We did it! – David Eisenberg – Monday, November 17
We did it!
It is hard to believe that it is only six days since we cycled out of Jerusalem — five days of cycling, a wonderful, relaxing Shabbat in Mitzpeh Ramon, and, today, 282 miles later, we pedaled into Eilat!
I still owe some details on the past few days, each of which had it’s own unique and special character. Even though this was my third Israel Ride, it was still a remarkable experience.
Today was a wonderful, if mostly uphill, ride from Kibbutz Ketura (and the Arava Institute) to Eilat. The treat came at the end, after miles of gentle (some not so gentle) uphill, when we got to the final descent into Eilat. We come in on the mountain road, with the final few miles of the ride beginning at about the same elevation as when we left Jerusalem, and ending at sea level. The group, all 105 of us, were metered out down the mountain, then regrouped at the edge of the city. From there, with a police escort, we rode as one group for the last few miles to the beach.
It was wonderful, and exciting, and a bit sad — we’ve all shared a great experience together, and the time to make our goodbyes, so some newfound friends, was here. It’s been an emotional afternoon. For me, it was truly exciting to be here, and to do the ride again. A few of the riders asked me if it was different, how so, etc. For sure, it was different, but in no way less meaningful than the other times that I did it.
“Each ride been marked by the same three events — new friends, being able to witness and learn more about the remarkable work of the Institute and Hazon, and the sheer joy of finding myself cycling through this incredible setting, in a place that I love to be. I love it! (hard to describe, but just a wonderful, exhilarating week – the photos, or videos, will never do it justice)”
Separate from the incredible experience of cycling almost 300 miles on a remarkable route, the real experience of the ride can best be described in five words — We Have Seen The Future! Or, at least, one possible future. The students, and alumni, of the Arava Institute are remarkable young men and women — they are from Israel, several of the neighboring countries and territories, Europe, and the U.S.; they are of diverse religions, as well as nationalities, and they all work together as one. As a result of their experience at the Arava Institute, they find a common ground, an ability to understand each other’s different perspectives, and they are building deep respect, friendships, and relationships across the borders of the middle east. It is really remarkable, especially in a region that has been marked by such deep conflict for much of it’s history. The future that we’ve witnessed, through students at the institute is the one that all of us who care about Israel have prayed for for generations. The ride gave each of us a chance to witness this first hand, and to support allowing the work of the Institute and Hazon to reach their full potential
My soul is soaring: Mid-Ride reflections – Sunday, November 16
I am 4 days, over 160 miles, and numerous new friendships into my Israel Ride. My legs feel surprisingly strong, my butt is sore (not suprisingly)and my soul is soaring.
It is difficult to compress into a few sentences the sense of accomplishment I feel as my body responds to being pushed as hard as I am pushing it, but even more difficult to explain the feeling of connection I now have to over 100 people whom I have never met before, and who have become my family on this journey. We are supportive of each other, interested in each other’s stories, non-competitive and as diverse a group as you can imagine.
The landscape unfolds before us every day, beginning at 5am, as the full moon gives way to a brilliant sun and the land of Israel rolls by.
“The ride itself is the most organized, well planned journey I have ever, ever been on. Rest stops are planned at just the right intervals, and always include a huge spread of healthy, energy laden food and drink.”
The staff are mostly made up of alumni of the Arava Institute – young Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians – who sing and drum and laugh and encourage with smiles and huge hearts. They are the past recipients of scholarships from donations to the Arava Institute, and are thrilled to be able to reciprocate and give back to those who have raised money so that more students can attend the institute. Tackling the problems of the local environment is the common goal of all of the participants in the program, which necessitates coexistence. Azzy and I have been infinitely impressed with the work the Arava Institute is doing, and I’m
A well deserved, restful Shabbat at Mitzpeh Ramon – the huge erosion crater in the Negev – is now over, having ended with a beautiful and joyous havdallah service at the rim of the crater. We’ll begin anew tomorrow morning by greeting the new day at the rim of the crater and then riding down into it.
It will take me a while to process everything I am seeing and experiencing on this trip, but I will do my best to convey it all when it is over. For now, I’m looking forward to the next 2 days, the final descent into Eilat and a splash in the Red Sea.
Thank you so much for all of your support!
