"From Moshe till Moshe, there arose none like Moshe." (famous Jewish folk saying)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Try and believe in things that may seem impossible

Back in April of 2006, I embarked on an incredible journey, to ride in the Alyn Wheels of Love Bike Challenge from Jerusalem to Eilat. A 5 day, 460km ride to raise money for the children of the Alyn Hospital. Alyn is a pediatric rehabilitation hospital that treats victims of terror, car accidents, handicapped children, children with birth defects and a multitude of other types of traumas. Alyn treats Arab and Israeli children equally and is the only hospital of its kind in Israel. Each Wheels of Love participant must commit to raising $2k in sponsorships.

There were several factors that initiated my involvement. First, several of my friends from the Yeshuv have participated in past years and have loved the experience. Second, when I was recruiting for the seminary (which I am not doing anymore) Miri D., a prospective student wanted to ride in the Alyn. I initially tried to discourage her because I did not want her to miss 5 days of school. When she persisted and made a great case for herself, I told her that the only way she would be able to participate, was if I rode along with her. So, I registered for the ride. Initially, I was put on the waiting list but I got in after 2 weeks and began to train.

On my first ride, I rode around the Yeshuv 3 times. It is about 2Km if you go around the entire Yeshuv. When I got home after 6km, I could not move, I was in pain, out of breath and I knew that I was in big trouble!

The Alyn ride is a physical and emotional challenge. I joked when I signed up that if Eilat was South, the ride would be down hill! But I had been told that the route I was taking (on road) would be riding 100km per day. Most days would be with intense and sustained climbs. If I could not ride around the Yeshuv 3 times, how could I possibly do this? I was frustrated, discouraged… and out of shape!

I spoke to my friends, did a lot a research, invested in some new gear and tried to understand how, what and where would be the best way to train. My friends gave me great advice and encouragement. From what to eat, drink, how to stretch (before and after), hill work, saddle (seat) position and gear management. I learned a tremendous amount from them and from my research and began to apply it to my riding. Slowly, my daily and weekly rides got longer. The hills that seemed to be up hill both ways became more manageable and less painful. Over time, I increased my riding from 6-10km, 10-20km. 20-40km and eventually, I was riding a route that took me thru Moddin, up to Latrun to Ramla (no, not Ramalla!) up to Lod and back to Chashmoniam…55KM! I was feeling good, stronger and as a benefit that I did not even count on, I was losing weight.

Fast-forward to the end of October. I trained hard over the past months and I felt prepared. But there is always a fear of the unknown. Could I handle an 18km sustained climb? I know that I could handle 55km… but what happens after that? We would have to wait and see. I was excited but anxious.

The day of the ride –Something I was not prepared for.

Shabbat before the ride there was an electric feeling on the Yeshuv. 18 riders from Chashmonaim were to participate. My friend Yehuda made his special herring for our Shabbat kiddush to increase out Cabro intake! But something I had not counted on happened. It was raining. It is hard to complain about something we pray for, but I had not trained at all in the rain. I trained in the intense heat of the summer, but there is no rain in Israel from Aril, until NOW. I had no rain gear and had not ridden on a wet surface….this I was not prepared for.

The night before the ride I could not sleep. We had our own minyan at 5:15am and then we had to be at the bus at 6:am sharp. It was drizzling. Maybe the rain would hold up I thought. We took the bus into Jerusalem to Mt Scopus and met up with our bikes. It was now pouring. I was cold and soaking wet. I was so wet & cold that during the open ceremony I found an unlocked parked and sat in the back seat! I was not comfortable. After the ceremony, we finally pushed off at 8:45 for a cold, wet, slippery ride down to the Dead Sea where I was told it would not be raining and the temperature would be warmer. Something to look forward to I thought. When I hit the first hill at Ma’ale Adumim I was so excited to pedal hard…at this point it was not to see if I could do it, but rather, it was my first chance to WARM UP!

This is our rout and a few pictures from the 1st day.

As you can see, we went from Jerusalem to the lowest point on Earth. The Dead Sea. But as I learned very quickly during training, when you go down, you need to climb back out!

This was taken at sea level. You can see on the chart above exactly where that was taken and if you can see from the picture, how wet, cold and filthy I was as well.

The next 2 pictures are with my friends Mark Simon and Yehuda Laufer. They were my training partners and were a great help to me as I prepared for the ride.

In the next picture, I am blow-drying my clothes! They got soaked 'in' my luggage. Our suitcases were delivered to each of our destinations every day. But because of the rain, our luggage was left out in the morning for some time, before it was loaded onto the truck. A minor inconvenience. Now I can no longer say that I have never used a hair dryer! And finally, the magnificent sunset as seen from Ein Gedi

Day 2: We began in Ein Gedi and ended in the city of Dimona, the 3rd largest city in the Negev. We had much better weather, in fact it was beautiful. We had minyan at 5:30 and we were on the road my 7am. Day 2 was the hardest climbing day of the ride. With a climb from 350 meters below sea level to 550 meters above before lunch. As you can see from the chart, at one point there was a sustained 18km climb. With a gradient average between 8-15%. Your mind and body play tricks on you. They tell you that you cant do this. Get off and walk…. You have to confront that hard. Otherwise, we would just give up.
I found myself battling my own will. But, we pedal away, we think of the kids at Alyn and we ride on. And when we reach the top, ahh, the feeling. I can do this! The topography was magnificent. Majestic desert mountains and valleys that pictures can not do any justice. This is an example of the simple and pure beauty of Eretz Yisreol.

