Monday, November 28, 2011

The 2011 Israel Ride

Wow, what kind of dud am I?   After inviting friends and family to follow my blog throughout my sixth Israel Ride, my last post was on the eve of the ride .... I've left you all hanging!    And, while it is only two weeks (today!) since we rode into Eilat, exhilarated at the completion of the ride, it seems a lifetime ago.   Is it time for the 2012 ride yet?

But, this year's ride was definitely "one for the books" -- a wonderful group of about 100 riders, staff, and crew, beautiful route, perfect weather, reunions with old friends, and some special new friends.   It was also a different ride for me -- after five years of cycling pretty much every inch of the route (or, every inch of one of the routes), for a host of reasons, I resolved this year to take advantage of some of the touring options and to skip some of the riding.  I hope that my donors won't mind, 230 - 40 miles instead of the usual 300 or so.  It was a hard decision for me, as I love being on a bike in Israel, but it was necessary.   And, the tours turned out to be a special treat.  For this year, it was the right decision.

Every day of the ride had more than it's share of highlights.  Hopefully I can capture a few.

Riding Day #1, Jerusalem to Ashkelon

As the Jerusalem police have decided that they don't want large bike rides through the Jerusalem hills, we actually started in the hills outside of Jerusalem, about a 15 minute drive from the city.  I know, odd to start a bike ride with a bus ride.  Not to worry, most of us actually started it with a plane trip!

In any case, we started in near perfect weather and far from the city traffic, nothing to complain about!  Not to mention that we were headed down hill.  Nice way to warm up!

For a sense of today's ride, I've placed a brief (2 minute) segment on YouTube:

Day #1 was also my first touring day, so I rode about 30 - 35 miles in the morning.  Then joined with about 15 other riders for a JNF sponsored tour.  The ride was beautiful, and included traversing, in normal weather, a stretch of road where, on the 2010 ride we were enveloped in a Sharav, a desert 'event' where the temperature jumped from less than 80 degrees to over 105, and stayed there for four grueling hours.  This year, in stark contrast, the weather behaved (it was perfect), and the ride was outstanding.   I had a hard time following though on my decision to skip the afternoon and go see, among other things JNF's Sderot Indoor playground.  But, it was worth it.

The Sderot indoor playground was built by JNF to provide the children of Sderot a safe place to play while their city was under near constant missile attacks from nearby Gaza.  And, while the kids were in school, it proved a great place for some Israel Riders to play as well!   I've biked by Sderot on several previous Israel Rides, but this was the first time I saw anything of the town itself.  It was a relatively peaceful industrial town until Israel's withdrawal from Gaza (2006), left the town vulnerable to missile attacks from just over the border.  Then, the town became the target for thousands of strikes.  JNF built the playground when many outdoor playgrounds became unusable, as the children always needed to be within about 15 seconds of a shelter.  The indoor playground, with integrated shelters, solved that problem!

Day #2, Ashkelon to Mashabei Sade

We are in the desert now!   While day two starts on the Mediterranean, it is the day that we transition into the northern Negev.   It is a beautiful day of riding.  And, again, perfect weather!  (hopefully we will have the same weather committee for the 2012 ride)

One of the treats of the Israel Ride is that it is not just about the bike ride.  We stop along the way, and even learn a few things!  There were two guides this year, Bill and Hadas.  They spoke briefly at many of the stops.  There were also a number of students or alumni from the Arava Institute who made short, topical presentations.  And, David, the director of the Institute also did some teaching.  On Day 2, one of the stops was overlooking Gaza and a reservoir build by JNF.  It is one of over 200 reservoirs that JNF has built in Israel.  One thing that we learned is that thanks to conservation efforts, the highest level of water recycling in the world, the network of reservoirs built by JNF, and several new desalinization stations, Israel may soon go from being a country with chronic water shortages to actually having a water surplus!   It is a remarkable turnaround!

Day #3, Mashabei Sade to Mitzpe Ramon  (and Machtesh Ramom, it is NOT a crater)

This is one of the most beautiful days of the Israel Ride.  Also, while it is short, it can be one of the most is mostly up hill!  Though there are a few wonderful downhills thrown in for spice :-)

The highlight of the day, however, is the mid-morning break at Sde Boker, the dessert Kibbutz and home of David Ben Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister.   We had choices at Sde Boker -- mountain biking to a desert spring, or hiking to a different desert spring.  Having done the mountain biking before, I opted for the hike.  I'm glad I did...very beautiful desert spring!

