Gary Greene: Reflections upon my Ramah Bike Ride through the Galil and Golan

Karen BrierNorthern Israel Trip 2015Leave a Comment

The following blog was first published here.

There is an old expression you may be familiar with.  “To err is human, to really screw up you need a computer.” I had the best of intentions of blogging my trip every day, but either the internet connections were poor or my ipad ran out of battery power and it took me until the very end of the ride to find another rider with a compatible charger.

So I thought instead of creating a series of small retroactive blogs, I would reflect on my ride as a whole.

  1.  It is a small Jewish world especially in Israel, even though I wouldn’t want to paint it. Before the ride began, I attended a daily minyon in Jerusalem in order to say Kaddish for my mother.  The first person, in that shul which I had never stood foot in before, who welcomed me, lived in Hollis Hills before making aliyah. For those not familiar with Queens Hollis Hills is only a 10 minute car ride from my home.
  1. Hard work does pay off. I spent the entire winter and most of the spring (due to a very cold and snowy winter and spring) in the gym.  I worked on my core muscles as well as riding a stationary bike four to six times a week.  Although the hills we climb were next to impossible, I was never developed saddle sores nor did my legs ever cramp up.
  1. If you will it, it is no dream.  A blind man joined the hikers this year helped by his daughter and another young man navigating the terrain. 2 years ago with Ramah he rode from Jerusalem to Eilat on a tandem bike! He was an inspiration to us all.
  1. No matter when and no matter where, Israel is beautiful.  This winter’s rain was more plentiful than in previous years.  The Galil and the Golan were a lush green and were covered with wild flowers like the red kolaniyot.  Blue, yellow, and purple flowers also delighted the eyes. The views were spectacular.
  1. All beginnings are difficult. We started the ride at Akko right on the Mediterranean Sea.  Our hotel was aptly named “Palm Beach Hotel.”  The challenge was riding up to the Galil. One of the good things about living in Northeast Queens, we have some big hills to climb.  I figured that they would help train me for my ride.  To psych myself up the hill, I would say to myself that hills are my friends for they only make me stronger.  I quickly realized that the hills in the Galil made my hills in Queens look like mole hills!  Let me tell you, those hills were not my friends at all.  At one point we had a 17 klms ride almost all uphill with a 12% incline.  Every time you turned a corner you continued up without any rest. I have to admit that I couldn’t do it.  I walked up most of that hill with many of my fellow riders.
  1. There is no shame knowing your limits. I swore I was going to make it to the top of every mountain, either by bike, by foot, or by bus! And I did.
  1. But if you try to push yourself, you may surprise yourself by surpassing what you thought were your limits. I have to admit I was pretty discouraged after riding the first day and walking up those hills.  Then I realized I had to change my strategy.  Usually I attack hills, but that only tired me out quicker.  If I would just plod along and not worry how fast (really how slow), I was going I could make it up all most all the forthcoming hills.  (To tell you the truth, I didn’t even try to climb the 1000 meter hill with an 18% incline.  The walk was worth it though because the view was unbelievable.)  I rode better and stronger and did climb all those hills. I felt much better about myself.
  1. Be flexible.  One day the ride was cut short because it rained and hailed.  Another day’s ride was shorten because the temperature reached 45 C, close to 120 F.  It was so hot the water I was carrying on my back seemed to me boiling.
  1. Politics effects everything.  Earlier in the ride, we rode through Druze and Arab villages as well as Jewish towns without a thought, care, or worry. We didn’t ride through any Arab village on May 15th because it was Nockba Day. Arabs gathered to mourn their fate because on May 14th the State of Israel came into being.  Their whole world turned upside down when the predictions of the Arab world didn’t come true. All those Arab armies didn’t push the Jews into the sea and destroy the nascent Jewish state.  To avoid any possible confrontation, we avoided all Arab villages.

You can always learn something new.  I’ve lost count how many times I have visited Israel but there is something new I learn with each trip. For example as I was riding a boat across the the Kinneret, The Sea of Galilee, our guide pointed out a kibbutz called Migdol.  She taught us that Mary Magdalen from the Christian Testament came from Migdol.  You can hear the similarities.

When you fall off your bicycle, get right back on.  The last day of the ride the temp hit 45 C.  We had to ride down this old terrible farm road from the Golan Hts to the Kibbutz Ein Gev where the ride ended and lunch was served. The road was all torn up with plenty of pot holes.  In fact we had to get off our bikes twice and walk because the road was so torn up, it was an accident-in-waiting. No more than 20 yards from the finish line, I passed a pot hole.  I took my hand of the handle bar to signal to those behind me to be careful.  I must have hit a stone for I lost control of my bike and fell. I am happy to say that I got on my bike again and finished the ride.  Then I collapsed.

My whole right side is bruised and torn up.  Thank God all my wounds are basically superficial, but I hurt.  I escaped real injury because I was wearing my helmet.  My head hit the ground, but the helmet saved me from a catastrophic injury.  It’s getting better but I am far from pain free.  I’ve seen my doctors and I just need time to heal. I believe that fixing my bike will cost more than fixing my body.

What you focus on makes all the difference in the world.  At first I felt bad that I couldn’t make it up those hills the first day.  Subsequently when I changed my hill climbing strategy and I conquered most of the remaining hills, I rode strong and felt good about myself. Well, until the last 20 yards.  I remind myself that I fell no more than 20 yards from the finish line.  I’ve chosen to focus on how great my ride was and not on the last 20 yards. The choice is mine. Why should I let the last 5 minutes of the trip ruin the entire experience for me?!

We are strong as individuals, but even stronger as a community.  Thanks to friends like you, I raised $5229.00 and the community together helped raise ½ million dollars for the special needs campers.  There is still time to donate and help this wonderful cause.  Go to my page in order for me to reach even higher heights.

You don’t even realize how great an impact you are making.  Several special needs campers’ parents joined the bike ride or hike.  One night they spoke how wonderful the Tikvah, the special needs program, was to their children.  Camp was the only place in their lives they were treated as regular people where others saw them not as human beings with special needs but just as camp friends.  In all my years of teaching at Camp Ramah in New England, I took my relationship with all my Tikvah students and friends for granted.  That’s just how we related to them. In fact, when I wanted to attend the best Shabbat morning service in camp, I went to the Tikvah service.  I never realized what that meant to them and how unique and special Camp Ramah is.

I am ready for the next ride in two years.  Who wants to join me?

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