November 14, 2010

Alyn Bike Ride 2010 - Day 5

Thursday October 26
Beit Guvrin to Jerusalem (almost!)
56 km/35 mi (almost!)
Ascent: 1350 m/4430 ft (almost!)

The alarm went off at 4:30! Ugh!!! We were to leave the hotel at 6:00, so in order for Amir to daven shacharit, to change into biking clothes, and to then eat breakfast, the alarm rang at this untimely hour. Not only had we biked up gravelly mountain paths and across sandy deserts for four days, we were now supposed to bike for a fifth day and were in for the challenge of our lives: 56 km and 1350 metres of vertical rise. Today, we were to meet up with many one-day cyclists who had signed up for the last day, the Galgalyn Ride. All in all, the groups together numbered some 600 people.

I could barely bend my aching legs and stick them into my padded shorts. As for my smelly, sweaty yellow Alyn shirt, it had to be stuffed away at the bottom of my suitcase for fear it would set off a stampede. I wore a regular shirt with an Alyn vest over it, slid on my bike gloves, packed up my day bag, popping in a few Tylenol for emergency pain – apparently not such an uncommon thing after four rigorous days spent perched on a bicycle seat – and set off for breakfast. A dainty fruit platter would not cut it any more; I was craving carbs big time.

A bus dropped us all off at Beit Guvrin where we sat around an old Roman amphitheatre. It was ironic that 2,000 years ago, Romans crowded into these seats to watch Jews being tortured and being forced to fight to the death. It was once a place flowing with blood and dripping with tears. And today we Jews are back, sitting around this same amphitheatre calmly holding our bike helmets, while chatting about the weather and our bicycle gears. Yes, we are back; the modern warriors of the off road bike paths! We all heard Tefillat HaDerech, the blessing for a safe journey and after a heartfelt ‘amen,’ our group of some 300 off road riders began our journey.

It must have been close to 9 am and it was really hot. Our ride started to climb almost instantly, flowing up trails that snaked through pine forests. People were feeling very enthusiastic and some charged the hills with intensity. Unfortunately my friend Rebecca was knocked off her bike by one overly zealous rider who cut her off on an upward climb. She was bleeding and in shock. We had all been riding for five days with little injuries so this was very sobering to all who saw this. Rebecca was very brave. I also learned that every other person on this ride is a doctor and they all ride with medical kits. In no time at all, Rebecca was tended to.

I did my turtle thing, going up slowly, surely and doggedly. People started to tire out and small groups formed for rests along the way; time to take pictures, have a bite to eat, repair a flat tire, grease the bike chains. We all knew that we had a hard day in store and we wanted to preserve what little energy we had.

I became slightly disheartened when I saw that it was literally one tough hill after another. I tried my uphill meditation method while I climbed and climbed, and just as I caught my breath, another hill loomed before me – and then another. I was getting thirsty and tired. I was alone as I had lost Amir and Barry almost at the start of the day.

Eli gave me a d’var Torah based on this week’s parsha as we pedalled along. Ironically, this was near the valley of Eilah, the spot where the Israelites camped when David fought Goliath. The words of the Torah unfolded along these paths 2,000 years ago and they continue to inspire!

Many people started to walk their bikes up the mountain paths. I took a quiet break and munched on an apple, watching people walk their bikes past me. I could not see an end in sight – and I thought the real uphill challenge would be after lunch as we approached Jerusalem from the south to reach the Alyn Hospital.

When I finally made it to the lunch stop, I lay on some fresh cool grass under a tree and confessed that I had enough for the day. The climb had finished me and I had aching muscles to prove it. I must have been dehydrated as I also had a headache.

As we lay on the grass, my friend Gila came by and said “The afternoon ride is cancelled due to a sharav.” “What?” I said incredulously, still unable to sit up. Seems as though there was an official heat wave – no surprise to us, who had been trying to bike uphill all morning with sweat streaming down our cheeks.

Soon enough, empty busses arrived to drive us to Alyn. We were to leave our bikes at the lunch stop and they would be transported back later. It was a bit of a let down to have biked for five days en route to Alyn and then not to bike into the hospital at the end. I have done the one day ride before and have felt so emotional riding in on my bike as the children wave flags. However, I was happy to rest on that air conditioned bus as we continued a rather long and uphill journey to Alyn. I could not believe that this would have been our route – and I was very satisfied with what I had accomplished over the past five days.

We were dropped off a few blocks away and walked into the hospital. Amir sailed by us on a bike – who knows where he found one! The children were waiting, their parents standing supportively behind the wheelchairs. There were clowns with balloons, bongos and drums, flags and smiles. Everyone was cheering. Many of the patients were Arabs, a fact that many people do not know. Alyn is a place for everyone. Religion and political beliefs are set aside for love and care.

I cried when I came in and saw these children, and cried as a child strained from her wheelchair to put a medal around my neck. I tried to hold back my tears as I did not want to upset the children or the parents. Their lives are a challenge every day and yet they are hopeful and smiling. I feel so thankful that I was given the strength and the ability to accomplish what I did over the last few days; yet these families’ challenges do not end.

I was tired, achy, and sweaty yet was on a real high. I had achieved a personal goal, felt stronger in my body and soul and am now more connected to this magnificent land. The deserts, mountains and valleys we travelled across have an intense light and beauty - and I am grateful that I was able to experience this meaningful connection.

Walking thourgh my front door later on that evening, I was blinded by a mass of paints, brushes and paintings. Scattered across my counter top, there was hardly room for the kitchen sink. Beads, glue and stickers, decorated wooden boxes and menorahs were lined up against the walls. The counter was wrapped in garbage bags. Even my children were wrapped in garbage bags, some kind of improvised smocks, and they threw their paintbrushes in the air and ran to us as we walked through the door.

As for my art director-babysitter, she was alomst happier to see me than my kids. She muttered something about her own life being the true vacation and commended me on my energy and strength to cope with my kids' insanely busy lives. Energy? Strength? After five days of biking and being at the Alyn Hospital, these words have new meaning to me now. I will look at my daily life with a new appreciation and be thankful that yes, my life as a parent is a privilege and living here in Israel certainly povides many ingredients for a vacation!

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