Sunday, April 23, 2006


Last Year's Ride, Day IV and V

The following is an account of my experiences during last year's Alyn Ride. The first part of the account is in the immediately preceding post.

The Ride, Day Four: Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv...

I was not looking forward to this day's ride. It was basically 40 flat miles, south from Zichron Yaakov to Tel Aviv on major highways. No hills, no climbs, no nice scenary, dangerous clogging (all 325 riders were going on road today) and lots of waiting again.

Well, I was very pleasantly surprised. It turned out to be a delightful day. 75 degrees, not a cloud in the sky, the roads were bearable and there were a couple of nice surprises.

We left Zichron Yaakov at about 8:30, an hour later than the other days. I stayed near the front of the pack all day, just behind the testosterone teens. That is the safest place to ride because the slower riders tend to be more dangerous, particularly when riding bunched up. We had a nice tailwind all day so it was very easy riding at a fairly decent pace.

The first rest stop was at a gas station - mini shopping area. I was able to nail both a Magnum ice cream bar and, more importantly, my first decent cup of coffee all week, a large cappucino. Gevalt! I was also able to work on my tan (a biker's tan; very goofy. Head and neck, arms and legs from just above the knee to just above the ankle).

The closer we got to T.A. the wider the highways. By the end we were riding on the shoulders of major roads. It's not my idea of the ideal ride but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I managed to avoid getting clipped by an 18 wheeler. Thankfully, there was an area where we road on backroads through nice farm lands.

Lunch was at a very lovely park just outside downtown Tel Aviv. The mayor of Tel Aviv met us there and made a presentation. It was pretty silly but the press was there so the hospital got some good pub. Lunch lasted a good hour longer than it needed to but we were used to that by now.

Finally, we made our way into downtown T.A. This was the coolest part of the day. The police closed off all the streets so we were able to fly down Hayarkon to the hotel. Wild.

We got to the Dan Panorama early in the afternoon and were able to really relax before dinner. I hung out in the lobby, mellowed out with a couple of glasses of red wine, had a very nice dinner and went to sleep.

All in all, a surprisingly pleasant day.

Only one more day left. The climb to Yerushalayim, including the ridiculously difficult ascent of Ramat Raziel; the hardest climb yet.

The Ride, Day Five: Climbing to Jerusalem

The police where planning to close off all the roads as we left Tel Aviv. For that reason they required us to leave the hotel by 6 a.m. This meant davening at about 5 a.m. and no breakfast at the hotel. (Riders were given a choice of leaving by bus at 7:30 and meeting the group at the halfway point but very few chose that option.)

Once again, I started right up front in order to avoid the more dangerous casual riders. The traffic-free ride through T.A. early in the morning was a lot of fun. Once again, we were blessed with a magnificent day (nevertheless, because we left so early in the morning, it was very cold for the first segment of the ride. I dressed appropriately with a windbreaker). We rode for about 45 minutes when we stopped for a snack. The next segment took us the remaining 20 miles to the foot of Ramat Raziel, near the Beit Shemesh industrial area.

Although this part of the ride was largely flat with a number of rolling hills, it was into a very strong headwind so the riding was challenging. I decided to ride very comfortably until the climbing started. I knew there would be a lot of waiting anyway so I saw no point in cranking hard. I wanted to save my strength.

I had done the climb to Ramat Raziel six weeks earlier with my friend Yehuda and a couple of his neighbors. I had been in Germany on business and was able to work out a weekend in Israel. I landed at 4 a.m., rented a car and met my friend in Hashmonaim. He had rented a road bike for me and we drove to Nais Harim and did a killer 50 kilometer loop, including Ramat Raziel. So, I knew what to expect. Or so I thought.

Just before Ramat Raziel we stopped for a boxed breakfast that had been prepared by the hotel. I made sure to load up with enough energy to get me through the difficult part of the ride.

And so we began.

It's hard to describe just how difficult the first part of the climb was. The gradients were ridiculous, some reaching 17%. Since I started in the front, among some of the strongest riders, I was amazed at how many riders got off their bikes and walked. It was actually very difficult to ride because so many people were struggling and weaving. You had to be very wary of the riders in front of you not cutting you off. (If you were forced to stop, it was almost impossible to start without help on a gradient that steep).

