Thursday, November 18, 2004



Now that the Alyn Bike Ride is over, time to take stock.

What did I do right and what did I do wrong in training for the ride?

What were the good points of the tour and what could use improvement?

Would I do it again?


My training was, for the most part, spot on, with one major exception. I would divide my training into three categories. Spinning, On-road biking and core training.

The spinning was, by far, the most effective training that I did. I spent between 45 minutes and an hour on a spin bike between 4 and 5 times a week. In the beginning I did a lot of high end interval training but the closer I got to the ride, the more I focused on simulating climbing. Many times in the last couple of months, I simulated climbs for the entire length of my session. This was very important because in Israel I had to ride uphill for as long as 1.5 hours straight on the last two days of the ride.

Had I really known how long and steep the climbs were, I would have concentrated even more on simulating climbs and I would have made them much more difficult. I would have done a bunch of 45 minute climbs with big resistance at a cadence of no more than 60 rpm. As it is, I feel that I could not have done nearly as well as I did had I not put in the hours on the spin bike.

The one area where I essentially wasted most of my time was on my road bike. All the time I spent in Central Park or riding out to Point Lookout in Long Island was a complete waste of time (in terms of training; I loved riding in Central Park). The only worthwhile rides that I did were the centuries, particularly the ones in Stamford, Connecticut and Westchester (although even the hills there were nothing compared to what we had to ride in Israel).

Knowing what I know now, I would have driven out to Bear Mountain or places like that and found the biggest hills I could. Even shorter rides on bigger hills would have been better than longer, flatter rides.

I also did not anticipate the extereme heat we faced in the Negev and the Dead Sea area. The combination of a very mild summer and very early riding times resulted in my doing virtually no serious hot weather training. Next year the ride will be in the north and will be a couple of weeks later (because of the timing of Succos) so I'm sure it will not be nearly as hot.

The other part of training that I nailed was my core training and conditioning. I did a lot of pushups and planks, shoulder rolls, squats and sit ups. This strengthened by arms, shoulders, quads and abs. Although many people don't realize it, this can be extremely helpful during an endurance ride. many people complained of sore shoulders from the descents, sore backs from bending over (especially during climbs, sore thighs from the amount of riding. Because i was so well conditioned, nothing bothered me the entire time. For next year's ride I will follow essentially the same regimen, adding a few more exercises.

The Tour

The tour rocked. It was amazingly well run. There was plenty of water, plenty of rest stops, good food, good mechanical support, nice enough accomodations (other than the Bedouin Tent), good comeraderie, and lots of fun. The routes were well planned and challenged everyone at his or her level.

I have small criticisms. The stronger riders had to wait a very long time at lunch for the slower riders to arrive before we were permitted to continue. It was crazy hot and I got cooked at every lunch break. Also, the decision to delay the start on the fourth day was a huge mistake. Finally, lunches were meat; I would have preferred dairy. As I said, these are small things. All in all the ride was amazing.

So long as the dates work out for me next year, I expect to do the tour again. Wouldn't miss it. Everyone I spoke to who did the tour feels the same way. Many people at home who didn't do it are very interested in doing it next year. It's funny but they fall into different categories. There are people who are in good shape who feel they can do it. There are people in lousy shape who see it as a challenge. I even know of two people who were severely injured in car wrecks and are in very bad shape who have set next year's tour as a goal.

The challenge for the tour organizers is to figure out logistics for 500 riders. I have no doubt that that many riders are going to want to ride next year.

If you are interested (or are interested in looking at the pictures from this year's ride), go here.

I am signing off for now. I will probably be back in the spring when I start my outdoor training for next year's ride.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004


The End

We rode from Har Hetzl into the entrance to the hospital. (Strangely, my chain came off twice while I was leaving Har Hertzl. This hadn't happened the entire ride).

We were greeted by many of the patients and parents of Alyn Hospital as well as by the many relatives that had come to great their riders. (Although my daughter was nearby at seminary, I told her not to bother because she had a great class at the time.)

After sorting out the bicycle situation (I left my bike to be disassembled and boxed; others had rented bikes and others were riding them back to their homes and hotels), there was a short ceremony. It was pretty moving. They announced that so far almost $900,000 had been raised and that they were hoping the number would go up to $1.5 million.

