Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Blown Away! (Day 4 of the Israel Ride)

Day four of the Israel Ride, from Mitzpe Ramon to Kibbutz Ketura, is always one of my favorite days of the ride. Three days are behind us, so we are very comfortable on the bike, we've just enjoyed a relaxing Shabbat break at Mitzpe Ramon, we've met that many more of the riders, and, in a word, the route is amazing -- this year was no exception!

The day started with the descent into Machtesh Ramon (new video to follow). This year, having spent part of our Shabbat break hiking in the Machtesh, I road in with a new appreciation for the depth of the descent, and the beauty of the Machtesh. And, the ride down, around the switchbacks, and then into a straightaway at the end, was as much fun as ever!

There is also something, at least for me, that is truly special about riding a bike in the desert, in Israel, and today is the day that feeling comes home.

From a rider's perspective, however, the highlight of this day was completely unexpected. The hardest part of the route is typically towards the middle -- we've descended into the Machtesh (a geological formation that is visually similar to a crater, but created in a very different manner), then another descent into a deep wadi, then a steep climb out of the valley. Part of the strength for the climb typically comes from a constant drumbeat (literally) or drums and song that the crew of the ride is playing from the top of the mountain -- if your legs can't push you up the climb, the drumbeat will pull you up!

Today, however, the big surprise came in the last 18 miles of the ride, as we were leaving a retreat where we had stopped for lunch. The next 10 - 12 miles is a relatively flat plateau. This day, however, we found ourselves riding directly into a wind storm, including head winds of probably 25+ miles per hour. It was a bit like riding uphill on a flat road (with an occasional burst of sand to boot!). For me, part of the Israel Ride is very social, as we are often in decent sized groups and have plenty of time and energy to get to know the other riders, part is the pleasure of quiet time that we each find at various places along the route, and part is the real physical challenge that some of the ride poses. For me, this year, the deepest of those challenges was on this long, flat road, with a howling wind, and no riders visible in front or behind me. The safety van was ever available, and even drove by to check on me during the storm, but the true excitement was arriving, on my own power, at the final rest stop of the day!

The cycling portion of the rest of the day went quickly. We treated ourselves to delicious, organic ice cream at the rest stop (really delicious!), and then rode the final six miles to Kibbutz Ketura. The final three miles were a steep descent into the Arava Valley, ending the day w/the same kind of exhilarating descent as we started with, about 60 miles earlier, at Mitzpe Ramon.

Of course, not all of the highlights of the Israel Ride are on a bike. Though I've visited Kibbutz Ketura before, I've never really explored the Kibbutz. This year, I was able to explore it with a long after dinner walk, under the night sky, all along the Kibbutz perimeter. A peaceful, perfect way to end a very full, challenging, and exciting, day of riding.

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