I was surprised by how hard this climb was. I didn't remember the ride being this difficult. I think it had to do with the fact that we were riding right into a headwind and, of course, that I was doing this climb after more than 200 miles and lots of difficult climbs.

I kept focused, pedal stroke after pedal stroke. I was not about to get off my bike and walk. I did, however, have to get out of my seat much more than normal. In certain spots it was the only way I could move forward.

I finally made it to the top of Ramat Raziel but I was not done. There were a few descents and another couple of brutal climbs. During this segment I was able to look around and appreciate the magnificent views provided by riding through the Jerusalem Forest. Mah Nora Hamakom Hazeh. Finally, about 75 minutes after I started the climb, I got to the lunch stop (whose name escapes me).

As usual, lunch was extremely long, while we waited for the slower riders. This time, we waited a very long time. When everyone got to the top, we took group pictures and finally got ready to go. The only good part of the rest stop was that I was able to get one more Magnum ice cream bar (that a local dog shared with me) and a very good cup of coffee.

From lunch we descended again and then started another brutal climb to Ein Kerem. This climb was really tough, especially after all the other climbs and a long break that just worked to tighten your muscles.

From Ein Kerem we went to Har Hertzel where we waited again for the slower riders. We were only a couple of minutes from the end, a group ride into the hospital but, again, it would be a long while before we would be off.

Finally, we left.

One of the funny things that has happened both times I've done this ride is that many of the really slow riders decide that they want to be at the front of the group as we pull into the hospital for the closing ceremony. After causing the better riders to wait countless hours during the week I guess they want to show off to their relatives how great they are by getting into some pictures. I wouldn't care so much if they weren't creating a dangerous situation at the front of the pack. Whatever.

We pulled into the hospital parking lot that was full of patients, staff and friends and relatives of the riders. It's a very moving scene.

This year I blew off the closing ceremony. You've seen one you've seen them all. Instead, I just took my bike to the mechanics, found my bike travel box and grabbed a cab. I got to my sister's house and took a hot shower for about half an hour. Mechaya.

I was really exhausted from a brutal day of climbing and a very difficult but exhilarating ride. I can't wait for next year's ride.

The Ride: Postmortem

The ride from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was extraordinarily challenging; a fitting end to the five day ride. I left Alyn hospital before the closing ceremony, very tired. My left achilles tendon was extremely sore but, other than that, I was in good shape. (Ironically, I think the achilles was sore because of all the walking I did in my bike shoes at lunches and rest stops; I don't think it was riding related.)

So, what are my overall impressions?

The ride was better organized this year. The vaad hired a logistics company because it was getting to be too massive to handle on a volunteer only basis. We got out on time every morning; no small feat when you are dealing with 325 riders. The food was generally good and plentiful (with the exception of my galus on the second night).

The mechanics were great, much better than last year. A few of them rode with us so they were always around. They were helpful and cheerful (even though, l'maisa, other than them putting my bike together upon my arrival, I didn't need them at all).

For the second straight year I managed to ride injury free, crash free and even flat free. I am very grateful for that.

I met some new people, including a rider and his wife who had been avid readers of my last year's ride summary, and a wonderful group from the Heschel school in Manhattan. The truth is that I not much of a social bug and I am uncomfortable in large group settings. I tend to find a few good friends and stick with them.

Once again, the worst part of the ride was the waiting for the slower riders at lunch and rest stops. At least it wasn't 100 degrees like last year (although on the first day, we froze at the top of the Golan for more than an hour). I don't know if there is anything they can do about it but it really is a drag. I'd actuall prefer to ride longer than wait.

And, again, this year it was clear that the ride is all about climbing. You can train 150 miles a week but if you are not working on climbing you are largely wasting your time. Where I live the best way to prepare is by using a spin bike and ratcheting up the knob to simulate climbing tough hills. Even though the longest ride I did since May was only 35 miles (and my longest ride all year only 50), I was able to manage because I would get on my spin bike for 45 minutes to an hour and crank like a fiend.