I've raised just a bit less than $12,000, almost none of which came from my various blog audiences. A shout out to my man PRODLY who did come through. (Even though I have had some fun at his expense (and he at mine), and even though he does inhabit his own unique universe, the more I get to 'know' him the more I like him. Have some Tofu on me, Prodly!). If anyone would like to contribute at this late date click here and put MoChassid as the person you are sponsoring.

After the ceremony, I grabbed my stuff and caught a cab with another rider back to the place I was staying in Jerusalem. Having gone to sleep at around midnight and gotten up at 4:30 a.m. and having riden 18 of the hardest miles I've ever done (plus another 8 difficult miles) I was wiped. I took a nap for an hour and a half. Really comfortable bed and no one nearby to snore.

The hospital had scheduled a dinner for later that night but I blew it off because i was so beat. I also wanted to have dinner with my daughter. I heard that I didn't miss much although I would have liked to say a final farewell to some of the riders.

Dinner with my daughter was wonderful (I ate massive quantities) and then I had one of the soundest night's sleep that I can remember.

All in all, it was an amazing bike tour. Way beyond my expectations.

I'm already psyched for next year.


The Last Day II - Entering Jerusalem

After the seven mile climb from Adumim Junction to the foot of Jerusalem I arrived at the second rest stop. I was a bit exhausted and extremely hot. I took off my helmet and bandana and poured water over my head to cool down. I grabbed some snacks (they were giving out M&Ms!) and ate about four tangerines.

Again, I was among the first 15 to 20% of the riders to make it up the hill. The organizers were not going to let anyone continue until the last rider made it up the hill. That ended up taking about an hour. I sat on a curb and rested. I was suddenly overtaken with a great sense of sadness. The ride that I had been looking forward to for months and which I had absolutely loved for the past 5 days was just about over. I wasn't ready for that.

Finally, the next stage began. We rode to and through the tunnel that goes underneath Har Hatzofim. Traffic had been stopped so it was very cool. Unfortunately, the approach to the tunnel and the tunnel itself was totally uphill at a very nasty grade. The good news is that it wasn't too long. (Nevertheless, at least a dozen riders boinked and had to be picked up by the SAG van).

After going through the tunnel and a few dangerous streets, we headed straight for Givat Hatachmoshet (Ammunition Hill) where we stopped for lunch. Bagels!! Real bagels! And soda! And ice! We all scarfed down our lunch and hung out. Hundreds of pictures were taken and a feeling of accomplishment permeated.

I found a nice patch of grass and tried to catch a nap while we waited for the next, and final stage to commence.

We finally started out at about 2 p.m. Unexpectedly, this stage would be one of the funnest parts of the ride. We took a left out of Givat Hatachmoshet and rode a couple of blocks to Ramat Eshkol. The police were blocking traffic for well over a mile. The ride was completely straight and completely downhill. I got into a tuck, put the bike in the highest gear and pedaled. I was going almost 40 miles and hour!! I started screaming, wu wu!!! (I know that's not becoming of a man who is nearing his 50th birthday but I didn't care; I guess I'm still a child at heart). All good things must come to an end and this surge ended when we got to the Begin Highway. That was back up a hill until we reached Kiryat Hayovel, up to Har Hertzl.

We all gathered there and waited for the stragglers.

It was at this point that I fell on my butt in front of about 200 people.

I went to the bathroom at Har Hertzl and washed my glasses. They had become impossibly dirty from all the sweat and grime of the day's ride. Unfortunately, there were no paper towels in the bathroom. So, I walked out, looking for something to wipe my glasses on. As I walked down the steps in my biking cleats, I slipped and landed hard on my tusch. A bunch of people came over to see if I was ok, which I was other than my pride. I couldn't help but think that I had just completed 310 miles without incident, without even a flat, and here, literally 2 minutes from the end, I almost killed myself walking down steps.

Unfortunately, my glasses were in my right hand when I fell and got crushed. Luckily they are unbreakable but they were mushed into a shape that would do me no good. I spent the next five minutes trying to rearrange the glasses into some semblance of a shape that would fit around my ears. (It wasn't until I got home that I was able to really fix them).

After a few minutes we all got back on our bikes and the 235 person Yellow Swarm rode together to Alyn Hospital for the very moving closing ceremonies.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004


The Last Day - Climbing to Jerusalem

The climb to Jerusalem is something that I had been anticipating for months. Starting out from the Dead Sea area, we would be riding a relatively short distance. But the ride would be virtually straight up.