The view from Sde Boker

Worth the hike, no?

Day #3 ended at Mitzpe Ramon, bordering Machtesh Ramon (understand, it is NOT a crater), and Shabbat.


There is a lot to be said for celebrating Shabbat, the Sabbath, on the Israel Ride.  Some of the riders are observant, many are not.  And, for all, after three days of riding, each of us challenging ourselves, getting to know new friends, and sharing the ride with old friends, the break for Shabbat is a very special part of the ride.

Riding Day #4, Mitzpe Ramon to Kibbutz Ketura and the Arava Institute

Okay, I'll admit it, this is the most fun cycling day of the Israel Ride.   The route is spectacular, most of the hills are downhill, we've grown comfortable on our bikes and with our fellow riders, and the weather is always perfect.  What's not to love?

My video was working (not to worry, it is attached to my distractions), so I was able to capture a couple of the more exhilarating portions of today's ride.  The links are:
Descending into the Machtesh:   and  The Final Descent and Sprint to Kibbutz Ketura

At least for me, there is something truly special about being on a bike, in the desert, in Israel.  That is what day #4 is all about.  What more can I say?

At this point, the most challenging parts of the Israel Ride are behind us.  If we didn't know how before, we've learned to climb (more on that later), we've grown comfortable with the group, and this is a beautiful day just to ride, enjoy the people, and enjoy being in Israel, on a bike, in the desert.

The close of the day is at Kibbutz Ketura, home of the Arava Institute.   Perfect.

Fortunately only a few of us have discovered the ring road around Ketura,  wonderful place for a late night stroll under the stars.

And, Finally, Riding Day #5, Kibbutz Ketura to Eilat

This year's ride route was re-routed, due to security concerns along the Egyptian border.  That made the route shorter, and allowed a detour to see Timna (aka, Solomon's Pillars), a site I last saw on one of my first trips to Israel.

The real highlight of the day, however, was our arrival in Eilat.   Jerusalem, only a few days back, seems a long time ago!

One Final Thought, on Pedaling Through Israel

One of the first things you learn as an experienced rider is that pedaling isn't just about pushing the pedals down (forward) it is also about pulling them back up.  Anything short of that, and you're only using half your strength.  That is a bit of a proxy for life, as one of the things we learn from experience is that you can't always get where you want to go just by pushing forward.  You may also need to pull others along with you, or, sometimes, allow yourself to be pulled along by others.  The Israel Ride is no exception.  Each of us pushes, for sure.  There are times when we are able to help pull our fellow riders along.  And, for sure, times when the energy, presence, and good will of others pulls us through whatever challenges we might face.  I am truly thankful to everyone who helped pull me along on this year's ride.  Thank you!!

And, a final footnote:

Between the riders and amazing crew and staff there were about 100 people on this year's Israel Ride, yet the photos above are mostly void of people!   That is because I couldn't capture them all here, but I was able to capture many of them in photos that I've posted to an archive on Picasa.  The link to that album is:  Archive of my photos from the 2011 Israel Ride   I hope that you will take a few minutes to view the album.

And, yes, Israel is for Foodies!  The food was, well, outstanding.  Though I'll never get over the option of having cheesecake for breakfast....

Photo courtesy of Hazon.  Wheel courtesy of my bike!


Monday, November 7, 2011

Is Jerusalem for Foodies?

There was a time when Jerusalem and fine dining just didn't really go together.  Sure, I once stayed here for about a month for less than $10/day, including an Old City roof top to sleep on, a couple of slices of Pizza, the local version of bagels (shown above) and as much of the city as I could see by foot.  It was a good time, at a great price, but, for sure, there was more eating than dining!

That has all changed.