I was ok this year but I feel I could be much stronger. Between the baby totally screwing up my outdoor riding plans and the fact that I did not listen to music all year because I was in avel (mourning) for my dad (so my spinning was all music-free), I did not train nearly as well as I might have. I already feel that I am stronger now, now that I am spinning to music once again.

So, I already look forward to next year's ride. In my new job I am able to influence the calendar of events so I made sure that I have clearance for when the ride is likely to take place. I will maintain a very strong base and start hitting the road in April. I'm pumped already.

If any of you is thinking of doing the ride next year, a couple of words of advice. Lose some weight. The tubbier you are the harder it is to climb. Next, get yourself a spin bike. Unless you live in a hilly area and can get outside a lot, it's the only way to train. See you on the road.


Last Year's Ride, Days I, II and III

This is an account of my experiences at last year's Alyn Ride.

The Ride - Prologue

I landed at Ben Gurion Airport on Friday morning, November 4th. I collected my bike and luggage and hopped in a car (with my favorite driver, Avi Levy) and went straight to Alyn Hospital. I dropped off the bike for the mechanics to assemble and went straight to my sister's house. I did some shopping for Shabbos in Geulah and then took a nap.

In (what would have been) the middle of my nap I got a desperate call from the head of publicity for the hospital. Could I write an article for about my reasons for doing the ride and what the hospital means to me. I said, "sure, when do they want it?". She said, "now". I quickly thumbed out an article on my blackberry and shot it over. They actually did publish the article last week.

On Friday night I froze while davening at the Kotel with Chaim Dovid and Shlomo Katz. I wasn't feeling well and was very concerned that I was coming down with something. Just what I needed a day before the ride.

Dinner at CD's house was delightful and a good night's sleep followed. I was too lazy and sick to return to the Kotel in the morning so I davened at the shul in Yemin Moshe. I ate 'lunch' and went back to sleep at 11:30. When I woke up three hours later I felt much better.

The bus to Ramot, our launching point for the ride, left Yerushalayim at 7:30 and arrived at 10:15. Ramot is on the eastern end of the Kinneret and has a very nice guest house. It was nice to meet my acquaintances from last year's ride again. The riders hung out in the lobby, prepared their stuff for the next day's ride and went to sleep. I slept fitfully (as did, apparently, everyone else I spoke to).
Up at 5, minyan at 5:30, breakfast at 6. Breakfast was a total balagan. The dining room was not equipped to handle 400 people (325 riders, mechanics and volunteers) at the same time. I scrambled to get enough to eat and did not really succeed. This would have very negative implications later in the day.

After breakfast we checked out our bikes and made final preparations. The big question was what to wear. It was sunny and warm but we would be climbing over 4000 feet during the course of the day. Did one put on layers or simply dress for the warm weather. This decision, too, would have major implications for many of the riders through the course of the day.

At 7:30, after a mercifully short ceremony, we were on the road again.

The Ride: Day One - Climbing the Golan

After an inadequate breakfast, I pulled out of the Ramot Guesthouse along with the other 324 riders. I usually try to start way in the front in order to reduce my chances of crashing into inexperienced riders, but I was too late in getting to the start so I waited until almost everyone else had left.

After much deliberation about weather conditions, I decided to play it safe. I wore a long sleeve base shirt under my jersey, a windbreaker and shoe covers over my bike shoes. I also stuffed polyurethane sleeves into my jersey pocket in case it got really cold.

After a few minutes of flat riding, the interminable climbing began. It was about 8 miles up to Katzrin, our first stop. Although there were never extremely steep gradients, it felt that we were consistently doing about 6%. I was shvitzing like nobody's business. The sun was shining and the temps were probably in the low 70s. I was thinking that I was really stupid for being so conservative and was looking forward to the rest stop so that I could remove some layers.

No sooner did those thoughts cross my mind than the sun ducked behind the clouds. That was to be the last we would see of the sun until the next afternoon. It immediately became much cooler, and cooler still the higher we got.

Because the police, who escort us the entire ride, they require us to bunch up from time to time. Consequently, the stronger riders were made to wait until the last riders made it up the hill from Ramot before proceeding to the next leg. I waited for well over an hour. And got cold. And colder. And colder. I can only imagine how uncomfortable it was for the many riders who dressed inappropriately for the weather.