A small group of riders stayed at the Kalya guest house, just off the Dead Sea. The bulk of the group was in Almog, about 13 kilometers northwest. The climb to Jerusalem was scheduled to be launched from Almog so we were given the option of either riding our bikes or taking a bus.

Most of the riders chose the latter because they reasoned that the climb would be hard enough; no reason to add thirteen kilometers. I considered taking the bus but ultimately decided to ride, for three reasons. First, my quads were very tight because of the previous day's climb of Mitzukei Dragot. I thought that a nice, flat warm up ride to Almog would loosen me up. Second, riding to Almog would put me over the 300 mile (and 500 kilometer) mark for the tour (when added to the climb to J'lem). And, third, I'm certifiable.

That was my first mistake. Only about a dozen of us decided to ride. We started out at 6:10 a.m. in a paceline and everything went well for the first few kilometers. But, as soon as we turned west, the nice, flat, warm up ride to Almog turned out to be anything but. We were riding into an amazingly powerful headwind. Even though the terrain was relatively flat, I felt as though I was climbing. In fact, I kept looking down at my tires because I felt like I was riding on a flat. After what seemed like forever, I finally pulled into the gas station at Almog.

I was very tired and although my legs were now looser, my thighs still felt fatigued. I was starting to appreciate the wisdom of those riders who decided not to do Mitzukei Dragot in order to preserve energy for the Jerusalem climb.

After a short break, the 235 rider "Yellow Swarm" started out to Jerusalem. Our first stop was to be in Mitzpeh Yericho, a strategic settlement east of Jerusalem that overlooks Jericho. We were scheduled to eat breakfast there.

As had become my custom on mass starts on this ride, I went as close to the front as I could in order to reduce the chances of getting caught up in a congestion crash. The hills started almost immediately and pretty much didn't stop for five miles until we reached Mitzpeh Yericho. The heat was brutal and again I suffered from burning eyes as a result of sweat pouring down my brow.

We ate a very hearty breakfast on the terrace overlooking Jericho. For the first time on the trip....Skippy peanut butter!!! That was awesome. At teh suggestion of some of the doctors on the ride they urged us to salt our food mightily in order to make up for all the minerals we were losing because of the heat. I took a hard-boiled egg and essentially drowned it in salt and sucked it down. Yech.

After waiting about a half hour for the slower riders to arrive, we got going again.

The next leg would prove to be the most difficlut part of the ride. After a two mile modest climb we got a bot of relief. When we hit the Adummim Junction it was 7 miles, straight up without any relief whatsoever. In those seven miles we climbed 2100 feet, with grades averaging as much a 8.9%.

Getting up this hill was about one thing. Willpower. You simply couldn't stop. You had to keep pedaling, albeit in a low gear and at a slow pace. You made your way up, bit by bit. It was not advisable to look anywhere but just in front of you. Looking up any higher would be discouraging because you would see the miles of hills still to come.

Today's ride was also different because it was all about each individual. Because of the nature of the road and the hills, you had to ride in single file. There was no one to talk to, no pacelines, no help. It was all about what you had in your heart and in your head.

As I got close to the top, I felt a surge of emotion overtake me. I had trained so long and so hard for this tour (and particularly for this day) and here I was about to finish. I had done everything I had set out to do and was sad about the prospect that it was about to end.

I pulled into the rest stop and was assured that I had completed what was by far the most difficult part of the ride. The organizers assured us that there would be no more hills as long as the one we had just completed. We were almost home.

Monday, November 15, 2004


Day Four - The Climb to Metzukei Dragot

The fourth day of the ride was the most difficult by far (but would be surpassed in difficulty by the last day). It was made all the more difficult by a very bad decision made by the organizers to postpone the start of that day's ride.

For reasons that are not completely clear, the off-road portion of Wednesday's ride was cancelled. The organizers said it was because the IDF pulled its permission to ride through a restricted area. I think the real reason is because the off-road portion was exceedingly difficult and the organizers were afraid that riders would get hurt (they had already been warning all casual off-road riders not to do the Wednesday ride). Whatever.

