Reflections from Beth and Jon Miller, from Evergreen
Day 1: Jerusalem to Ashkelon
After more than six months of training and anticipation, we have our first day of the Israel Ride under our belt, and it was everything and more than we expected.
Many riders this morning shared the similar experience of a near-sleepless night, which I guess underscores the anticipation shared by so many of us here for the start of the event. Our day started at 5:45 am with breakfast and then off to our tour buses which shuttled us far enough away from the mayhem of Jerusalem, which was a great way to start the ride. Each day’s ride is separated into three options, which essentially equate to the distance (shorter, medium, and long) and overall speed of the group. Beth and I selected the group going the longer distance which encompassed a 63-mile trek from Jerusalem to Ashkelon.
The ride commenced with a prayer recited in Hebrew, English, and Arabic which drove home the underlying them of our ride recognizing the work being done by The Arava Institute. In fact, the support staff for the ride are comprised primarily of Arava students from Israel as well as surrounding Arab countries. Several riders attempted to give the shofar a blast before we officially launched our ride.
The big difference between this ride and the two shorter rides was the initial 2000-foot climb. Fortunately, our training on the mountain roads around Colorado served us well and we made the ascent with no trouble. Besides our familiarity with climbing, we were also more than 5,000 feet in altitude below where we live and what our lungs are used to when riding at home, so that helped as well.
At the top of the climb was our first rest stop were we were treated to an assortment of fresh and dried fruits, salted nuts, energy bars and more. We also received a lesson on the vegetation and topography of the area. We learned that all of the forests that we would be riding through were comprised of Jerusalem Pines all planted by the Jewish National Fund since the founding of the state in 1948. The problem is that these trees, which are not indigenous to the region contrary to their name, have choked out the existence of native trees and animals that should be flourishing here as well. Reforestation efforts are underway to correct the situation over time.
We also learned about how closely tied the stories of the bible are to Israel’s land features. For example, the story of David and Goliath took place on the slopes of two opposing mountains that were being fought over between the Philistines and the Israelites. We were riding though this very terrain and this provided relevance to the area we were experiencing.
We rode through grape vineyards, olive orchards and numerous other agricultural areas that all had a unique look as well as smell. So, from our saddles we felt the variations of the terrain, saw the beauty of the land, smelled the fragrance of the trees, the cactus flowers, the cattle and ultimately the salty air of the Mediterranean Sea when we arrived in Ashkelon nearly 8 hours later.
On our bikes and at rest stops and lunch, we had the opportunity to meet new friends and learn more about our co-riders who represent 18 states in the US, plus Australia, the UK, Canada and Israel. We truly got a taste of the fellowship that everyone told us we would experience during the time leading up to today.
Tomorrow’s ride takes us on a 70-mile ride from Ashkelon to the Northern Negev and we cannot wait.