Today we finally get on the bike. The Challenge is on. Almost 180 days after I started training, I am face to face with the event.
Last night, after sundown, we took a two hours bus trip north from Jerusalem to Galilee. We arrive in Ramot, the resort hotel that is going to be our base. Even in the night, the palace had a very welcoming and pretty allure, but in the early morning light the contrasting colors of lake water against the arid mountain landscape was breathtaking. The view from the windowwas enchantingly beckoning us to ride.
However, the planned stage one had a remote start location. To reach it we had to take a bus ride to a kibbutz ( Yaar Lavi) on the western side of the lake. The main challenge of today’s ride was the long tough climb to Mount Thabor. The start ceremonies were delayed as people for the 4 different groups got busy setting up their bikes that had magically travelled on separated trucks during the night and had been lined up in order corresponding to the riders categories. We are 60 men and a few women doing the challenge ride. The other groups are a bit more larger and each group is based on a different location. Today starting ceremony is the only time when all the groups started together and we will not be together again until the last day in Jerusalem.
As we lined to start right after the Israel national enthem, I would be lying if I denied my nervousness. This trip has been so long in the making and so many people have stood steadily behind me: what if I did not manage to honor my aspiration? I am officially the oldest rider on th e ride, what if I did not finish?
Right before the officials were readying to cut the start tape, as our little Challenge group stood in front , poised to pound the pavement, my eyes drifted upward to the top of the eucalyptus trees around us and there safe was, perched at the tallest branch: a beautiful red tailed hawk. I barely suppressed tears and whispered under my breath: Michele! I was already pedaling when she flew away and I, mo longer nervous bore a knowing smile.
My fears and apprehensions were soon easily diffused as I manage to keep up with the faster group up front. By nature I like riding fast but I have learned to temper my enthusiasm and adapt to my limitations . When the big climb came, I did it at my own pace and still managed to arrive right behind the fast top 5 and in a smaller group of much younger guys. Nothing to feel bad about, rather I could say I was rather proud. The second lag of the trip went at a faster pace until we reached what turned out to be the most amazing and touching event: three young patients escorted by their trainers joined the ride powered specially constructed recumbent with the strength of their arms . We rode 12 miles together and I was so emotionally touched that my body was covered with goose pimples, so much their joy and pride to be riding among us was evident in their face. Again I could have cried, but instead I pedaled side by side with them and did not feel fatigued, rather rejuvenated.
The ride concluded, after the photos at the finish, we all partaked in a food feast, well drenched in local wines. You could hear, as we ate, the excited tones in various noisy conversations animating the dining room that , like me, everybody here was thrilled by the day’s events and ready for the second stage.