Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Fall 2008 Israel Ride, Day Two

We awoke at about 4:30 a.m. this morning, before first light, to a bit of a surprise (at least for me) ... from the balcony of my hotel room, we could see lightening over the Mediterranean. I've seen it rain before in Israel, but lightening was a first.... wonderful day for a bike ride!

The other surprise is that many of us seem to have come down with some kind of malady overnight. We consulted with the authorities, and there is apparently no biblical precedent. It was, however, diagnosed successfully, and, apparently, we will all completely recover. The Latin name for the ailment, when diagnosing an entire group, is rbutticushrtzs. Apparently it has happened before. Best course of action....get back on the bike!

Much to my pleasant surprise, in the moments before leaving my room and getting to the lobby, the rain ended. The rain ended! We still started the ride in rain gear, but it turned out to be unnecessary.

Our departure from Ashkelon, a city that has often been in the news as a target for missiles launched from Gaza, was great! Traffic was light, and we had a police escort through the city ... it was a very special feeling, 105 riders, in loose formation, riding together in the morning light, through the city. We would spread out later in the day, as well as divide into smaller groups, but, for now, it was one large group, riding together .... and, in increasingly clear weather!

Our first stop for the morning came about 15 - 20 (I didn't look @ the cue cards for this) miles south of Ashkelon, for breakfast. We stopped at a great site, overlooking a JNF reservoir. To our right, in the not so far distance, we could still see Ashkelon. In front of us, the reservoir, and, behind the reservoir, in both directions, the Gaza strip. Over the strip were two large balloons, similar looking to weather balloons, except that their purpose seems to be early eyes and ears for incoming missile attacks on Israel. We didn't witness any, though I understand one did follow later in the day -- missed us!

Today is a "transition day", both in terms of the ride, and the look/feel of the land of Israel. Yesterday, I decided to ride the "Tzofim" route this year, missing out on the "Chalutzim" route, which includes a spectacular ride along the Egyptian border, but able, instead, to do a mountain biking excursion tomorrow. Tough decision, but I'm in better shape for Tzofim this year, probably not quite there for the two very tough climbs on Friday's Chalutzim route. So, proudly, I am Tzofim!! We will ride about 71 miles today, the Chalutzim about 25 miles further (that is the route that I did in 2005). The other transition is the land itself.... yesterday was all green, farms, etc. Today, we enter the desert. The transition will come quickly, in the early afternoon.

The ride goes quickly today, as it is mostly rolling hills, flats, etc. No big climbs, just some wind. The sky, maybe reflecting the overnight weather, filled with clouds, against blue sky. It was great weather for cycling. While I don't recall the names (will try to add them later), we stop at about half dozen parks in the course of the day, virtually all of them JNF parks. The last, shortly before the end of the day, was Golda Meir park ... a seeming oasis in the desert. The ride, ever well supported, has set up mats and a rest area there, along with a volunteer to help with stretching, teaching us some yoga, etc. Just another day on the road!!

A couple of memories that will stay with me....

- at the lunch stop, the bongos played by several great members of the crew, and accompanied by Noam, a fellow rider, playing the spoons. All of that, combined with some education from Bill, and others, as we finished our lunch break. If it wasn't clear before now, it is clear not, this is not just about the ride....we are a community.

- getting to know some of my fellow riders, with great, long conversations on the road. As the miles roll by, we make new friends, and re-acquaint ourselves with old ones. I won't share the stories, not my business to do that, just the fact that these are some very inspirational and special people. It is a privilege to spend this time with them. To each of the riders who shared a bit of their story with me, thank you!

- the crew and volunteers on the ride are incredible. In addition to the professional staff, most are actually alumni of the Arava Institute. By there example, as well as through the opportunities that we get to visit with them, they are a wonderful testimony to the pioneering work being done at the Institute.

- two environmental facts, one that was new to me, and the other that I was reminded of -- Israel leads the world in recycling waste water (75% gets recycled) and, as I already knew, Israel leads the world in re-forestation. I'm here as part of "Team JNF" -- it is great to see how deeply the JNF is involved in each of these activities.

Tonight is at a guest house in the Negev. Tomorrow, we head towards Mitzpeh Ramon -- Day 3.

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