The upshot, however, is that the organizers concluded that they could start the ride later in the day because they felt that the on-road ride was fairly easy (with the exception of the optional climb to Mitzukei Dragot). So, instead of getting up at 5:30 a.m., and leaving by 7 or 7:30, we were told to get up at 7 and be ready to leave at 9. This made most people very happy since most of us were dead tired and we were staying in an exteremly nice place. I, on the other hand, was very concerened. I had been planning to ride up Mitzukei Dragot, an unbelieveably nasty 3.6 mile climb of almost 1100 feet. With the delay, it meant that the climb would begin at noon rather than at 10 a.m. That meant the temparature would probably be just around 100 degrees during the climb.

I had long conversations with myself as to whether to go forward. I had been looking forward to this climb ever since I saw the maps and elevations of the ride. On the other hand, I was trying to be a grownup and assess the risks of dehydration and boinking. The alternative was to ride 30K to Ein Gedi and take a one-hour tiyul through the nature reserve before riding on to lunch at Mineral Beach.

(Making matters worse, I had ruined my heart rate monitor the night before. I inadvertently went into the shower with the watch portion of the monitor. Upon realizing this, I took off the watch, opened the shower door and gently tossed my watch onto the bathroom counter. Unfortunately, the watch landed directly in the sink which was full of my jersey, bib shorts and a lot of water. Even though I retreived the watch in a matter of seconds, it was fafallen.)

As it happened, the overwhelming majority of riders (even the testosterone teens and many of the elite riders) chose the Ein Gedi option. I decided to decide at the last minute. When we got to Ein Gedi I was feeling strong and decided to try the climb. Since I had been to Ein Gedi numerous times in the past taking a tiyul did not appeal to me.

Afte a 15 minute break, about 40 lunatics (out of 235 riders) started out for Mitzukei Dragot. We rode along the Dead Sea, past Mineral Beach until we hit the turnoff for Mitzukei Dragot. It did not take long to see what we were in for. Immediately upon turning off the main road the grade went from 0 to about 10 or 11%. It was by far the steepest hill I had ever climbed. I went into my granny gear immediately and started cranking one pedal stroke after another at a very slow and consistent pace. I started sweating profusely to such an extent that, despite wearing a bandana under my helmet, sweat was getting in my eyes, burning them and making it difficult to see. On that kind of grade, it was hard to let go of the handlebars even for a second so I was unable to wipe my brow.

After what seemed an eternity, the rode suddenly flattened and I had a couple of minutes to recover. Ad Kan Hakafa Alef.

After an all-too-short interval, the climb continued. This portion was just a repeat of the first and all I did was crank my pedals, one after the other. Again, finally, there was a brief respite where the road flattened out. Ad Kan Hakafa Beis.

The second flat portion was even shorter than the first so before long I was back into the third (and, I would discover, last) portion of the climb. I kept looking up to try to get a sense of how much further we had but could not accurately gage it. Finally, I went around a curve and saw the top. Wu Wu!!

At the top, the organizers greeted us not only with the normal water, figs, tangerines and cookies that we were used to getting at rest stops but with cherry ices. Never had ices tasted as good.

After relaxing for about forty minutes, I made my way back down the hill. The descent was awesome because unlike previous steep descents, the switchbacks on Mitzukei Dragot were not tight so I was able to let loose.

When I got to the bottom, I had to ride back a few miles (into a brutal headwind) to Mineral Beach for lunch. By the time I arrived there was almost nothing left to eat and people were already leaving for the next leg of the ride. I scarfed down some warm soup and bread and was back on my bike within 30 minutes. I was one of the last riders to leave Mineral Beach.

For some strange reason, I had an enormous amount of energy in reserve. The road was flat and I now had a tailwind behind me. I started cranking in a high gear and started passing people every few seconds. I must have passed at least 100 riders.

At one point we came to an IDF checkpoint. Just beyond the checkpoint was our next rest stop. However, right at the checkpoint was a kiosk. I suddenly got a craving for an ice cold Coke. I guess I couldn't bear the thought of another warm water refill. I stopped at the kiosk plunked down my 5 shek and bought a can of Coke.

I put the Coke in my left hand and started drinking and riding. What a gevalt.
I quickly finished the Coke, crushed the can and put it in one of the back pockets of my jersey.

I then resumed the chase. After another few miles I reached the entrance to the Kalya guesthouse, where we would be staying that night. Par for the course, the entrance to the guesthouse was entirely uphill and went on for about two miles. After a couple of hundred feet I saw my two roommates struggling to get up the hill. One of them was had almost nothing left. Sensing an opportunity, I got out of my seat, dropped the hammer and passed them as if they were standing still. Once again, I got to the room first, about ten minutes before my roommates.

