Greetings from Mitzpeh Ramon, where we pause for a day of rest after the first three days of the Israel Ride. This is my first post since we started riding, three days and, for my group, about 170+ miles ago. A lot of the memories blend together, but I'll try to touch on a few highlights of each day.
Day !, Jerusalem to Ashkelon
The plan is to leave Jerusalem at first light. Our hotel is on Mt. Scopus, and we would like to get across the city before morning traffic converges on us. We also need to finish the day before dark. Hence, by 5:30 am, we are on our way!
I quickly get to see how adept and helpful the ride crew is, as I have a blowout within a mile or so of the hotel. Before I even have the tire off the bike, a member of the crew (Roy?) has stopped to help, and in minutes the SAG wagon is there as well. I'm probably on my way within about 5 - 6 minutes, and catch up to the rest of the group a short time later -- no time lost! This crew and support team is amazing - they are ever-present and always helpful!
Our route for Day One takes us from Mt Scopus, through Jerusalem, then over the Jerusalem hills and west towards the Mediteranian and the city of Ashkelon. I won't go through all the details, as the photos do some of that, just a few impressions....
The beginning of the route, once we get to the western side of the city, is a wonderful descent into the Jerusalem forest and the hills on the western side of the city. As we descend down into the valley, we can see Hadassah Medical Center above us. Our first rest stop is 'down in the valley'. Bill, our guide, fills us in on some of the history of the area, including noting the steps of stones in the hills above us, remnants of people who farmed these hills, in ages longs past. The next hour or so will include some of the most dramatic part of the first day's ride. First, comes the hill....the up hill. Have ridden down into the valley, now we get to climb out the other end. This will be one of the longest and, at times, steepest climbs of the ride. It is also beautiful. For most of it, we are in the forest, with the valley opening out below us and morning light off of the rolling hills in the distance.
We take a break at a JNF (Jewish National Fund) site at the top. While there, in addition to resting, regrouping, and having something to drink, we also hear from Alon Tal. Alon is the founder of the Arava Institute and one of Israel's leading environmentalists. In the past, he has joined us for the whole ride. This year, his stay will be shorter as he is a candidate for the Knesset, and the campaign and other commitments call. Once we leave the rest stop, we are in for one of the most exciting descents of the ride... just a few switch backs, and then a couple of miles (longer) downhill, with great visibility and virtually no traffic....the police have closed the road for us!! On my first Israel Ride, in better form than this year, this is where I clocked my personal fastest speed ever on a bike. I'll be slower this year, but it is still a thrilling ride. Later in the day, Bill (our wonderful guide) will fill us in on the history of the area, including the Israelites on one side of the valley, the Philistines on the other, and that fateful day when the Israelite, David, met the Philistine, Goliath, in a short battle in the valley (that we are riding through).... but, for now, we just enjoy the ride!!
Most of the rest of the day will be through farm land and in a steady descent (with a few exceptions) towards the Mediterranean, and our evening in Ashkelon. It was a great chance to get to know some of the other riders, as it is a very social group, and the ride gave us plenty of chances to visit -- except for times when the headwinds made conversation harder.
One special moment, from near the end of the day. We stopped at a park about 15 miles from Ashkelon, to regroup and enjoy a break before heading into the city together. As we were preparing to leave, we noticed a group of pre-school children watching us through the fence that surrounds their school. They were maybe 30 - 40 yards away, all lined up, with there teacher behind them ... first watching, then, when we noticed them, waving to us. As a few of us started to walk over to them, there was a moment of "now what", as the space between us closed. Then, Mario, on of the riders (and a Rabbi) started to sing the song, "Havenu Shalom Alechem" (peace unto you). The kids quickly joined in, as did anyone else that new the song. Hard to describe to people who weren't there....but it was a very special moment. As different as we were from the children, in age, where we live, what we were doing, language, etc., in that moment we were all connected!
Some of my pictures from the first day are in an album on Facebook. The link is: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=43295&l=a93f6&id=516718374
I uploaded a more complete set directly to Picasa. Those are at: http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/5IkK6ZPzsyJdQh5QYM6ybg?authkey=F8wWaz8Z4zU
Day Two will be next!