Second day :  Rain to Sunshine

The legs were ready and eager to pedal when morning came around.  Rain drops falling did not put a damper to our enthusiasm and we left at a good speed to face our second challenge on a route that soon rose till the sunshine met us.

Today was promising much more climbing, ( 4800 or so of total elevation) although  most of the rises were gentler albeit longer, excep for the first one.  That one, done almost entirely under some persisting drizzle, was tough but I managed to stay with the front group, until they accelerated for the second part of the climb. At the top I came in proudly in the first ten riders and later stay connected till the finish  69 miles later.

Challenging as it was, we all were in conservation mode , our mind focused on the mammouth stage awaiting us tomorrow.

Post rider, after another delicious dinner, we listen to a great presentation on Israel Cycling academy.  This team is the first pro team racing in all the international races and their status was instrumental in making it possible for the prestigious Giro d’Italia to start next year in Irael  and race the first 3 stages. We are looking forward  to ride with them tomorrow . Well at least for a few early miles 

READY! SET! GOooooo!

Today we finally get on the bike. The Challenge is on.  Almost 180 days after I started training, I am face to face with the event.

Last night, after sundown, we took a two hours bus trip north from Jerusalem to Galilee.  We arrive in Ramot, the resort hotel that is going to be our base.  Even in the night, the palace had a very welcoming and pretty allure, but in the early morning light the contrasting colors of lake  water against the arid mountain landscape was breathtaking.  The view from the windowwas enchantingly  beckoning  us to ride. 

However, the planned stage one had a remote start location. To reach it we had to take a bus ride to a kibbutz  ( Yaar Lavi) on the western side of the lake.  The main challenge of today’s ride was the long tough climb to Mount Thabor.  The start ceremonies were delayed as people for the 4 different groups got busy setting up their bikes that had magically travelled on separated trucks during the night and had been lined up in order corresponding to the riders categories. We are 60 men and a few women doing the challenge ride. The other groups are a bit more larger and each group is based on a different location.  Today starting ceremony is  the only time when all the groups started together and we will not be together again until the last day in Jerusalem.  

As we lined to start right after the Israel national enthem, I would be lying if I denied my nervousness.  This trip has been so long in the making and so many people have stood steadily behind me:  what if I did not manage to honor my aspiration? I am officially the oldest rider on th e ride, what if I did not finish?

Right before the officials were readying to cut the start tape, as our little Challenge group stood in front , poised to pound the pavement, my eyes drifted upward to the top of the eucalyptus trees around us and there safe was, perched at the tallest branch: a beautiful  red tailed hawk.  I barely suppressed tears and whispered under my breath: Michele!  I was already pedaling when she flew away and  I, mo longer nervous bore a knowing smile.  

My fears and apprehensions were soon easily diffused as I manage to keep up with the faster group up front.  By nature I like riding fast but I have learned to temper my enthusiasm and adapt to my limitations . When the big climb came, I did it at my own pace and still managed to arrive right behind the fast top 5 and in a smaller group of much younger guys.  Nothing to feel bad about, rather I could say I was rather proud. The second lag of the trip went at a faster pace until we reached what turned out to be the most amazing and touching event: three young patients escorted by their trainers joined the ride powered specially constructed recumbent with the strength of their arms . We rode 12 miles together and I was so emotionally touched that my body was covered with goose pimples, so much their joy and pride to be riding among us was evident in their face.  Again I could have cried, but instead I pedaled side by side with them and did not feel fatigued, rather rejuvenated.  

​​The ride concluded, after the photos at the finish, we all partaked in a food feast, well drenched in local wines. You could hear, as we ate,  the excited tones in various noisy conversations animating the dining room that , like me, everybody here was thrilled by the day’s events and ready for the second stage.

Bring it on.

Jerusalayin Shel Zahav

We arrived in star filled night,  exhausted we went to bed and woke up to sun drenched old city. The dream came true and we feel goose pimples up our arms watching the holy sights and the fervent crowds from every religions, each celebrating values that for a moments inspire to forget any differences.

The evening cool air tempered our excitement and brought peace to a day charged with amazing discoveries.

Holly Land : We are here. Let’s Roll

The trip was long,  the flight quite full, buzzing with the sounds of prayers and the echoing waves of babies cries.  Not a piece of cake, really but, honestly, not a Calvary either.  Didn’t we come to Israel to realize a “ Challenge”?

Israel has grown in the past 50 years or more since I came here, penniless, young and naive, hungry for adventures.  In many ways, however it remain the Israel I remember. Just more so, more itself and filled with people: Jews and Arabs and lots of tourists.  That is the biggest changes.  The Israel of my memories was much less populated

We arrived at Sunset.  (Sort off) and the city was shining under the golden globe of a hot sun whose rays pierced was the reddened clouds of smoke from a nearby forest fire.  Jerusalayim! We are here.

