Mark Segal will be riding on his fourth Israel Ride in the fall
Having been a ‘first time to Israel’ rider on the 2011 Israel Ride, I am always excited for the ‘first timers’ on the Ride. I know how special it will be for you.
My delay in going to Israel after missing my teen tour opportunity because it ‘didn’t fit in my schedule’ was primarily good old fashioned fear. When travel possibilities came up there was always something going on, threatening Israel’s security or peace. A combination of factors ‘allowed’ me to notice the Israel Ride ad in the Texas Jewish Post. I told myself if I waited for peace in the Middle East, I’d be waiting for a while. No time like the present. It was ‘now or never’. After a couple calls to David Rendsburg at Hazon I cleared my schedule, bit the bullet and registered.
I have been an ‘avid recreational cyclist’ for decades and a cycling trip sounded great. While I cut my teeth in the hills of New Hampshire, the most recent cycling had been in flat Texas. Having summoned the courage to go to Israel, I was worried that a week of cycling might limit my travel experience.
I’ll tackle these issues in reverse order. The Israel Ride is a great vacation, period.
Any trip in which you see something new every moment of the day is a full and rich experience, and, oh yeah, it’s Israel! To enhance my first trip, I opted for the pre-ride (in 2011, to Haifa and Carmel) and post-ride extension (to Petra). The sightseeing options for the Shomrim (beginner riders) also got my attention. I didn’t want to beat myself up riding to the point where I wouldn’t enjoy the trip. In retrospect the cycling wasn’t a beating at all for me and it wasn’t necessary to opt out of my Tzofim (intermediate riders) days. I did get the extra tour of the Arava Institute which was great to see a bit more of the Institute we are supporting. But I did miss the descent into the Arava valley; a glorious downhill.
Even though your days are filled with cycling, the Israel Ride tows along outstanding (officially certified) tour guides. Bill Slott and Hadas Karmon ensure that you don’t miss a rock, ibex, or anything in the Old City. You WILL love your trip, and remember you will also have nearly 200 like-minded riders and the best support crew you could ask for to get to know. I made lasting friendships after a week together in the desert. The trip is logistically superb, turn key, arrive and ride. The staff at Hazon and the Arava Institute work year-round to ensure that the week in November will be outstanding. That’s why I’m coming back for my 4th ride in a row.
The cycling is real cycling, not a gentle pedal down a bike path. But, it is so well supported, and well fed, that I never felt ‘over the limit’. I have cycled for years, but leading up to the trip, I had limited ride training in flat (but windy) Texas. I was very concerned about the mileage and climbs I was reading about in the itinerary. On the Tzofim route option, I was fine. I was challenged and tired at the end of the day, but never totally spent. I did dial up my prep for 2012 and 2013 to ride Chalutzim (advanced riders). Regular moderate seat-time is essential, but will be plenty of training.
My actual principal concern on my first Ride was for safety, though I didn’t discuss it and kept the issue kind of ‘suppressed’. That was why I hadn’t actually gone to Israel up to that point, and was something that did occupy a nontrivial amount of brain power. In retrospect, it is comic to remember my real concern of wearing my fluorescent yellow jersey, wondering instead if I should look for a camo cycling kit. The truth, as I perceived it, is that 99% of the safety concern should be to just be a responsible cyclist. The Israel Ride works so well with IDF and police to make you feel safe and secure without any intrusiveness. Contact with the IDF is actually part of the experience of being in Israel and for many, is one of the highlights. I felt like they ‘had my back’ but were never ‘in my face’.
As you prepare for your adventure this fall, remember that we all were at some point first-timers to Israel, so we understand your enthusiasm. Joining the Israel Ride club is a great move, and will be the first step (pedal) in a long relationship with many subsequent trips getting to know the Land of Israel.