Today, the old is still there, but, in case daily pizza (or falafel), isn't your thing, there are choices!   In the Old City, my favorite shawarma place, sadly, is gone, replaced by what the locals tell me is an amazing bakery.  And, fortunately, a new shawarma place has sprung up around the corner -- I'm told, and the lines would make me tend to agree, that it is as good or better than the old one.  I'll try to find out tomorrow.  In the meantime, side walk crepes, long a convenience only found in Paris, are not plentiful in Jerusalem as well!  I sampled one for lunch today, and may never return to Paris :-)  (needless to say, french fries have long been global)

 Of course, today's special treat was dinner for 15 Israel Riders at Eucalyptus, an outstanding Iraqi Israeli restaurant located in the old artists colony, not far from Jaffa Gate.  We feasted on a 12+ course meal, outstanding service, and frequent visits from the chef, whose family is originally from Iraq.  He taught us about the local herbs, how they are used in his family recipes, and how he came to feature such fine dining in Jerusalem -- not to mention the ancient practice of upside down chicken :-).  It was outstanding dining, and a great evening.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, the real work (and fun!) begins.  All but a couple of the riders are here in Jerusalem now.  So, in anticipation of Wednesday's early morning start for the Israel Ride, Tuesday is the "staging" day -- those who brought their bikes get them assembled, renters are fitted for their bikes, we do a practice ride on/near Mount Scopus, and start to get to know our fellow riders -- we will be spending the next few hundred miles with them!  The day ends with a safety briefing (required), and final explanation of the logistics and plans for our bike ride to Ashquelon, on the Mediterranean,  departing from Jerusalem on Wednesday morning!

Looking forward to getting started!


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Arrivals, 2011

I am very excited to be back in Israel, for my sixth Israel Ride.  After five prior rides, much of this year's route is familiar territory to me.  Still, I know that this year's ride will be a unique experience.  I am looking forward to  it with excitement and, yes, some anxiety.

One observation, from my landing in Tel Aviv on Sunday afternoon.  I travel a lot, probably too much.  This week, for example, is the fourth time in the past five weeks that I've traveled 5,000 miles or more.  That adds up to way too much time on airplanes.  One thing you notice is the indifference of travelers -- we "deal with it".   Rarely is a flight accompanied by any particular excitement or curiosity.   But, even for experienced travelers and repeat visitors, Israel is different.  That first becomes clear at the plane enters Israeli airspace.  Window shades are opened, and even the passengers sitting in the middle of the plane, 5 - 6 seats from the window, are aware, watching, and smiling as we pass over the beaches south of Tel Aviv and begin our final descent.  This is no routine landing, this is a landing in the land of can feel the excitement.   Minutes later, as we touched down at Ben Gurion Airport, the passengers greeted the landing, and their trip to Israel, with applause.

I guess we're not in Kansas anymore :-).

I'm looking forward to this year's ride, seeing old friends, and making new ones.  And, seeing some of my family here in Israel as well.  It was great, Sunday evening, to see my step sister, Arlene, and her husband, Ami.  Arlene share a greeting from my nephew, Guy, "welcome home".   I have to agree!

It is great to be here, and my thanks again to the friends and family whose generosity, patience, encouragement, and support makes it possible for me to lead Team JNF, do the ride, and generously support the Arava Institute and Hazon.   Thank you!!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Honoring Maxie Leviss

I never met Maxie Leviss. Maxie's mom, Abby Leviss, is the JNF staff person dedicated to Team JNF on the Israel Ride. She took on that responsibility earlier this year, bringing amazing new vitality to the team. Abby made plans to ride with the team for the upcoming 2011 Israel Ride. She offered a constant flow of great new ideas for the team, JNF, and the ride. Woven through every conversation, however, was talk of her adorable infant son, Maxie.

That all changed on July 20th, when we received news that Maxie had passed into a coma. 

The next day, July, 21, 2011, young Maxie died. He was nine months old.

As a father of four, I can't begin to imagine the pain that Abby and her husband, Ted, have suffered, or the void that Maxie's loss leaves in their lives. There are no words for it.

Abby and Ted have a deep connection to Israel. They hope to honor Max by planting a JNF forest in his memory. Hopefully it will grow to be a place where they can someday find some solace.

In order to help Abby and Ted realize their dream, I have committed to make a donation to Maxie's forest in honor of each donor to either Team JNF ( or my 2011 Israel Ride ( If you've already contributed, there is nothing more that you need to do, I will contribute to Maxie's forest in your honor. If you have not already contributed, please do so today by clicking on either of the link's above. Your contribution will go directly to supporting the outstanding work of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, and I'll honor it with a contribution to Maxie's JNF forest. Also, if you'd like to contribute directly to Maxie's JNF forest, please follow this link:

I never met Maxie Leviss, but I hope to someday visit the forest bearing his name. Please join me in helping to make that forest possible.