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

Saturday, December 10, 2005

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.

Next: a postmortem.