This time, I had rachmanus. I took the cot and allowed them to have the beds. Really.

After showering and washing our stuff, we were bussed to the Almog guest house where the overwhelming majority of the riders were staying that night and where dinner was being served. I ate a huge amount that night, got back on the bus to Kalya and went to sleep.

I was extremely giddy about my climb of Mitzukei Dragot. It was perhaps the hardest athletic thing I had ever done. After looking forward to it for months, I was happy that I decided to go for it and very grateful that I was able to do it without incident.

There was now only one more hurdle. Thursday's 18 mile, 3600 foot, climb to Jerusalem. I was psyched.

Thursday, November 11, 2004


The Israel Ride - Day Three

We couldn't have left the Mamshit Bedouin Tent early enough for my tastes. In fact, we got up at 5 a.m. because if you rode an optional 14 mile cicuit in the Arava Valley, this day would be the longest, about 80 miles. After the miserable dinner the night before, I was glad that the breakfast was much better. The rolls were fresh baked and excellent and there was a bunch of other pretty good stuff.

The elevation charts told you that Tuesday's ride was largely downhill. We were starting 1500 feet above sea level and would end up 1200 feet below, at the Dead Sea. It was surprising, then, how many difficult hills we had to climb.

We climbed a nasty hill until we came to a place called the Ascent of the Scorpions. It was a ridiculously steep downhill with 31 very narrow switchback turns. The road itself was the worst paved road we would ride all week, full of holes, sand and pebbles. I went down pretty slowly and carefully. (We had been warned the night before to be very wary of this descent. The ride organizer told us that if we weren't careful on this road, we would be involuntarily joining the off-road riders). By the time I got to the bottom, my hands were killing me from braking so hard. I was very grateful not to have crashed or gotten a flat.

At the bottom, it felt as though we had just landed on the moon. A very hot moon. We were in the Arava Valley. Luckily, the ride through this moonpatch to the Dead Sea area was slightly downhill and we had a very strong tailwind. This was one of the most fun parts of the entire week. For a half hour, I was riding at over 20 miles an hour, using a relatively low gear and barely putting in any effort. It was awesome.

We got to the lunch area very early, around 10:30, much faster than the organizers had anticipated. As a result, we did the optional 14 mile circuit of the Nachal Ha'Arava before lunch instead of after. We were back at 11:30 but lunch hadn't arrived. Unfortunately there had been a glitch and lunch would end up arriving at about 1 p.m. Luckily, lunch this time was at a gas station rest stop so I ended up buying ices, potato chips and orange drink while I waited. Nevertheless, as had happened in the two previous days, I absolutely baked in the two hours I had to wait during the lunch breaks.

We finally got going again at about 1:30. It was unbelievably hot and I had been sapped of a lot of strength by hanging in the heat for so long. We still had a very long ride north along the Dead Sea. For the first time all week I struggled. I barely made it to the next rest stop, at the Dead Sea Works. They were nice enough to provide cold bottled water (a real treat after drinking water all day that had been sitting in 100 degree temparature) and ices. There were still about 25 kilometers until our hotel and I was very concerned about boinking.

Luckily, I was saved by another rider, a long-time oleh who lives in Hashmonaim, with whom I had spent a lot of time during the past three days. We decided to work together the rest of the way. We picked up two other guys and we had a four man paceline. A paceline works by having the guy in the front "pull" for a short period and then drop back to the back of the line. Each rider gets right behind the wheel of the rider in front. The riders in the line have a much easier time because the guy 'pulling' is cutting the wind. Each of us pulled in the front for about 60 seconds and then dropped back to the back of the pack; we repeated this almost all the way home. Working in a paceline can reduce your efforts by as much as 40% so instead of boinking, we actually flew most of the way home. Most, not all.

Just before we reached the hotel we hit one of the nastiest hills of the entire ride. The paceline broke down and each of us was on his own. I was brutal but I finally did get to the top. From the top we had a nice descent down to the area where in Ein Bokek where all the hotels are situated.