With love from Israel,
Negev Mountains and Kibbutz hospitality – Sunday, November 16
I must begin by telling about the rest day we had on Saturday. We did not have to get up at the ungodly hour of 4:30 to go riding by 5:30. We slept in and relaxed with coffee. Dad went for a run and I got breakfast and a well needed/earned massage. We sat by the pool, and walked to the summit of the crater. The day ended with an amazing group walk to the summit for a Havdalah, end of Shabbat, service. Before we began, we helped celebrate the engagement of two riders. He proposed on Friday night and shared this with the group. Even though we are all virtually strangers, we felt a shared sense of joy and happiness for them. The group has really bonded and come together and the night was filled with something very special and unique. I was really happy to be standing there with this group.
Sunday began with the decent of the crater into the canyon. It was a long winding downhill with switchbacks. I think I clocked my fasted speed ever at 42 mph. It was a little scary but very exhilarating. Dad was proud of himself for acknowledging his fear and got a ride to the bottom of the crater (about 1 mile) and then caught up with us. Today’s ride through the Negev mountains was absolutely magnificent, breathtaking, the most beautiful and was fairly easy in comparison to the other 3 days. We stopped at an oasis in the desert run by young people that seemed to be trying to find themselves and their spirits. It was very beautiful. We also stopped at an organic farm that made ice cream from goat’s milk, sorbet, wine, olive oil, etc.
We ended our day at Kibbutz Ketura, the home of the Arava Institute. It’s beautiful, surrounded by mountains and desert.
“I am truly moved by the vibrant energy and spirit of the young people of the institute.”
We had a chance to speak to some of the students and learn of their studies and their homes and families. Their vision of changing the Middle East includes an understanding of mutual needs, tolerance and respect. The Kibbutz was most hospitable and the dinner was delicious. We ended our night with a campfire and songs. Everyone is very tired but reluctant to end the wonderful day.
Tomorrow is the last day of riding. I am opting out of a 9 mile climb back out of the mountain range that we came down today. Dad, of course will do it. I’ll see him at breakfast. We ride into Eilat, go to the beach on the Red Sea, disassemble our bikes and begin to end the journey.
Uplifting Shabbat, Magical Havdallah – Terry Steen – Sunday, November 16
Today I awoke really refreshed – great nights sleep. Now I am beginning to appreciate Shabbat – we all need a day of rest – especially, those bikers who have biked from Jerusalem to Mitpe Ramon!
Last night – I forgot to mention the fact that we went to Friday night services – and afterward – Anita and I had the distinct honor of saying the Motzi (prayer over bread at Dinner) before the entire group.
We had a “Conservative/ Orthodox ” service – conducted by one of several Rabbis who are accompanying us on this ride. The service was inspirational, in spite of the fact that the level of religious commitment varied greatly among those in attendance. The Parsha – referred to Abraham and Sarah and their various adventures – most interestingly, the locale of today’s Pasha (Bible story) occurred in the very vicinity of our ride. Seeing and living in the very terrain, that the bible refers to – brings one’s own spirituality to a much higher level.
“Perhaps one of the main ingredients of this ride that I see developing before my eyes is the community being formed. I have seen, what the future can and should be, when committed honest people can get together to resolve problems in a positive way.”
My fellow riders, as I stated earlier, hail from various backgrounds and countries – but one thing they have in common, is their ability to radiate a feeling that, a better future awaits us if we just take the necessary steps. Other than a very restful day – we spent the day eating and meeting with the various students of the Arava Institute.
Saturday night – at the conclusion of Shabbat – we had perhaps the most inspirational Havdallah (conclusion of Shabbat) service on an overlook – which arched over the ” Canyon” that makes Mitzpe Ramon so famous. As the Sun settled into the mountain ranges in the distant – the singing and celebrations started and continued for over an hour.
“All of those in attendance – Jew and non – Jew were moved by the spirituality of the event.”
As the group made their way back to the Town meeting Hall, I broke off to perform a custom that I started – on last years ride – getting an Ice Cream bar at a local store that just opened after Shabbat. Prior to Dinner we then had to attend our daily ride briefing, which covered the events for tomorrow and more information about the Arava Institute.
A most unique and amazing vacation – Valerie Levitt
“What can I say about an experience that is both exciting, challenging, beautiful and painful? As a former special events coordinator I can say without hesitation that the execution of this ride has been outstanding.”
In addition to the staff of organizers, the ride is accompanied by about 15 crew who take care of everything from driving the lead and ‘aft’ vehicles, to mechanics and folks who set up and tear down each rest stop. The main objective of the ride is that participants enjoy their experience, and this goal has been met and exceeded as far as I am concerned. Riders are encouraged to do only what they are comfortable with, and at any point we can bail out and be “schlepped forward” with our bicycles to a the next rest stop or even to the top of a particularly steep hill. There is no pressure to push beyond comfortable limits, but we are also given opportunities to challenge ourselves.
