Seeing Israel by bike is a whole lot different than seeing it from a tour bus. We’d heard about the Israel Ride from friends who’d done it and felt it would be a great way to combine a cycling trip with a visit to our son and his family. After all, we hadn’t yet met our new grandson, born in July.
This is a charity ride, benefitting two organizations: The Arava Institute, http://arava.org/ an environmental academic institution in the heart of the desert, and Hazon, a New York-based non-profit committed to food sustainability. We received lots of information all summer about training, weather conditions, Israel security, routes, and packing.
While we’ve done plenty of cycling trips, we’ve never done a multi-day charity ride that included more than 200 riders and 60 crew. We’ve never ridden in the desert where it’s hot and dry all day.
The ride began in Jerusalem. The first day we rode west to the seaside city of Ashkelon, and took a well-deserved dip in the Mediterranean. The next day brought us inland. By late morning, the wind had increased causing severe dust storms. The limited visibility forced the ride leaders (and the police escorts) to cancel the afternoon ride. We’d heard about possible heavy rain—in which case, we wouldn’t be able to ride as Israel forbids riding in the rain. There was rain in the north that posed a threat of potential flash flooding across the desert. So we lost a day of riding and did some touring, including a stop to the ever-inspiring Sde-Boker, where Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion lived and is buried. (Ibex at Sde Boker).
We were bused to Mitzpe Ramon, site of the famous Ramon Crater, or machtesh. At 500 meters deep (about 1,640 feet), 40 kilometers long, (25 miles), 10 kilometers at its widest point, (about 6 miles); it’s considered the largest in the world. Created by erosion, the views are magnificent. The ride down the crater, complete with narrow switchbacks was breathtaking. We then traversed the crater floor and rode out the other side. That night we stayed in a kibbutz and learned how these fascinating communities operate. Incomes are pooled; meals are communal; medical care is provided. The last day we descended into Eliat, seeing four countries as we rode: Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. We took a dip in the Red Sea to celebrate and packed our bikes for a couple days in the north with family.
There we toured Qumran National Park, the archeological site on the shore of the Dead Sea where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered hidden in caves.
(Halvah for lunch!)