Day 6: The Wheels Come Off, A Little

Posted in Uncategorized on May 2nd, 2013 by Rick

Monday was our last day of riding. Derek went out early with the mumchim and climbed back out of the Arava Valley, me following in the mechanic’s truck with the tandem. We met back up at Neot Smadar, and I got back on the saddle. Ouch. The more than four hours of riding the day before had undone most of the healing of Shabbat.

We rode for about 12 or 15 miles to the next rest stop, I fueled up, and we started again. Ahead was at least 20 kilometers (12 miles) of more or less constant climbing. I made it about 3 kilometers before I couldn’t continue, mostly from the saddle pain. Ilan, our mechanic, picked me and the tandem up, Derek got back on his rented Pirello, and I watched the climbers from the truck. It was an interesting ride up, since we were literally riding along the Egyption border most of the way. Big fence. Lots of desert on the other side (in fairness, on both sides). I was told later that the fince is actually a bit on the Egyptian side, so some people could walk into what was technically Egypt at the rest stops.

Our plan was to meet back at the staging area for the final descent into Eilat. We got to the top of the climb, and Derek had already passed. Turns out that the meeting place was down a couple of short drops, and he was waiting there, but Ilan did not know that. As it turns out, Ilan is an experienced tandem captain, and we stopped at the top, he got out and said, “You’re going to ride down with me!” He was quite cheerful about it. I was worried. First, the stoker on a tandem is rarely as big as I am. Second, we’d never ridden together. Third, he’s a bike mechanic, and an Israeli, and..an Israeli bike mechanic. He asked me if I trusted him, I agreed, and we rode. Downhill. Rapidly. More wheeeee (and some silent profanity). After the first drop, he gave me some advice that made the second one go easier. But, wow. Much. More. Agressive. Than. Derek.

Ilan gave up the captain’s seat to Derek for the final descent into Eilat. Derek tells me ignorance is bliss. I had fun. He might have been a little terrified by the dump truck we were in danger of rear-ending. And the screaming brakes. In fairness, the latter made me a little nervous, too. I’m afraid the Guide Dog Center/Ken Velo will need to replace the disks and pads on the brakes ofter the abuse of all the downhills on the ride.

One more thing about the descent into Eilat. We could distinctly feel the heating of the air as we went from the hills to the sea. In about 5 minutes, the temperature went from about 91F to 107F. I have decided there are 3 weather reports for Eilat: Hot, Very Hot, and Please Do Not Wear Anything Flammable Outdoors.

After some pictures at the beach, we had lunch (grilled chicken, kebabs, merguez sausage) and headed back to the hotel for a few hours of rest. In the evening, we had our closing dinner (grilled chicken, kebabs, merguez suasage,and felafel) around the pool. Rabbi Mitch Cohen, National Director of Ramah, asked Derek to speak briefly. He did, and movingly. Thank you, Derek, for everything.

Day 5: In Which We Drop Off a Cliff, Twice

Posted in Uncategorized on May 1st, 2013 by Rick

Sunday may have been my best day of biking, ever. Giving my sit-bones a rest on Shabbat seemed to give me much more stamina in that, um, delicate department. There was also a lot of downhill, which let my legs rest quite a bit as well.

We got on the road at Israeli 6AM, which was actually about 6:15. The first order of business was to go from our hotel at the top of Makhtesh Ramon (a geological feature that is a little like a sinkhole with ambitions to be the Grand Canyon) straight to the bottom. It’s about a 1000 ft descent, with a few wide switchbacks, and we went down it like something quite fast indeed. Although it was pretty early in the morning, it was fairly warm already, and we had quite a bracing moment when we went through a thermocline near the bottom where there was a pocket of downright chilly air. Felt really good.

We emerged from the bowl of the makhtesh into the Southern Negev. Another descent gave us our first real mechanical issue of the ride. At 50mph, we were overtaking traffic, and Derek needed to ride the brakes pretty hard. By the time the road leveled, the rear disk brake was partially seized, and we had to wait for the mechanic, or we would not have been able to pedal much farther. We pulled up just before the Paran River crossing, which at this time of year does not involve anything remotely resembling water (although we were told it does run in the winter). Our surroundings reminded me a little of the Great Salt Flats in Utah, or the most desolate places in Nevada. Hot, dry, mostly flat, and nothing tall enough to provide even a little shade. One of the support wagons dropped off a tank of cold water, and we waited about 45 minutes for the mechanic (he had been dealing with other issues behind us).

Off we went, and despite the delay in the desert, I was feeling pretty good. And we rode, and rode, and rode, through a whole lot of moonscape. Eventually, we saw some cliffs in the far distance, and Derek said, “Hey, I think I just saw a rock slide.” We rode a little farther, and he corrected himself. “I think that was actually a tank shooting artillery at the cliff.” Yep, we were passing a military base, and they were in full training mode. We could ultimately hear the sound of shelling and the rat-tat of 50 mm guns. Never been that close to military exercises. Glad we weren’t down range.

