Saturday, December 18, 2010

KKL-JNF - A Song for the Carmel Forests

One of the treats of the Israel Ride is the opportunity to see the amazing work that JNF has done to build the land of Israel.   We ride past, or through, JNF forests, we pass some of the over 200 reservoirs that have been built by JNF, and many of the parks that we stop in for rest breaks are JNF/KKL parks.  In day trips before the ride, we've visited the nature preserve and bird sanctuary in the Hula Valley as well as JNF forests in northern Israel.   Others have visited the children's indoor playground at  Sderot, built by JNF during the height of missile attacks from Gaza.   JNF has planted over 240 million trees in Israel, the most successful reforestation program in history.  In the U.S., they are the sponsor and primary fund raising arm for Friends of Israel Firefighters (FIF).

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The 5th Wheel(s) of The Israel Ride....

The first two wheels, couldn't ride without them!
On the last night of this year's Israel Ride, at the ride's concluding dinner in Eilat, I was given the opportunity to reflect, a bit, on this, my fifth Israel Ride.  I tried to answer the question that many have asked me over the five years since I completed my first Israel Ride, in 2005 -- "you've done it, why do it again?".

The reality is that the ride is much more than I realized when I first decided to do it.  In 2005, the idea was simple -- I love being in Israel, and cycling has been a great outlet for me.  The combination of seeing Israel from the seat of a bike sounded perfect.  It was the realization of a vacation idea that I first had almost 25 years earlier.   It was, however, all about me, Israel, and the bike -- nothing more.   What I discovered, however, is that there can be a lot more to the Israel Ride than that:

  • There are the students, alumni and volunteers from the Arava Institute who we meet on the ride.  Each is a testimony to a more optimistic future for Israel and her neighbors.  They embrace co-existence and partnership, and they demonstrate their commitment through their actions and behavior.  These students, and the hope that they represent, are ultimately at the heart of the community being created by the Israel Ride.  Meeting them is reason alone to do it again.  They embrace a brighter future.
  • There are the riders.  We are a diverse group -- this year's ride included 114 riders, age 12 - 74, from four different countries and all walks of life.  Some were very experienced riders, others were not.  Some know Israel well, while others have never been.  Each has their own reasons for doing the Israel Ride.  In the course of a week, we get to know each other, we share stories, and, at times, we push or pull each other along on the ride.  We become friends.
  • I ride in memory of my stepfather, Rabbi Morris Gordon.  This is exactly the type of engagement with Israel that Morris encouraged -- it is active, demanding, and personal.  And, it makes a difference.  With each ride, I come home feeling closer to Morris and his lifetime commitment to Israel.
  • And, there are the many people, family and friends, who support, encourage, and, in so many ways "cheer for" the ride.  To be honest, I wish that they could all be there in person -- we'd have a great time!   Instead, I am flattered and honored by their support and good wishes.  We are a good partnership.  And, we are making a difference to the Arava Institute and Hazon.  Whether with me in person or in spirit, it is great to ride with each of them.

Finally, every ride has it's own personal reasons for standing out among others.  In 2009, it was the pleasure of having my oldest son, Adam, and his girlfriend, Michelle, join me for the first leg of the ride.  This year, it was the pleasure of being joined on the ride by my sister in law, Lisa Hicks.  This past year has also had it's own personal physical challenges for me.  In that context, while I didn't fully realize it in advance, the ride was as much about finding my strength as it was about the simple joy of being in Israel, on a bike.  I pedaled every inch of the most demanding part of the route, and rode over 300 miles.  Not sure if I found my strength, but I sure learned something about my determination!

Me and Lisa, at the Finish
The next Israel Ride is November 8 - 15, 2011.  I look forward to being there, to seeing old friends, and to making new ones.  I hope that you will join me.

Fireworks over the beach in Eilat

Sunday, October 24, 2010

I am in Israel, on a bike. I am cancer free. Life is good.

It's been almost 10 months since I learned that I had cancer. Three months later, on March 18th, I had 'life saving', and potentially life changing, surgery. Much of the time in between, and since, is a blur. But, there are scenes that don't easily fade – the call from my Doctor, in late December, telling me that I had cancer. Telling my children. Studying, and agonizing, over the treatment alternatives, and finally committing to surgery. On the morning of surgery, the nurse that asked, “how are you feeling today” (“I've got cancer, and I'm terrified, otherwise fine.”), being wheeled into the operating room and, just as everything went dark, marveling at the brightness of the surgical lights. Waking up, relieved, parched, nervous. The first “cancer free” test, a month later. And, the road to recovery – much of it on the seat of a bike. These are some of my memories. I suspect that other cancer patients and survivors each have their own. They are rarely far from the surface. They are the reason why, for me, this Israel Ride is different from the four that preceded it.

Today was the fourth day of riding on the 2010 Israel Ride. It was a fantastic day, starting with the amazing descent into the Machtesh at Mitzpe Ramon, and ending 77 miles later with an equally spectacular descent to Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava valley. The route between was all in the desert. It was beautiful. And, much to my pleasant surprise, I rode as well and as strongly as I have in years. If I was tired, friends pulled me along. If they were tired, I hope that I pulled  them along as well. In either case, besides sharing my story with another rider, as I really couldn't otherwise explain my excitement about being here, the fears and memories of last March were about as distant as I could imagine. Perhaps as distant as if you'd asked me last March about this year's Israel Ride …. it was a distant dream.