We reached the hotel and dismounted. I walked into the lobby of the hotel and felt like I had died and gone to heaven. Unlike the other places we had stayed, this was a real hotel. (The hospital organizers were able to get a very cheap rate; it was virtually the same as we paid for the Beduoin tent). The air conditioning was extremely strong. There were chocolate covered graham crackers and ice cold orange drink. I had about ten cookies (I'm not exaggerating) and went up to my room. Once again because I had ridden pretty strong I was first. This was especially important because there was a comfortable looking double bed and a nasty looking cot in the room. I took the cot. NOT.

Once again, I showered, washed my stuff and was resting on my bed of choice before my roomies even got there.

A little later, my roomies and I sat down for dinner at a table for four and were joined by one of the strangest guys I have ever met. Spooky weird. The kind of guy you are sure has bodies buried beneath his basement. We learned his (weird) life story in five minutes and were weirded out the rest of dinner. Nevertheless, the food was exceptional and I ate as much as I could (it never seemed to be enough; the scale in my room had me down another 4.5 pounds since the start of the tour. My weight hadn't been this low since high school).

The hotel was chock full of Russians and there seemed to be more Russian being spoken than either English or Hebrew. I took a walk around the shopping area, got back to the hotel and fell asleep in a minute flat.

The next day would be the 3.6 mile climb up Mitzukei Dragot; by far the hardest part of the ride so far.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004


The Israel Ride - The Second day

Early on Monday morning we rode out of Nitzana.

We started the day with davening followed by breakfast. Even though I typically don't like to eat much before doing anything athletic, it was crucial to eat a good breakfast on the morning of a ride. My breakfast consisted of coffee, juice, a roll and some eggs. I salted the eggs a lot because all the sweating that was to follow would deplete my body of salt. (And, ironically, although drinking a lot of water might prevent dehydration, it also flushed out the electrolytes and other good stuff and could cause you to boink. The ride did not provide energy drinks or powders and that would become a problem for numerous riders).

I don't remember much about the morning other than that it was largely flat with a few moderate climbs and very boring, the most boring part of the ride. Finally, after the first rest stop, it began to get more interesting. We climbed another very nasty hill to get to a summit that would bring us down into the Machtesh Gadol (the Large Crater). The view from the summit was awesome.

The descent into the Machtesh was extremely long (at least two miles) and steep. At this point we ran into a group of riders from the UK who were also doing a bike ride in the south of Israel. Unfortunately for them, they were going up the hill that we were going down. And, suprisingly, about 75% of them were walking their bikes up the hill! Losers. (I know that sounds harsh. Indeed, when I first saw them, I thought, wow, this must really be hard if most of them can't make it up. After Wednesday when I climbed Mitzukei Dragot, and especially after Thursday, when even the lamest of us climbed to Jerusalem, I realized they were just losers).

At the bottom of the descent, we were in the crater itself. There, we finally met up with the off road riders who had been riding in the bowels of the crater for a good part of the morning. We road together, on road, for another mile or so where lunch was served.

Once again lunch was excellent. The problem, again, was that we had to wait almost two hours for the stragglers to come in before the organizers would let us move on. It was probably close to 100 degrees and the shade provided by a meakeshift tent did not offer much relief. I felt myself baking.

We finally left the lunch area and had a moderate climb to get out of the crater. The rest of the day's ride was fun and uuneventful.

Our destination for the night would be the Mamshit Bedouin Tent.

Again, the fact that I was a strong rider worked to my benefit. I was able to get a spot in the very front of the tent where I would be able to get in and out quickly (I can get very claustraphobic). I was also able to get a shower before the long lines appeared (there were about ten showers for about 300 people).

That evening there was a makeshift 'bar' provided by a few of the veteran riders. While I am normally not adverse to a pop of scotch from time to time, things were going too well with my body and I didn't want to muck anything up, so I abstained. Then we were subjected to some mumbo jumbo by the Israeli proprietor of this faux-Bedouin-tent-tourist-trap about how the Bedouins were our brothers, yada, yada, yada. (Is that why the ride mechanics literally put a chain and lock through all 235 bicycles so that our 'brothers' wouldn't steal our bikes and why we were told to keep our valuables on us at all times (including while we slept)??).

The 'authentic' (kosher) Bedouin meal that followed bordered on the inedible. Since, (a) I was really hungry after another 65 miles of riding, and (b) it was really important to have a good meal the night before a difficult ride, I was none too pleased.

In any event, it was a very magnificent, star-filled evening and I slept soundly despite the best efforts of the many snorers surrounding me.

