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Wheels of Love
By Steven Nachman
What follows is a travelogue of my 5-day journey from Tiberius to Jerusalem on behalf of ALYN Pediatric and Adolescent Rehabilitation Hospital. In a word, the Wheels of Love ride was a wonder. With the help of more than 110 friends, I raised more than $16,000 for ALYN.
Our ride began with a brief ceremony on the shores of Kinnereth (the Sea of Galilee) in an amphitheater built into the ruins at the archeological park. After hearing some opening remarks, we also heard from the head of the traffic police. From the look on his face, it was the first time he was ever greeted with applause. My group of “challenge” riders was led out onto the road north by our group leader Erez in a pace car, followed by a young newlywed couple who chose to spend their honeymoon on the ride.
After riding through Tiberius and north along the lake, we came to our first hill as we began the 2,500 foot climb up to Safed. As we climbed, we passed many vineyards and the Vered Hagallil chocolate factory. We stopped for lunch on a rocky hillside before proceeding north up the 9% road to Marom Hagallil (the Gallil Heights). As we cycled along the ridge, we looked down at the Hula valley and at the Golan Heights beyond, before rolling down into the valley and riding through Kiryat Shmona until our stop for the night at Tel Chai. There, in the shadow of the hills and the Lebanese border above, we lounged on the patio looking at the Golan Heights which awaited us the next day.
We started off cycling across the Hula valley, passing the three rivers which are the headwaters of the Jordan River. We then began our climb onto the Golan Heights, and they are called heights for very good reason as the 1,900+ foot ascent showed us. Along the way, we saw Nimrod’s Fortress on the next hillside and natural forests and cultivated orchards, and looked down at the Gallil as the Syrian army once did. After turning south, we reached Har Bental and worked our way up that steep climb for 0.7 miles to its summit at 1,100 meters (average grade was 11.7%, but more than 20% in some short segments – try it on a treadmill to appreciate it).
Author on Har Bental
At the summit, we enjoyed the view across to Syria toward Damascus and back onto the Golan Heights plateau. After descending we raced toward our lunch break, held at a park which served as an honor to the armored corp. We then proceeded back down to the Kinneret and south to Tiberius, arriving early enough to enjoy a relaxed afternoon at the pool, swimming in our cycling clothes as we beat the truck with our luggage.
Day 3 was by far the hardest day of riding in my life. After riding to the southern tip of Kinnereth, we began the 700 foot climb up to the hills above. After the first rest stop and a ride through the Yavne’el valley, we climbed for another 1.6 miles up the steeper 8%+ road. Along the ridge, we looked left and saw Mt. Tabor, the place where in the times of the Judges the prophetess Deborah and her general Barak gathered the troops to battle against Sisra and his Canaanite army (Judges Chapter 4). It would be our next challenge.
After crossing the valley, we rode up through the village of Tabor, then up the steeper part of the hill itself. It was a road of many switchbacks (1.7 miles at an average 9.6% grade), each one shorter and tighter than the one before. When we finally reached the top, we rode through the arch of the Franciscan monastery at its summit, to the perplexed looks of the pilgrims who had taxied up. The descent was the steepest and trickiest I had ever done, leaving my hands as sore from working the brakes as my legs had been from making the climb. We then proceeded to Afula, drove through town and onto the “ruler road” across Emek Yisrael to the lunch stop. From there, we climbed through the Ya’arot Menashe Park until making the turn onto Highway 70, a main road which stayed open to traffic, to make a dash for the coast. There is nothing like speeding traffic in the left lane to keep you focused and fast in the right lane. We arrived at Nachshonim just in time to swim at its beautiful Mediterranean beach before sunset.
Day 4 was an easy “recovery ride” of 35 miles. We began with the climb up to Zichron Ya’akov. The descent back down to the coast gave us some wonderful views and then we proceeded south, until we needed to stop to let the train from Tel Aviv to Haifa roll by. We soon turned off from the main highway and road through farmlands and fields. After lunch, we turned back onto Highway 4, a main north-south road with its shoulder closed for construction. (Picture yourself bicycling in the right lane of the Long Island Expressway). The trucks all gave us a wide berth, but the same could not be said for drivers trying to exit right off the highway.
Bicycle Riders take to the Israeli Highway
As we turned off into Ra’anana, we were met by the mayor who donned an Alyn jersey and led us to Park Ra’anana on his bicycle. That was the only portion of the ride where we stopped for traffic lights since unlike in NY, in Ra’anana the Mayor stops for lights. At the park, a huge celebration waited for us after which we were bussed to Tel Aviv. I had a chance to visit the Azrielli towers, where a photo exhibit of past rides was on display, including a picture of me from last year’s ride nose to nose with a camel at a rest stop. A walk along the beach promenade followed dinner.