Cycling Math are what they are 100 = 93

So finally, after several previous attempts that were thwarted by one incident or another, Jim and I got invited to partake on a special Century created by Phil Evasian for a few riders of the Long Island Bicycle Club.  We departure looming right around the corner, and Jim getting eager to put a finishing touch on his build up to the trip, we jumped on the occasion.  We were promised an even pace with as little stops as possible aside the necessary obligation of natural body needs.  Ha! Ha!  That kind of promise from the club is rare and we treasured it…    LOL.   But in fairness to Phil and the gang, they delivered a wonderful, well pace and safe ride that was pleasant to share in good company.   The route was mostly along roads we know and have done many times before with a few detours meant to add enough miles to reach the famous 1oo miles goal.  As the pace was good we were making good and we were on a good course to come back  early enough to have the rest of day with the family.  Well! We were not so lucky when it came to actual mileage.. It seems that some error in direction, like a sudden left turn where a right was preferable and bingo we ended the ride with 93.6  miles instead of the sought after century.  That number was a bit disappointing but the way our legs felt after that much miles was quite reaffirming we are more than ready for the “Wheels of Love Challenge”  So cheers to cycling mathematics, what matter is not the total but the sum of the parts that made this ride a great one.  Thanks to Phil and the LIBC gang. we are more than grateful for your gracious invite. 

The Rise and Fall of “Team Goyim”


First we were just 2:  Jimmy AKA Toes and I and we didn’t really make any effort to recruit more members.  Jeff was part of the trip, like Sue but not decided to ride.   As the training rides multiplied over the summer, Jeff became excited and worked hard to built his shape to the point where he felt he could join the ride as well taking part in the whole visit of Israel we plan to do after the event. I must admit I was quite taken by the efforts Jeff was making to add miles to the training ride, speed when he could, strength by practicing hill climbing and even skill under the humorist directions of sergeant JIM.  So now we truly were 3 and the training was coming to a close with a few more outings before we took a break and travel to Jerusalem on the 25th.

Unfortunately, that is when disaster struck us.  On a rare ride, late in the day, when the three of us were heading for a steady but easy 40 miles, Jeff hit a pot hole and went down. We didn’t see it happen as we had turned the corner already, but he did fall hard and couldn’t even get up. Good people nearby helped him as we returned to see what had happened and it was quite evident something had to be broken and he was in pain.

In the end, sadly for him and all who care for him.  He was hospitalized after they diagnosed a severe hip fracture where the femur meets the hip.   For many good reason “hip replacement” was prescribe and all that was done in a hurry today. Poor Jeff will not be on the ride and “Team Goyim” is back to two. It is a big loss and we are all say it happened.   Many have joined Jim and I in wishing Jeff a fast rehab and recovery.

Hawks and quarters make disbeliever smile

two weeks left to train before we leave for Israel

I wasn’t going to tell but I can’t resist as I am still smiling.  So this is how it went.  A couple we know from bereavement group, shared with us during a recent get together how since their son is gone they keep finding in odd place, little reminder of special little things they had in common.  The father who ran  this business with his son mentioned how he constantly find pennies or dimes where there were none before.  A sign he attributes to visitation by his son’s spirit.  To be honest, I am not altogether taken by this kind of belief but I managed to joke :” I don’t much about spirit visitation but if Michele leaves me a reminder it won’t be nickelsand dimes, to be sure it will be at least a quarter.” So last Wednesday, after several days off the bike to rest and do the memorial, I resumed riding with the group. I was quite happy to pedal softly, for once avoiding pushing hard, and simply chit-chatting with people about my soon to happen trip to Israel and the tribute to Michele I intent to do during the event.  Stopped at a traffic light where we have stopped a hundred time before, my eyes drifted to the group in front of  the wheel of my bike and lo and behold I noticed a shiny quarter who must have been there for sometimes as it was really embedded in the asphalt.  “Here goes my Michele calling card.” I joked to the lady stopped near me.  I saw the look of surprise on her face and before she could ask anything, I raised  my hand toward the sky, with my index finger pointed upward as I went on saying before even lifting my gaze: ”  This message can’t be comple unless there is a b”…….” I didn’t finish my sentence because by then my eyes had gone up and I stood speechless for a moment because right above where we were, a red tailed hawk, (Michele’s favorite ), was circling low and slow against the bleu sky right above the entire stopped  group.  

Now that touched me to the heart and later I came back to take a picture of the quarter even if I don’t totally believe in all that, I can’t deny it felt really good and like I was protected and that is more than enough for me.

we got together to remember

The memorial happened with tears and burst of laughter, moments of joy mixed with tender remembrances and bitter-sweet images sketched from the emotional testimonies of friends and family members who took to the podium to share what they felt.

Then they all went home and the absence remained but a little less intense because some of the rawness of the wounds dissipated, pushed aside by the gentle healing this whole affair managed to offer us.

Sing when the heart is aching, pedal when the pain fills the soul

The sounds of birds echoed the melodies that flood my head as I pedaled very hard all week-long. Oh yes I did put on the miles and faithfully kept to the training plan. Mostly I added extra time on the bike and rode the rest with Jim and Jeff who will come to Israel for the ALYN ride. In all it is a sad week that went by but one where I am proud to have conquered, the pains of body and the stress of the complications that piled up on an already stressful and tense period.  Susan’s fall while walking the dogs, Grace’s cousin sudden death, Fernando Cuevas end of life, all contributed to burden my soul.  In the end I find myself humming soft tunes that remind me of my promise to live life with gratitude for the many beautiful things and the loving people who are part of it.. and so it goes…..

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