Day 1 — As Gabe reported, Wednesday was an incredibly tough day. Many veterans of the ride said that it was the most challenging day in the history of the ride. We had been warned at the orientation that with all of the event planning, the two things the organizers could not control were the weather and the police. Both hit us hard on Wednesday. Israel has been experiencing a heat wave which peaked on Wednesday, the hottest day ever reported in October here. The temperature where we were riding was above 105 degrees for three hours, and peaked at 113. This was combined with a fierce headwind of around 30 mph (a planned visit later that day to a water treatment plant was cancelled due to a sandstorm). Given the oppresive heat, the blowing wind didn’t cool at all, but rather worked like a convection oven. And the sun was beating down without any shade or cloud cover . . . make that a convection oven with the broiler on. It was hot.
On the police/security forces front, with less than 24 hours notice the ride was told that it could not go through a key section of the route leaving Jerusalem. The organizers improvised a complicated and lengthy alternate plan whereby we rode a mere 7 miles, got off of our bikes, put them on trucks, got on buses, moved down the road, unpacked the bikes and then proceeded. Even when we got going again, the police kept stopping us and holding the group of 120 riders (this while we were traveling through the valley where David was said to have battled Goliath). So even though we had started at 6:00am, when I looked at my watch at 10:30 we had gone all of 14 miles (riding uninterrupted we could already have finished the shortened 46 mile route). By then the heat of the day was fully upon us. Gabe struggled against the heat and wind with everything he had, but at the half-way point of the day’s ride he decided to finish his day. He was not alone; the buses were moving down the road picking up riders all along. I know that this was a very disappointing decision for him given all of the training he has done for the ride, the build-up and the support from everyone. Given the conditions and the many days of riding ahead of us, I believe it was the right decision.
Day 2 — Having worked our way across the country to the coast at Ashkelon on day 1, on day 2 our route headed south, past a corner of the Gaza strip, and down into the northern part of the Negev desert. The planned ride was for 70 miles. The heat had let up some, temperatures were in the 90′s (relatively cool, I guess) and the wind was not a problem. In spite of our proximity to Gaza the police allowed us to ride unimpeded.
Gabe put the first day behind him and attacked the day with a vengeance. The ride is organized into three levels of speed and distance. We had been planning to ride with the middle group, the largest. Gabe went out with the fastest riders and kept at it all day, riding the strongest I have ever seen him ride. They moved the lunch stop for the group 25 miles down the road because the group was moving so fast we would have had lunch at 10am. At a point around mile 50 he double flatted and we lost the group while we fixed his tires (I think he ran over a piece of a shell casing). You should have seen the look on his face when we started up again and got to the next rest stop and 30 or so gung-ho riders were waiting for him to get going again. At mile 65 he started to completely fade, having ridden at a pace way above anything he has sustained before, let alone his third longest ride ever. We pulled over and he scarfed down a package of energy shots and started right up. He gutted through the last few miles on empty. I have never been more proud of him.
Day 3 — We continued to work through the Negev today. We rode with the middle group, because we would have needed to make an earlier decision to stay at a different location. The day’s distance didn’t sound too bad, 45 miles. Turned out to be a fun and interesting day of riding. We rode 15 miles at a more leisurely pace to Sde Boker, where we switched to mountain bikes. We then went off-road into a deep canyon where there is a natural spring, swam, then rode out again. The two of us had never done any challenging mountain biking, and the 9 mile round trip seemed like a full day’s ride. Although difficult and exhausting for us soft roadies, both of us started to feel like we were developing some basic competency as the day went on and had a lot of fun trying something new. Gabe even rode up the final portion of the climb out of the canyon, at a point where there was a bus to take the rest of us up.
We then finished the day with another twenty or so miles where the road climbed a few thousand feet to the edge of the Makhtesh Ramon, a huge natural crater in the middle of the Negev highlands. A challenging and satisfying end to the day. Although I am not a religious person, I am looking forward to the Shabbot day of rest tomorrow, as is Gabe.