We continued to climb and climb along a a steady gradient until we reached the Druze village of Mas'ede. By this time it was about 11:30. We were given an option of climbing half way up Mount Hermon, about an 8 mile ride (and, of course, 8 miles down). I had fully expected to do this ride and I actually pulled out with the group going to the top. Just before the climb, we were givenm the chance to back out. In a rare moment of clarity and maturity, I reluctantly decided to bug out. I was incredibly uncomfortable because of the cold, very hungry because I had a miserable breakfast and feeling very weak. I decided that 62 miles would be enough for the day and continued on to the lunch stop.

In all, we climbed for almost 40 straight miles before leveling off and riding another 22 miles into the guest house at Keshet. It was one of the most gruelling days of riding I had ever experienced. Although the guest house was very far from being the Waldorf, I don't recall enjoying a hot shower quite as much as I did that afternoon.

The next day promised to be a relatively easy day, mostly flat through the Golan, a very steep and tricky descent back to the Galil, an optional climb to Kochav Hayarden and a ride into Beit Shean. But the Aibishte works in his own mysterious way and the next day would prove to be one of the strangest days of riding I ever experienced.

The Ride: Day Two - Raining on Our Parade

Can you hear me, that when it rains and shines
(When it rains and shines)
It's just a state of mind?
(When it rains and shines)
Can you hear me, can you hear me?

After my hot shower on Sunday afternoon in the Keshet Guest House in the Golan, I washed my jersey and bib shorts and set them out to dry on a tree outside my room. After a few minutes I realized that this was not necessarily a good idea. And, indeed, it soon began to rain. And then it began to pour. All night.

The start of Monday's ride was postponed an hour based on weather reports that the rain would subside. In light of Sunday's experience no one was going to under dress today. At 8:30, in a very light mist, we all gathered on our bikes with our rain gear and layers and started to pull out.

No sooner did we get to the main road when it began to rain again. Not just rain. Torrential rain. And sleet. The kind of rain that if you're driving you turn the wipers to the highest speed and still can't see more than a few feet in front of you. The rain was bouncing off my helmet, dripping off my rain jacket and pouring onto my bib tights. My legs and feet couldn't have been more soaked.

All this time we were riding down some treacherous downhills. It was freaky but, in a strange way, exhilirating. Going through my head was the thought, "I cannot believe I'm doing this". Finally, after a full one and a half hours, the rain stopped and the sun began to peak out of the clouds.

After 26 miles we finally reached our first rest stop, in the southern part of the Golan. Because I wanted to do the optional climb to Kochav Hayarden later that day, I had no more than 10 minutes to rest before I hopped back on the bike.

The next leg was a highly technical and extremely steep segment that took you from the top of the Golan back to the Galil. The views were spectacular but you could not spend much time looking out because there were more than a score of hairpin turns to manipulate. I was happy to finally reach the bottom.

At the bottom, a strange thing happened. It began to get warm. Very warm. I stopped on the side of the road near some banana plants and removed my rain jacket and long sleeve shirt. The good news is that the weather for the remaining three and half days of the ride would be just like this.

The rest of the way until Beit Shean was fairly flat and fast except for the optional climb to Kochav Hayarden. On the way, however, I just missed an accident that was caused by two idiotic riders who were fooling around while riding. One of them got tangled up with the other and went down right in front of me. I swerved hard to the left and missed her by a few inches. Then I had to swerve again to miss the other idiot who was riding with her. He stopped abruptly, again right in front of me, and I had to swerve hard to the left again to avoid him. I literally ended up on the shoulder of the opposite side of the road.

The climb to Kochav Hayarden was about 3.5 miles straight up. The gradients reached as high as 17 percent and never went below 10%. It was a bear. Thankfully, I had had a good night's sleep and a very good breakfast and was feeling very strong. I steadily made my way up to the fortress at the top. The way down was a lot of fun and I reached some pretty high speeds. Besides feet that had never dried, I was feeling good and comfortable when I pulled into the Beit Shean Youth Hostel for what I thought would be a comfortable night.