We left Dimona for what was “supposed” to have been an easy day but strong headwinds and a few sand storms made progress very difficult. We passed and stopped in to Sde Boker and the home and gravesite of the first Prime Minister Of Israel, Ben Gurion. We stopped for lunch in the Nabatean town of Avdat, which was the spice route from Arabia to the Mediterranean. I learnt something very important. When an Israeli guide says that it will be an easy day with a few hills, don’t believe him! As you can see from the chart, this was not an easy day. With several major climbs, and many, many kilometers of nothingness. Our group spanned an 8km stretch I found myself in the front of the group and very often, not being able to see anyone around in front or behind.
The lyrics to the Song from America came to mind often:
“After three days in the desert fun
I was looking at a riverbed
And the story it told of a river that flowed
Made me sad to think it was dead

You see I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
cause there aint no one for to give you no pain”

The desert is a very desolate place. But there is lots of life that we do not see, but know that it is there. We were riding thru a bubble, almost like an IMAX. It seemed surreal. And when you are alone, in the desert, and your pumping away, and trying to make it to “the other side," it gives you a real chance to think about how lucky we are that we are alive. We ended our day in Mitzpe Ramon and stayed at a youth hostel on the edge of the Ramon Crater, the largest of the Negev craters.

A few things we saw that most people dont see every day, if ever!

And yes, we rode through this sand storm. I had sand in my ears, my teeth, everywhere!

Day 4 was another hard day. I think because I may have been physically finished. I had been in the saddle 3 days and had seen a lot of mountains and a lot of desert. I had enough eating cooscoos and sleeping on foam mattresses. I missed SB and the kids. I also think we could have made it to Eilat in 3 days. But for the experience, they made a 5 day trip. So in my mind, I was finished. But, we still had another 2 days to pedal. So, we pedal on. The ride into the Machtesh (crater) was a real thrill as you can see from the chart, the ride in was steep and fast. My top speed was 65km! But yes, as we know, when you go down, you’ll eventually have to go up again! During the ride down and thru the crater we could see geological formations unlike anywhere else in the world. We made our way to the Paran ascent (a 1km hill with an 18%+ grade) and onwards to the Arava Valley. This is Syrian African rift. A gigantic fault line running from Turkey to Uganda. It was another very windy day. And desert wind can be fierce. It may look like we’re going down hill but it certainly did not feel that way. I pedaled hard the entire day. We ended in Kibbutz Ketura which is another name for Hagar, Avraham’s concubine. The kibbutz was great. They made us a BBQ feast with hamburgers, hotdogs and chicken. I ate like a horse!

Day 5 was exciting. Especially since we had a great meal the night before. We all knew what the end of the day would bring. We all just wanted to get there. Since we had pushed so hard on day 4, when I got up in the morning, I was not quite sure what to expect. Could I make another 100km today? I have to, we’re almost home! We have to do it for the kids. So, we got up at 5am, daavened, breakfast and on the road by 7am, again! We rode along the Egyptian border and could even see the Egyptian soldiers. It was up hill for the most part of the first 70km. Then a mega down hill, then a mega climb and then 18km decent into Eilat. This decent was a thrill and was extremely scary as I reached a top speed of 71.6km! Most amazing was that first glimpse of the blue waters of the Red Sea. There was an electric feeling as we descended into Eilat. People were singing and yelling. All of the different groups met up and converged into Eilat together. It was an amazing sight. All the riders, almost 420 of them who confronted this amazing challenge to help out little children. There were riders who were blind, (on tandems) riders who had prosthetic limbs and themselves, survivors of terror attacks.

In all over 2.5 million will be raised for Alyn. I am proud and thankful to all the people who helped me raise 10K. I heard one of the physical therapist of Alyn say, “We make a living by what we get and we make a life by what we give.” Several months ago, this would have been impossible for me. But I have always been told to try and believe in things that may seem impossible. Follow your dreams and dream the impossible dream, my father would always say. It is what we do for these kids every day. I am blessed by a supportive family who loves me and has supported my decision to ride and train for Alyn. They put up with my intense training and this new hobby. They encouraged my every ride, always asked me how far I went and how I felt after each ride. And they were never ashamed of how their father looked in spandex!

I am grateful for HaShem for putting me on this earth, for allowing me to reside and see His great Land and for giving me the physical and emotional strength to experience it in this profound way.

I will be uploading the rest of the pictures on our family web site www.solomontfamily.com

Thank you for reading. If you would still like to make a contribution to alyn, click on this link and then on the link above my picture, Sponsor this Rider.

Ari Michael, favorite son-in-law, Dad and I feel so blessed to have you for our SON. What a wonderful role model you have become for your kids! And Us:) We love you, Hugs, Mom & Dad
WOW! Yasher koach!!!!!
How's MOMO?
MoMo did the off road. I did not meet him but I could tell that he was very popular. DM
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