a week, on day three we lost our way. After an hour of searching in vain for signposts, we decided to follow an animal track that dropped down the hillside in front of us, thinking this would rejoin our trail. We weaved our way down between thorny trees and five minutes later rolled out onto a dirt road – result! It’s only then that we saw the red-triangle minefield warning signs, dozens of them, all facing towards the road we were now on. Whoever put them there clearly didn’t expect anyone to enter the area from above, as we just had.
We were speechless. Although now safe, cold shivers ran down all our spines, as the realisation dawned that we’d just had a very narrow escape. Adventures all have their ‘character building’ moments, and you have to take the rough with the smooth if you want to ride new places. We just didn’t expect to be putting our lives on the line. ‘Minefield-gate’, as I now call it, was the only truly scary moment in seven rewarding days of riding in an amazing and friendly country, though. When we met up with the Lebanon Mountain Trail mappers at the end of our trip, they were puzzled why there would be minefield signs so close to a village. They suggested that maybe a local hunter was trying to protect his patch by putting up bogus signs, or maybe there used to be a minefield, which has since been cleared. Whatever, I’m thinking I may learn a little Arabic for future trips east!
Who is Dan Milner?
This story originally appeared in MBUK issue 357 (Summer 2018). Subscribe here to get MBUK delivered to your door every month