The organizers of the ride said that sleeping in a Bedouin tent is a once in a lifetime experience. Now that I have had that experience once in my life, I hope never to experience it again.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004


The Israel Ride - First Day

On Sunday morning, October 24th, after an unnecessarily long opening ceremony, the 235 yellow-clad riders of the Alyn Hospital Wheels of Love Bike Tour finally hit the road.

Although we started out together, about half the riders were going off road and the other half, including me, were staying on road. I was concerned about the actual start because it's easy to crash when there are so many riders leaving at once. I watched my 'mentor' from Chicago move to the front and followed him. There is a much better chance of avoiding a pileup at the front. The start turned out to be smooth and uneventful.

We all rode together for a couple of miles when we hit a junction. The roadies made a left and the off roadies went straight. We wouldn't see them again until Monday at lunch since we were staying in different places on Sunday night.

The first few miles were very flat. There was a nice tailwind so the ride was very comfortable. What a mechayah. I was riding at a leisurely pace, talking to various riders who where riding at a similar pace. I would end up spending most of the next four days riding with the same ten or fifteen riders most of the time.

Of the 235 riders, about 115 were from Israel, overwhelmingly olim from America (some from thirty years ago, others much more recent). 83 came from the US, 20 from Canada and 8 from the UK, a couple of Frogs and one from Australia. One of the fun things about the ride was finding out the backgrounds of the various riders, both during the ride and in the evenings.

The leisurely part of the ride came to an abrupt end when we climbed this nasty hill. It was much longer and steeper than anything I had done in the US and was harder than Friday's climb to Yad Kennedy. I was happy to have had the Yad Kennedy experience because I was better prepared to handle the hill. I went into my 'granny' gear and handled the hill slowly but without much difficulty. My heart rate stayed well within my aerobic zone.

After the climb the road remained flat until just before the lunch break. One had to 'earn' lunch by climbing another enormous hill, even longer than the first one. We were rewarded with a delicious lunch of pasta and hot soup (which I gobbled up even though the temperature was at least 90 degrees). We were also rewarded with a magnificent view of Kadesh Barnea, where Bnei Yisrael encamped for a very large portion of it's 40 year stay in the desert.

After lunch we had a very fun descent and then a relatively flat remainder of the day. We rode north for about 40 kilometers along a tiny road literally at the Israel - Egypt border. Not one single car passed us the entire time. The Egyptian border guards were waiving to us as we passed which was pretty cool.

Finally, we made a right turn and rode into Nitzana Village where we would be staying the first night. Since I had been riding pretty hard all day, I actually reached the village early, by 2:30 p.m. At that point I was able to assess my relative strength and I was pleased that it appeared that I was in the top 15 to 20% of the roadies.

I quickly found my room, picked the best bed (again), showered, washed my jersey and bib shorts and rested on the grass outside the room. I had gotten only 5 hours of sleep and had ridden 62 miles in pretty nasty heat. The remaining riders came in over the next two hours with a few of them having to be picked up by the sag van.

I found out later that a couple of people dehydrated on the first day and one actually had to be hospitalized overnight (and had to withdraw from the ride). Another two withdrew because they felt they hadn't prepared properly.

BH, I felt tired but great. I felt that all my preparations had paid off. I didn't feel the least bit sore and I was ready for another hard day of riding on Monday. We had gone places that I had never seen in all my many visits to israel and I was looking forward to what the next day would bring. I was sleeping by 9:30 p.m.

Monday, November 08, 2004


The Israel Ride - The First Night

On Motsai Shabbos, October 23rd, the riders, both Israeli and from chutz la'Aretz (foreigners) who were leaving from Jerusalem, gathered near the King Solomon Hotel to take a bus to Mitzpeh Ramon in the Negev.

Those who brought bikes had dropped them off at the hospital by Friday at noon and they had already been trucked to Mitzpeh Ramon.

The buses were scheduled to leave at 7:30 but didn't get going until about 8:30. I forgot my extra tire and called my daughter who graciously walked over to the bus, tire in hand. (We were staying at a home nearby). The scene at the hotel was a pretty big balagan but, ultimately, we were on our way. I sat next to a very nice American ex-pat whose son and grandson were participating in the ride. He was a retired doctor from Queens and we played a nice round of Jewish georgraphy.

