November 10, 2010

Alyn Bike Ride 2010 - Day 1

Sunday October 24
Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Distance: 40 km/25 mi distance
Ascent: 600 m/1970 ft

Woke up at 5 am this morning without the aid of an alarm clock. I had such mixed feelings of excitement, dread and a fear of sleeping in and missing the bus, I did not sleep all night. So now I can officially say that I am starting this week feeling like a tired wreck.

How does this happen? It is called ‘disorganization’ – or on a more upbeat note, ‘living in the moment.’ In an ideal world, I would have been packed for this five-day bike ride well before Shabbat and would have dropped off to sleep Saturday night at 10 am. Then I would have been refreshed and ready for a challenging day of biking on Sunday.

But that is for sissies and organized folk. Instead I became obsessed with cleaning up my Shabbat mess and with turning my life as a mom over to a babysitter for the next five days. My teenage children were incensed that I should bring in a babysitter. My two younger children seemed fine with this. But the older ones wanted to be in charge and they were preparing a revolt. I should have sniffed this in the air, but I was too obsessed with my own biking anxieties to notice. I was going on this ride whether they liked it or not.

As for my babysitter, she was thrilled about this new life experience and told me she was treating this like a vacation. My life? A vacation? I eyed her strangely, thinking about my four kids, our large dog who fancied himself a fully-fledged member of the household, over 20 after school activities – many at the same time in different parts of town, lunches to prepare, dinner to make, homework in a foreign language that needed to be wrestled with… Maybe the babysitter is right and my perspective is wrong. Maybe my life as a mom is like a vacation. I will have to wait and see how she fares.

Nonetheless, I could not reveal my messy side to the babysitter. If she were arriving to my home on vacation, I had better make this place look like a five-star hotel. As soon as Shabbat was out, I decided to clean and organize my house and I did not even think about packing until 10:30 pm.

By 11 pm, I was bleary eyed but the house looked semi-orderly. I then asked my brother Barry if he had a packing list. Not only did he produce a detailed list printed off the Alyn web site, he then showed me his wardrobe; matching shorts, shirt and socks and dedicated biking shoes! Barry has travelled from Toronto to be on this ride and he is prepared. He also does not look shabby. In fact, he looks like a model. I calculate that since I do not own a pair of biking shoes, I can’t be seen beside him. I threw some clothes into a suitcase, lay down and feigned restful sleep, worrying about what I could have forgotten to tell the babysitter.

Having crawled out of bed this morning, I grabbed a coffee and fell into a cab at 5:50 am, en route to Tzomet Raanana. I still did not know if I had everything, but as long as I brought a bike helmet and sunglasses, I knew the essentials were covered. We had dropped off our bikes at the Alyn Hospital on Thursday.

The bus came at 6 am and about 15 people from Raanana got on. We joined people from Netanya and continued down the highway, picking up bikers from Tel Aviv and Petach Tikva.

I eyed our fellow cyclists as they boarded the bus. Many were wearing those special biking shoes that Barry had, as well as fancy biking shorts and very cool sunglasses. I looked down at my hum drum running shoes, the socks I had grabbed from my daughter’s drawer in a panic this morning and examined my very regular sunglasses with very regular UV protection and thought, ‘what am I doing here?’ and ‘who do I think I am joining this elite group of super athletes?’ My friend Sharon must have read the sheer terror on my face, so she passed me some Rescue Remedy to calm my nerves. I was tired, hungry, feeling incompetent and was to bike across a rocky desert and then ride up 1970 vertical feet (600 metres). What was there to be worried about?

As the verdant fields gave way to rocks and dunes, the riders were now smearing up with sunscreen and talking excitedly and the day to come. It seemed like they all knew each other and I felt like I was kid on my way to camp. They conversation turned to electrolytes? Electro whats? I, who had plain water swishing around in my camel back, had a new worry -- losing too much salt.

By 9 am, all bikers gathered in Mitzpe Ramon and were reunited with their bikes. The on roaders, off roaders, challenge and touring groups sat on the grass as the mayor of Mizpe Ramon wished us a safe ride. I felt that I was part of something really big and very special, and became excited once more.

At 10:30, our group of 150 off road riders gathered under the starting sign and sailed off into the desert, following an off road path towards the crater or mahktesh. I knew a steep descent was ahead of us and had decided months before that I would walk down. I kept safely at the back of the pack and met some other women who felt fearful of going downhill just like me – and as we pedaled onward, my confidence was slowly restored. I soon realized that this ride is not just for super athletes; it is for anyone who loves biking, being in the outdoors and helping out a special cause.

We all gathered at the edge of the Ramon Crater and looked down into the magnificent crater. It was so vast, quiet, and awe inspiring that we were speechless, humbled. Some 25 miles in length, I read that you can fit four Manhattans into it – and I am thankful that unlike Manhattan, this area is relatively untouched by man, filled with purity and silence. One rider explained that if the timeline of creation until now were compared to a 24 hour day, then electricity would have been invented at 11:59 pm. The world had stayed pristine for eons and we have destroyed so much in such a small time.

We then were instructed to walk down. I felt gleeful as I would not have to reveal my fear of going downhill just yet! The path was twisted, steep and rocky as we slowly made our way down to the bottom. We then got on our bikes and rode across the sandstone and sandy terrain of Wadi Zin. At times I was on my own and stopped to appreciate a silence that was deafening.

The group stopped for lunch in the middle of the desert and rested on mats, sipping hot soup. There were sandwiches, oranges, apples and lots of ice cold water. We all felt invigorated and very hungry. We were told that we could take an optional 7 km ride before the final ascent of the day. Of course we took it.

Everyone then met up for our 400-metre ascent up Independence Ascent or Maale Atzmaut. We could see an asphalt road snaking ahead and we all pulled on our last reserves of strength as we approached it. Climbing requires super strength and intense concentration. Everyone in our group understood this and all fell silent as we started to go up and up and up. It was as if we went into a type of meditation, pedaling very slowly and surely. The road would flatten out for a moment and then climb. Cars were stopped to let us pass and the passengers honked in appreciation, calling out ‘yasher koach’ as we climbed higher and higher. My climbing philosophy is to never look ahead but to focus on the road below, being in the present; peeking ahead when on an incline can break a tired rider. But I did allow myself to look down and once I had seen how high we had climbed, I gathered more strength to continue up.

We finally made it to the top and cycled to our hotel, parking our bikes in a giant bicycle parking lot outside the hotel. We were hot, tired, covered in sand mixed with sweat and I have never appreciated a shower more.

At night we all gathered to see a new promotional movie abut Alyn that described the incredible facilities, staff and one-on-one attention the hospital provides to rehabilitate children. We then heard an incredible story of strength and triumph from a couple who described how their son Ariel was nearly killed by a katyusha rocket. He had shrapnel lodged in the side of his head and had part of his head removed and then replaced in the most remarkable surgery. After many years, of rehabilitation at Alyn, Ariel has made a miraculous recovery and walks, goes to school and even plays soccer. Ariel was sitting in the crowd and was presented with a soccer ball signed by soccer players from Spain. He kicked the ball and the crowd roared with applause. We were brought to tears of sadness and joy and felt so happy to be a part of this fund raiser. We then went to dinner and soon after, we fell into our beds.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comments are always welcome.