The rambling thoughts of a Modern Orthodox Chassid (whatever that means). Contact me at emansouth @

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

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.
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.

Monday, November 21, 2005

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.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

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.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

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.
We Interrupt This Narrative....

...For a few words on music.

My avelus (mourning period) for my father, Shmuel ben Moshe David, z'l, ended on Monday evening. Yesterday, I bought an Ipod. I was going to buy a Nano but they didn't have any in stock. Then I realized how silly it would have been to buy an Nano when, for $50, more, I was able to get a regular Ipod with 30 GBs rather than the Nano's 4.

Last night my son hooked up the Ipod and uploaded a few of my CDs. The first thing that I listened to was Aron Razel's new CD which is a Live in Concert CD. Two thoughts: First, after going without music for twelve months, I realized how important music is in my life and, two, I realized how great Aron Razel is. It is one of the freshest live albums I've heard, certainly the best live Jewish music CD that I've heard in a very long time.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

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.
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Friday, November 11, 2005

MoC On the Road