Day Three, Part I: Climbing Gilboa

If one were a serious, if somewhat masochistic, bike rider, one could not design a more spectacular day than the one we experienced on Tuesday. But first, a report on my awful Monday night.

After riding in torrential rains all morning, navigating a difficult and steep descent from the Golan Heights, almost crashing because of some idiots and climbing Kochav Hayarden, I cruised into the Beit Shean Youth Hostel in the late afternoon. I brought my bike to the 'parking lot' and looked for my name on the list of room assignments. While not exactly Metropolis, I was still looking forward to spending the evening in Beit Shean. For one, we had been staying in Yenimsvilles for two straight nights (not that there's anything wrong with that) and I hadn't even been able to get so much as a decent cup of coffee.

So, imagine my surprise when I looked for my name on the list and don't find it. I was then told to look at a second list. The satellite list. There it was. We were told that there was not enough room for everyone in the Beit Shean hostel and that some of us were being shipped 10 minutes away.

Of course ten minutes turned out to be 30 minutes which might as well have been Afula. (But Afula was a town; we weren't sent to a town). To make matters worse, I had to sit on the bus with soaking wet feet for 45 minutes before we pulled out. And, the place we went was mamash a dump and the food borderline inedible.

To say I was less than pleased would be a slight understatement. Last year I was also dumped at the satellite in the Kayla Guest House (rather than Almog; you think they're trying to tell me something?). At least last year they warned you ahead of time.

I'm generally not a prima donna (you can't be a prima donna on this ride) but I was wondering what I did to deserve to be sent off to galus two years in a row (even though I was one of the more effective fundraisers in North America). In any event, my evening was ruined and I went to sleep as soon as I could.

Piling on, we were told that we had to leave the next morning ridiculously early in order to get to Beit Shean in time. I had about ten minutes to eat breakfast. This time I supplemented it with two peanut butter sandwiches that I made with my own and stuffed into my jersey pocket.

But we digress...

After joining back up with everyone we left Beit Shean at around 7:30 and rode flat for few miles until we reached the entrance to the Gilboa Mountain range. The climb to (almost) the peak of Har Gilboa was about 7.5 gruelling miles. Serious climbing but the weather was beautiful and I felt strong. We got to a rest stop about a mile from the actual summit where there was a magnificent view of the Beit Shean Valley. After waiting for everyone to get to the summit (there were plenty of walkers), the faster riders took off again.

Now the fun began. After climbing another mile to the top we began a very cool descent into the Gilboa reserve. The roads were steep but long and winding (I think I should write a song about that) so we could really let loose. I reached speeds as high as 35 mph.

Now the fun ended. After the descent we had to trudge back up the mountain, this time through the glorious nature reserve. The beauty of the ride was matched by its difficulty. We were rewarded with another spectacular view near the top and finally pulled into the second rest stop.

After the second rest stop came another huge descent through the steep and winding switchbacks in the Gilboa range. Here's where the worst accident of my two years on the ride happened. Shortly after we left the rest stop, one of the riders, not more than a couple of dozen riders in front of me, was zooming down the descent when he hit a pot hole and lost control. He went flying off his bike and landed, more or less, on his face. As I passed by, he was already being cared for and riders were being called to slow down. His face was all bloody. He ended up with a lot of stitches on his chin and at least one front tooth missing.

Viewing that accident certainly put a damper on the next segment of the ride. We negotiated the rest of the downhill and then had a few more serious ups and a few more downs, all through beautiful scenery. We stopped for lunch at Meggido. Now the waiting really began.

Day Three, Part II: Waiting

If my memory serves me, I reached lunch at Meggido at around 11:15 after spending a most wonderful morning climbing and descending up and down the Gilboa range. This year, the lunches were much more modest than last year; soup, some bread and peanut butter, chummus and some vegetables and on one or two days some pasta. That's a good thing because last year's lunches were huge meat affairs that were way more than we needed.

What didn't change from last year was the amount of time the stronger riders had to wait. Because the police would not permit the ride to get too strung out, the stronger riders were not permitted to leave the lunch area until the slowest riders came in and had lunch. Since climbing differentiates the riders much more than flat riding, the harder the day, the longer the wait. Indeed, on this day, we would be at Meggido for about two hours.

