266 Miles Later: a Post-ride update

The following post comes from Lev Meirowitz Nelson via email:

I’ll pick up by describing Sunday, which was surely the best day of the ride. It was 62 miles, bookended by long, steep, scenic descents–we started off biking down into Machtesh Ramon and ended the day biking down to the Arava Valley and Kibbutz Ketura. A machtesh, for those of you curious, is an “erosion crater,” with more than half of the world’s few specimens found in Israel–hence the technical geological name is in Hebrew. It was cold and windy at first, especially up on the lip of the machtesh where we davened, but eventually the day warmed up. After breakfast, we biked out of the machtesh, climbing its lower, less steep side. After that, the day was a series of hills (both up and down) and flats. The most dramatic was a short, steep climb where the road curved 90 degrees–from the bottom I could see the road going up at an angle to my left. It looked almost Escheresque! Though previously my bike had gone into lowest gear only grudgingly, taking two or three minutes of clanking and grinding to do so, this time it behaved perfectly–in fact, I had downshifted early to give it time to catch up, so I had to shift back up and then down again when I actually hit the hill. As I got to the top, I heard drumming and saw a surreal sight. The road passed between the mountain on the right and a big spur that had split off on the left, a rock about 30 feet high; at the top of that spur were three or four members of the support crew, singing and cheering. That was enough to get me the rest of the way up, not having stopped once. Later that day, on a long flat portion, I realized that I could stay balanced without using my hands. This felt remarkably liberating, and I biked significant stretches of many minutes at a time hands-free.

Sunday night at Kibbutz Ketura was wonderful. We were greeted with cold beers–a nice way to arrive anywhere–and later, a festive BBQ dinner by the pool. It felt like coming home, and I enjoyed seeing how the kibbutz has grown since I lived there–including a solar field, Israel’s first, that will hopefully be up and running by February. Ketura really feels like a little oasis, both physically and in the idealism it expresses despite the dire political and environmental situation. It was good to feel that someone in this place is optimistic about the future, as I am increasingly unsure how well things are going to turn out on either of those fronts.

Monday morning, we were bussed out of the kibbutz and up the long hill that we had come down Sunday afternoon. (The toughest group of riders took it on their bikes–and then caught up to us before lunch!) After that, the day was a gradual climb, much like Friday; it was cloudy, not too hot for the morning’s ride, and the sun came through the clouds in beautiful beams. It wouldn’t have been so hard, except that it was day five of the ride and I was tired–legs sore, knees starting to ache–so it was slow going. We did get to see four Israeli F-16’s take off from an air base and fly overhead, though they didn’t come as close as they had the day before, when two of them rocketed right over us–that was a nice distraction. Eventually, with the help of a lead rider who engaged me in conversation (about why women can’t become Orthodox rabbis, of all things), I puffed up one last hill (there seemed to be several “last hills” to go up) and arrived at lunch on Mt. Hezekiah, where you can see a stunning panorama that includes Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. We got some much-needed rest there before starting the final descent into Eilat. There I was, whizzing past incredible red and white mountains, and all of a sudden the view opened in front of me and I could see the deep blue of the sea and the curve of the bay on the Jordanian side. Another few minutes and there were suddenly three apartment buildings in front of me; around another curve and there was the city of Eilat, spread out on its hill. There we regrouped, celebrated with popsicles, and biked the remaining couple of miles to the last hotel.

All in all, I did 266 miles, on my bike every step of the way that they had us do. I saw every kind of desert Israel has to offer–flat, hilly, mountainous; red, white, black; vegetated, bare–as well as the Mediterranean and Red Seas. If I had to offer some kind of concluding sentiment, it would be awe at the human body–the splendid machine that it is, and the way it can be pushed to do what might have otherwise seemed impossible. That, and also the amazing focus that a person can achieve when there is only a single task at hand: ride your bike, everything else is being taken care of. This stands in great contrast to my regular, multifaceted life, and makes me appreciate the little details (planning a daily schedule, making breakfast, catching the bus) all the more.

I now jump back into my Jerusalem routine–at least until next week, when I have to fly back to the US for a conference–and don’t plan on writing any more of these update emails. I want to thank you all once again for donating to the Arava Institute and Hazon–two institutions I hope you’ll consider continuing to support–and for keeping me in mind during the ride. And I look forward to being in touch with you on a more individual basis!

Take care,

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