On one of the days we were given the option of switching our road bikes for mountain bikes, and we took an amazing trip into the area below Sde Boker for a desert off-road trip that ended at an amazing spring. Both of us jumped in along with some of our fellow riders. The water was icy cold, and totally refreshing. I managed to pull a muscle getting out of the pool – needless to say, I was glad shabbat was coming up so I could rest my aching legs and my new injury! But of course, the pain of that injury completely dissapeared when we arrived at our destination later on that day, and I got to say yes, to Noam’s proposal. 🙂
And what can I say about the scenery we’ve been riding through? We have ridden through the streets of jerusalem, past stunning agricultural land, and through the exquisite beauty of the desert. The opportunity to travel through the country by bicycle means we experience it at a slower pace, and in its true context. on our bicycles we are just as small and vulnerable as every other part of the natural landscape. I wish I could convey to you what we have been seeing each day – but words simply will not do it justice. we plan on putting our photos online for you to view when we get home, and hopefully you’ll get a taste of what we’ve been seeing. What I CAN say with words is that I completely, highly recomend to all of you that you consider participating in this ride at some point. It is well worth the time you spend on fundraising and the money it takes to make the trip happen.
This is ABSOLUTELY the most unique and amazing vacation I have every taken.
And, despite a good amount of grumbling, the scenery and the experience has been well worth it.
An Engagement on the Ride! – Noam Dolgin
Of the 105 riders, we are clearly the people who have trained the least, but we both have been holding our own. Last thursday we did a 120 km day, 100km more than anything I have done in over a year, and 100km more than anything Val has ever done.
I asked her to marry me after a long grueling day climbing from the Nothern Negev to Mitpei Ramon. When the rest of the group turned up the road toward the hotel, she and I continued on to the awe-inspiring lookout over the Machtesh (Crater.) Sitting there together, overlooking the amazing view, I popped the Big Question, catching her by surprise. Fortunately she was coherent enough to say “yes” and give me a big kiss. After forcing me to ask her two more times, to confirm it was for real, we headed back to the group, where I announced our engagement to the whole biking community over kiddush (even before our parents, but don’t worry we called them soon after).
It was a truly beautiful moment as the entire group errupted into clapping, shouting and singing. Something changes when you make a public announcement. The news goes from a nice idea to reality. Announcing it to the 100+ riders and crew was the first step to making it real, announcing it to our hundreds of friends, family, and colleagues makes it even more so.
Thank you all for witnessing our great news.
The journey continues.. – Yeshaya Ballon – Thursday, November 13
As we approached mile seventy-two this afternoon I was actually feeling stronger than I did at the start of the day. Having never done back-to-back sixty-plus mile rides, having been off my bike for the two previous weeks (and feeling a bit sore from day one), I had my doubts about day two. But over the course of the day I loosened up and the road itself became increasingly user-friendly. So it was a very pleasant second day….
I woke up to the sound of my watch alarm at 4:20 am. The first thing I did was throw open the drapes and walk out on the balcony overlooking the Mediterranean. The full moon shone brightly high in the sky occasionally obscured by dark clouds. It’s reflection in the sea was pleasant enough, but two flashes of lightening over the water did not bode well for our day’s journey. Then came the rain. Would we even ride today?
Fortunately, by the time I went down to claim my bike and get the first of the many feedings that are an essential part of the ride, the sky was clearing and showing some preliminary signs of the breaking dawn. As the day progressed the weather only became more and more favorable. Billowing clouds served to provide additional contrast and color to the continuously changing landscape.
If the two flashes of lightening were an omen of anything perhaps they forecast the two flat tires I picked up in the first leg of today’s journey. Even those were no real distraction because the mechanics responded quickly and changed my tire faster than I could open my tool kit.
The early going this morning was not as spectacular as our departure from Jerusalem yesterday. The first half of the day necessitated our riding along the most heavily traveled road of the week.
There was still a lot to look at and we made a couple of colorful stops. At mile twenty we broke for breakfast near a large water treatment center within view of Gaza. The food was distinctly Israeli, ample and delicious.
“What I enjoyed most, however, were the morning prayers – the combination of the drumming and chanting, and the sheer spectacle of the daveners standing on the sandy slope like colorful flowers facing the sun.”
Jews praying in the morning are picturesque enough with flowing prayer shawls, and tefillen wrapped around their arms and hanging on their foreheads. Overlay that image on a group of men and women in colorful cycling regalia, in front of the giant dish of the Jewish National Fund’s water recycling system. Surreal.
