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.