After a pit stop, we finally made it to Mitzpeh Ramon. We were divided between two locations that were very close. The first (where I was) was simply the Achsania, or Youth Hostel. The second was called Club Ramon but was no fancier than the youth hostel.

I was the first in the room and quickly grabbed the lower half of a bunk bed. (This was a pattern that I would follow the entire ride. Since I was a relatively strong rider, I was the first person to my room every night. Being a strong believer in meritocracy, I did not hesitate to take the best bed. I also showered and washed my jersey and bib shorts before anyone else got there).

After setting my bags on the bed, I went to the parking lot where all the bikes awaited. It was at that point that I really felt that I had made the right decision in bringing my own bike (despite the hassles). While my bike was all assembled and ready to go, those who had rented bikes first had to have them sized and checked. Many riders were not happy with the size or set up of their bikes. Although virtully all of these issues were resolved in the first couple of days, a few riders had very uncomfortable experiences in that time. My bike, on the other hand, was awesome and I felt extremely comfortable from the get go.

I got to bed after midnight but my two of my three roomates, who came later from other areas of the country, did not get to sleep until much later. While none of my roomates snored (that would be the last night I could say that), one of them did talk in his sleep. Nevertheless, i got a good night's sleep.

We woke up at 6 a.m., davened, ate breakfast, checked out the amazing natural crater at Mitzpeh Ramon, waited through some opening ceremonies, and were finally on the road.

Thursday, November 04, 2004


The Israel Ride - Prologue

I arrived in Israel on Monday afternoon, October 19th. It was a crazy day. I got picked up at the airport by a very sweet cab driver, Avi, who I ended up spending hours with. His English stunk, and, as a result, I was forced to speak a huge amount of Hebrew over the course of the week.

Avi took me and my bicycle directly to the Express Bike Shop in Talpiyot where we dropped it off to be assembled. We then dropped off the bike box at Alyn Hospital where the bike tour would end on October 28th and where they would dis-assemble my bike again.

From the hospital I went to surprise my daughter at her seminary. She thought I was arriving Tuesday and, indeed, that had been the plan until the previous week when I realized that I needed three days in Tel Aviv for business, rather than two. She freaked when she saw me, literally jumping up and down. It was great.

I hung around the school for a couple of hours, helping my daughter unpack the million things that I brought her. (Apparently they have no tuna, rice pilaf or hair mousse in Israel, to name just three items that I brought).

Avi picked me up and we went back to the bike shop, picked up the assembled bike and finally got to the house where I was staying.

I spent the next three days commuting back and forth to Tel Aviv and having dinner with my daughter and some friends at night.

On Thursday morning before work, I was scheduled to go for a ride with one of the veteran Alyn riders that I had gotten to know (through email and phone calls). When I checked my bike Wednesday evening, I noticed that the tube in the front tire had been changed by the bike store (an apparent flat when they assembled the bike) and, worse, a flat in my rear tire.

I fixed the tire but in doing so somehow messed up the chain. We tried to fix the chain on Thursday morning but couldn't. I ended up missing the ride and taking the bike back to Express Bike where they fixed it in 30 seconds.

Finally, on Friday morning, I went for my first ride. I went out with the veteran rider from Chicago, his sixteen-year-old son and two Israeli brothers, also veterans of the Alyn ride. The brothers were Anglo-Israelis who both seemed to be chisled out of granite. The older brother was in the Army and the younger a senior in Tichon (high school).

We went through Emek Refaim and Talpiyot until we reached the climb to Yad Kennedy. The hills to Yad Kennedy were much steeper and much longer than anything I had encountered in any of my training rides. I found myself sucking air and my heart seemed to be popping out of my chest. My heart rate was way over my aerobic threshhold.

I made it up all the way to Yad Kennedy and started to wonder what the heck I was in for. I asked the boys whether this climb was tougher than what we would see on the tour. They hemmed and hawed. I could tell that they didn't want to spook me but I could also tell that I was in for trouble. When I asked the Chicago rider the same thing he was more forthcoming. Yad Kennedy was not really any big deal.

Thankfully, the ride down from Yad Kennedy was great fun. We dropped off the bicycles at the hospital and took a cab back home.

I would only later find out that the four riders that I went out with were probably four of the top six or eight riders in the entire tour. Riding at my own pace, I would never again ride outside my comfort zone nor be overly challenged by the climbs (some of which, indeed, made Yad Kennedy look like bunny hills).

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