Any book you read on long distance riding will tell you to keep your breaks short. Otherwise your muscles tighten up and all kinds of nasty things can happen. Two hours is way off the charts, muscle-wise. And last year, on two separate days, I had to wait two hours in temperatures approaching 100 degrees. I was completely cooked and almost bonked in the afternoon of one of those days. On the first day of this ride, we waited over an hour at a rest break at Katzrin in the Golan and froze our toesies off. And, it's not like there were chez lounges to hang out on. Or, for that matter, grass.

The good news is that I was able to buy a Magnum ice cream bar at the kiosk and got to watch Bruce from Chicago change a flat in about three minutes. It was like watching Rembrant paint.

Another thing was on my mind as well. Loser that I am, I had scheduled an important teleconference for work for 5 p.m. (10 a.m. Eastern time). I figured that would give me plenty of time to get to our lodgings, park my bike, pick up my bags, get to the room, shower and review my notes. Now it was getting a little sketchy. It would continue to get sketchier the rest of the afternoon, even after lunch, as the waiting continued.

Day Three, Part III: Zichron Yaakov

Finally, at about 1:30, we left the lunch area. We rode through some very nice rolling terrain with some hard climbing for what seemed like 15 minutes (it was probably a little bit more) when, again, we were stopped by the police just before we were about to enter a major road. Again, we had to wait about half an hour for the slow riders to arrive. This was ridiculous but we were all taking it in stride. (I was, however, starting to worry about my 5 p.m. teleconference). There were only another 13 mile to go, 11 of which were flat. If they would just let me, I could make it to the hotel in less than an hour.

Finally, we were on our way again, this time on a very heavily travelled road. The organizers proved they have senses of humor by making us end a very hard day with a very nasty 1.5 mile climb up to Zichron Yaakov.

After spending the previous night in a dump, I was thrilled that tonight's accomodations were in a hotel (run down though it was). Better yet, I only had to share my room with one guy after spending the previous three with a minimum of four.

After a nice hot shower I was able to take my telephone call and then proceed to dinner. I do not recall ever eating as much as I did that night. I had soup, a full plate of the main course, three desserts and finished up with another full plate of pasta. Yum.

Later that night we took a walk into town. I had never been to Zichron Yaakov before. It is a very nice, yupified place with countless coffee and wine bars. My friend Yehudah and I stopped into one of the wine bars that was packed full of Alyn riders and were graciously asked by the Heschel School chevrah to join them. We had a delightful time and some nice red wine. I got back to the hotel and fell asleep in the blink of an eye.

Wednesday, we would be off to Tel Aviv.


Starting Over

Next year's Alyn Ride will take place in November, about 6 1/2 months from now. This year's ride offers an insane 400 mile option, about 80 miles a day. I am seriously considering this option for reasons that I will expound upon in the future. In any event, the time to start training seriously is now.

While I have done a lot of spinning during the winter, I have been on my bike exactly once since the end of last year's ride. It has rained or been very cold virtually every Sunday morning since March. This morning is no different. So, I will be back on my spinner for an hour later in the morning. I am getting really frustrated.

Next week starts the 'century' season, with a metric century (100 kilometers, or 62 miles) on Long Island. I will sign up for that, although I may only ride the 50 mile option rather than the full century. My plan is to do one century (or part thereof) each month until the ride.

Last year, that was the one part of my training that really didn't work out. I missed most of the rides for various reasons and ended up only doing one long organized ride (in early June, no less) and two brutal 50k rides in Israel. While I was able to manage a very difficult tour, my tusch suffered for not being used to the hours in the seat.

In addition to the local organized rides, I am looking forward to three days of riding in Israel in June. I will be flying back from Hong Kong, landing early Friday morning in Tel Aviv. Like last year, I will rent a bike and ride Friday, Sunday and Monday mornings in the Ramat Raziel area, about 50 kilometers of extremely hilly terrain each day.

And, of course, I will continue doing a tremendous amount of simulated hill work on my spinner.

That's the plan, anyway.

(I posted a review of last year's ride on my other blog and I will link those posts in the near future).

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