We began at Nesher, an industrial area near Ramla (no, not Ramallah), and rode through the Judean foothills toward Beit Shemesh. There, we carried our bikes across a ditch to a new by-pass road that was still under construction and cycled to the base of Nes Harim. We then rode up that steep climb to Barbahar at it summit, catching glimpses of the hills of Jerusalem along the way. We descended from there, climbed one last long hill and then descended into Jerusalem, arriving at Ein Kerem (below Hadassah).
As we left Ein Kerem, we could see Alyn Hospital above us (about 245 feet above us) and we could hear the sound of the crowd that awaited us. We made that last steep (averaging 9.4%) climb, so steep that some riders even fell off their bikes, and reached the road to Alyn, where Sharon was waiting for me with a hug and a smile. As we sang Jerusalem of Gold, 550 of us rolled in slowly, with the streets on both sides full of cheering crowds.
We parked our bikes and marched into the hospital grounds. The entire hospital, including patients in wheelchair, on stretchers and hooked up to respirators, was waiting outside along with the entire staff and their families. We were greeted by small children throwing flower pedals at us, adults singing Kol Hakavod (well done) to us, the sounds of Shofars blowing to herald our arrival and a marching band to lead us in. Over the years, I have been thanked and honored by many people and organizations for many things, but I never felt as proud as I did at that moment.
The closing ceremony was equally moving as the riders from each of 13 countries rose as their flag was brought out, each time by a child on a bicycle, handicapped equipped tricycle, wheelchair or motorized wheelchair, accompanied by a song from their country. (Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” never sounded so good as it did that day.) Seeing the smiling faces of these children for whom we rode showed us what Alyn could do and reminded us why we had just ridden 275 miles. And after the Israeli flag was brought out, the entire crowd danced together in celebration. When finally it was over, the sun was setting over the hills of Jerusalem, marking a fitting end to our 5-day journey.
I had many wonderful and unexpected experiences during my 5 day ride. I passed through forested areas and smelled the fresh pine and enjoyed their quiet. On the busier roads, we caused massive traffic jams as the traffic police closed roads, blocked incoming traffic or sometimes just forced the traffic to keep left as we rode in the right lane. But that did not stop curious drivers from talking to us as they drove by to find out what was going on and then shout out a blessing or Kol Hakavod.
I came to truly appreciate the words of King David, king in Jerusalem 3,000 years ago, who said (Psalms 125:2) “Jerusalem, hills surround her.” As we traveled through Arab villages, little children, including 1 dressed in a Spiderman costume, waved at us. Our cheerleaders cheered us all along the route, singing “ain’t no mountain high enough” as we neared the tops of the hills, blaring Bob Marley from the loudspeaker of the sweep car as we rode through Druze villages and sang “you are the champions” as we neared the finish. The route passed through areas filled with history, both biblical and modern, with every place name (even the Hubert Humphrey Highway) filled with meaning. I climbed like I never thought I could climb. I renewed many friendships and made many more. I got to pretend that I was an athlete for 5 days and then was greeted as a hero.
These are answers to the 2 questions I have been asked most often since I returned:
1. Was I ready for the ride?
No, there is nothing you can do on flat Long Island to really get ready for the long hills we climbed. But I climbed them all anyway.
2. Did you win?
It was not a race. But I never was close to the back, never was in the last group in, never was picked up by the sweep car, and made every summit. More importantly, thanks to people like you, I raised 70% more for ALYN than I had hoped and helped them reach their goal of raising $3 million ($2.5 is already in the bank and the checks are still coming in). So given all of this, yes, I feel like a winner.
ALYN Hospital is nestled in the Judean Hills overlooking Jerusalem, and is Israel’s premiere comprehensive rehabilitation center for physically challenged and disabled children, adolescents and young adults. ALYN is unique in both what it offers and how it offers rehabilitation. All of the necessary rehabilitation services (medical, para-medical and educational) are under one roof and the staff combines expertise with love to help each child reach his or her highest possible levels of mobility and independence. ALYN is a private nonprofit facility and receives no automatic government funding; only a portion of each child’s exemplary care is reimbursed from Israeli health insurance companies. The generosity of friends makes it possible to meet the funding shortfall this creates, so that all children - regardless of religious belief, nationality or ethnic background – can benefit from ALYN’s ability to transform disabilities into abilities
from the December 2007 Chanukah Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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