Tonight, at Kibbutz Ketura, about 260 miles of the Israel Ride are behind me. We ride another 50 miles tomorrow, finishing at the beach in Eilat. I am in Israel, on a bike.  I am cancer free. Life is good.

Postscript: lest you wonder, it's been seven months, and I'm cancer free. Prior to the surgery, my expected 10 year mortality was about 30%, perhaps higher. Today, it is less than 5%, and falling with each passing screening.  I am truly fortunate.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Nitzana to Mitzpe Ramon, Revisited - the Chalutzim Route

There are three routes on the Israel Ride, each of them an excellent way to see Israel from the seat of a bike.  The core route, with the largest number of riders, is Tzofim.  Shomrim ride at a slower pace, and combine part of the ride with some more traditional touring -- this year, their route included two 1/2 day post-morning ride, tours sponsored by JNF.  And, Chalutzim.  They generally ride at a faster pace.

On day three of the ride, the Chalutzim also ride a different route -- beginning at Nitzana, on the Egyptian border, riding south along the border for about 40 miles, and then turning west to complete the ride to Mitzpe Ramon.  It is the most demanding day of the ride, including a steep ascent up Kadesh Barnea and then a long climb to the highest peak in the Negev, about 3100 feet.  It is a beautiful ride, with virtually no traffic (most of the ride is spent on an otherwise closed security road -- just the riders and the IDF!  And, throughout, the route is on terrain that probably hasn't changed much over thousands of years.  It is a striking, though largely barren, landscape.

On my first Israel ride, in 2005, I rode the Chalutzim route for the the full five days of the ride.  Day 3, from Nitzana, was the most challenging.  For me, over four Israel rides, it was the only time that I've walked part of the route, or taken a ride on the SAG wagon to be jumped a few miles up the road.  Nothing wrong with either of those things, I've just wanted to do it all by bike.  So, those walks in 2005 have bothered me, even as I yearned to see this route again.  So, this year I worked through it.  I decided that it is okay for me to spend some time on the bus, if that will allow me to do the route again.  It would be worth it.

So, I left Nitzana at dawn with the rest of the Chalutzim.  About 18 miles later, we had completed the steepest climb on the route, cycling right past that short stretch that I walked five years ago.  After a break for breakfast, we road another 10 miles, the longest climb of the day was behind us, passing the second stretch that I had walked, and, at about mile 35 we  reached the highest peak, where the bus had dropped me off in 2005, after jumping me forward for the prior few miles.  And, much to my chagrin, this year, 2010, I was still on my bike.  I had completed the most challenging part of the route!  No walking, no ride on the bus.  The burst of energy that followed that realization pretty much propelled me for the rest of the ride....we rode into Mitzpeh Ramon by 1:30 (following a stop for lunch).  I felt, and rode, stronger on the last leg of the ride than I have been all year!  

It is Friday.  The first three days of the Israel Ride are behind us.  They have included riding through the Sharav (aka, Khamsini) on Wednesday, a "metric century" south from Ashqelon, and today's ride with the Chalutzim from Nitzana to Mitzpeh Ramon.  For the first two days, I enjoyed riding with the Tzofim group, and will probably ride in that group for the rest of this Israel Ride.  Today, I revisited the most challenging route on the ride.  And, I did it!   Today, I am Chalutzim.

Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

One word .... Sharav.

Details to follow :-).  But, the short story is that the first day of the Israel Ride was, for me, like none other - peak temperature of 113 degrees, about three consecutive hours of temps over 105, howling cross winds, no shade.  And, a bicycle ride.   The excitement and satisfaction of finishing it, and the friends that I made along the route, is immense.  That said, I'm really looking forward to better weather tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pre-2010 Israel Ride in Jerusalem

Today was a full day in Jerusalem, as we prepare to depart for the first leg of the 2010 Israel Ride early tomorrow morning.  The day began with a walking tour of the old city of Jerusalem.  As always, if the city didn't come alive on it's own (it does) our guide, Bill Slott, made it come alive for us.  While we only had a few hours for the tour, Bill made sure that all of the city's 3,500 (or so) year history came alive for us.  That history, makes it easier to better the richness of the city today, as well as the challenges of addressing many of the issues in the region today.   And, perhaps most important to many of us, the tour ended with our own time at the Kotel, the Western Wall.  It was a great way to start the day.

We are here, however, for The Israel Ride, and the afternoon was all about being prepared for our departure in the morning.  Depending  on the rider, that means being fitted for their rental bike, or unpacking and assembling (with mechanics here to help with whatever is needed) our bikes.  And then a short ride, through Jerusalem traffic, to be sure that all of our parts were working.   My legs worked, my knees worked, and, right out of the box, my bike worked too -- great omens for the days ahead!

Of course, it isn't just the ride that defines the Israel Ride, it is primarily the community and the great people that we meet here.  More on that in later posts, with the first day(s) of the 2010 ride behind me.....