But the ride is the thing, and the most difficult to describe. When I’m rolling I am loathe to stop and take pictures despite the many scenic temptations – the setting orange moon hanging above the ocean – palm trees and ruins of what appeared to be Roman ruins silhouetted in the foreground. Just one image that I allowed to burn in my mind’s eye rather than my Nikon. Sometimes I lose myself in the physical challenges – the road, my cadence, my muscles, shifting gears, watching traffic and other riders. At other times I find myself pedaling in sync with another rider and we get a chance to chat.
The end of the day found us moving into the north Negev. The open landscape, mild temperatures, and gently rolling roads made it the most pleasant riding of the day. For a half hour or more I had a riding partner in a graduate of the Arava Institute. Genon is 33 years old, with a young family, and after graduating from one Arava professional program he is continuing on for a PhD.
We covered many subjects. He described some of the powerful features of the Arava program. Typically students study current literature on environmental issues, but they do not stop there. Then they go out and see first hand the projects they read about and talk to the principle people involved, giving real depth to their understanding.
They also have the opportunity to meet with an array of Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Sometime their conversations are focused on the environment, other times on the other critical aspect of Arava – Israeli-Arab relations. Gonen has made great friends from a community that is accessible to only few Israelis. As daunting as peace among these people may seem he feels that their ability to bridge the gulf is a small but important move in the right direction.
It was not too surprising that when all the riders got together to talk about the highlights of our day another person rose and said that he road along side Gonen and had a great conversation!
Rolling out of the Holy City – Wednesday, November 12
Getting out of Jerusalem was slow and tedious. We missed our scheduled 5:45 a.m. departure. So many people with so much to manage. Nonetheless, we finally gathered with our bikes around dawn just outside the property walls of the hotel. The travelers’ prayer was recited in Hebrew, Arabic and English. A rabbi from Connecticut sang the names of the four shofar sounds to cue my blasts which were more than adequate, and off we went. Within the city we had to fight early commute traffic until we met up with our police escort. From that point forward it was a good deal smoother.
Even with all the stopping and starting through the crowded streets, just seeing signs in Hebrew and knowing that we were indeed cycling through Jerusalem – this was extraordinary. There were some magnificent descents with the Jerusalem hills as counterpoint. We attacked one of the trip’s more significant climbs as we left the city – very grand. Reminiscent of California landscape – maybe more like SoCal than the Bay Area. Overall the scenery all day was rich. Some of the long speedy downhills surrounded by breathtaking views evoked the kind of yahoo that I am moved to shout descending Skyline Road. A good deal of farm lands and orchards. The climbs were reasonable. That first long climb was not as tough as Old La Honda Road in Woodside, so I felt well prepared. The program makes an effort to keep riders relatively near one another unlike many charity rides at home. The support, the snacks at rest stops, the lunch, the tourist spiels were all handled with aplomb. There were many opportunities to chat with fellow riders while riding or at the various stops.
Nothing was sweeter than at last rolling into Ashqelon and seeing the shimmering blue Mediterranean in the late afternoon sun. We have precious little time between activities – check-in, shower, dinner, briefings for tomorrow, sleep if possible and set out bright and early again in the morning.
Altogether a very satisfying first day.
The Israel Ride Begins – Tuesday, November 11
105 riders have arrived at the Regency Hotel in Jerusalem, eager to start riding.
Some riders have already been here for a few days touring. 8 riders joined our tour guide Bill Slott on day trips to the Dead Sea and the north. Another group joined our co-chairs Howie Rodenstein and Bruce Stanger on our first ever pre-ride around the Kinneret. We hope to make this a mainstay in years to come.
Bike assembly got started today. Our wonderful mechanics (with some riders chipping in) are busy running around to make sure everyone’s bike is in tip-top shape for tomorrow. Once their bikes were ready, riders tested their bikes on a short trip to Augusta Victoria Hospital for lunch, with wonderful views of the surrounding areas. It was great to see people walking around in their Israel Ride jerseys (and sock, shorts, and jackets!). 50 riders took the morning off and joined Bill Slott on a wonderful tour of the Old City.
Our 105 riders are from 15 states, as well as riders from Australia, England, Canada, and Israel. We have great teams from Atlanta, West Hartford CT, Atlantic City, South Jersey, Philadelphia, and Boulder CO. There are a record 13 couples, and many other family members who are riding together.
By the end of the day, 105 bikes will be lined up ready to go, our crew will have packed the support vehicals, and our riders will be fully briefed for the first day of riding. Everyone is going to bed early though, since we roll out at 5:45 in the morning as we start the day with an early morning ride through Jerusalem.
More updates to come tomorrow from Ashkelon.