Shortly, we came to our lunch stop at Neot Smadar. Before lunch, however, we were to have a tour of the place. A brief tour. Which took 2 hours. There was some grumbling. The tour guide was very earnest, but she really seemed to want us to understand the interpersonal dynamics that are key to the functioning of the kibbutz. It was a little hippie. Their very large central building, which included meeting rooms and art workshops and was pleasantly cooled by what amounted to a very low power swamp cooler, was interesting, but we spent a little too much time processing our reactions, if you will. Lunch, when we finally got it, was vegetarian, naturally. I think it was tasty, but we were a might peckish by that point, so my judgement may have been slightly impaired.

Finally, we headed off for our final destination of the day, Kibbutz Ketura. It wasn’t far from Neot Smadar, but there was a bit of climb to the rim of the Arava Valley. Here is where we fell off our second cliff of the day. The guides insisted we go one at a time, separated by 5 second intervals. Fast. Fun.

Ketura is an interesting place. One of the only (if not the only) old-style kibbutzim left. All funds are pooled among the members, including money from outside work. One reasong they can do this is that they are quite prosperous. They have a very large herd of dairy cows, grow a lot of dates, and, most economically important, they grow red algae which was initially used to produce food dye, then cosmetics, and now antioxidant food supplements (primarily for the Japanese market).

Dinner was our first meat meal not baked in an oven–a poolside bbq. Grilled meat, not covered in sauce. Good way to end a 65 mile day in the saddle.

Days 3 and 4: Quiet Time

Posted in Uncategorized on April 30th, 2013 by Rick

Friday was a short day of riding for me. We decided that I needed to not be in the saddle too much, and we rode the tandem from Mashabe Sade to Sde Boker. We stopped at Ben Gurion’s tomb, where Yoni, one of our guides, gave a very impassioned speech about Israel’s first PM. My impression throughout the trip is that Yoni wears his patriotism more on his sleeve than most of the other guides.

We went from the tomb to a local bike shop, where a bunch of the riders, including Derek, switched to mountain biking, descending into the Zin Valley. I followed the riders in one of the support Jeeps, chatting with the driver, Nahumi, about the local aquifer, his family, and, of course, Israeli politics. He seems to think that the West Bank settlers are reasonable people who will do the right thing when presented with a fair compromise on their situation. I wasn’t quite able to determine the basis for this assessment. One hopes he is right.

At the bottom, we came to a short hiking trail with, unaccountably considering the heat and dryness of the environment, puddles all over it. Shortly, we came to a sheltered spot with a spring-fed pool, Ein Akev. Our guide immediately jumped in, with no indication that the pool was anything but comfortable. Then the first rider jumped in. And then the swearing started. Apparently, the pool was actually quite cold. As each person jumped into the deep spot from a rock ledge, a new stream of profanity came out. It was quite entertaining to listen to. With all the rocks and the very slippery exit from the pool, I decided not to go in, but that meant I got to take a lot of pictures. No video, though. The profanity may have embarrassed one or two of the participants.

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Back up the hill, we get on the bus to Mitspe Ramon and Shabbat.

Go read Derek’s blog entry for Shabbat. I don’t have much to say, except that I had a good day of rest, healing, and recharging.

Second Day: Bamidbar (Into the Desert)

Posted in Uncategorized on April 25th, 2013 by Rick

Today, we entered the Negev.

Derek started early on an optional ride from Ashkelon to Sderot, which he did without me. From the beginning, we planned that he would probably ride solo for some of the time, since I simply don’t have his stamina. The rest of the riders left a little later on the bus, and got a tour of the JNF Indorr Recreation Center, which was built to provide a play space for local children safe from Gaza rocket attacks. That was a strange and sad thing to see. Least fun fact: everything in the building is designed so that every single person, and it accommodates up to 500 in a 20,000 square foot facility, can enter a fortified shelter within 15 seconds of the rocket sirens sounding.

At Sderot, we remounted the tandem and hit the road towards the desert. We started out with the middle (bogrim) group, because we didn’t want to go as far as the advanced (mumchim) group. Turns out that, while we (read: I) don’t have a lot of stamina, we still go very, very fast. Too fast for bogrim, as it turns out. For a while, we were leading that group. In fact, the guide for the group was drafting off of us. He said it was like drafting off a bus, which seemed like kind of a left-handed complement, to tell the truth.

So we hopped on to the mumchim and took off. We managed to work with the Chai Rollers of White Plains, really nice people who ride together a lot, on a pace line. Again, a few folks enjoyed drafting us, perhaps a little too much.

We rode up a highway paralleling the Gaza, and then turned toward the desert, stopping at aid stations set up at various kibbutzim. This part of the desert has been developed for agriculture, and, while very dry, is still fairly green, at least as best as I could tell from the road.

As we headed in toward the lunch break, my engine gave out, and we decided to skip the final 30 mile push to Mashabe Sade, where we’re staying tonight. Instead, we took a tour of Kibbutz Revivim, which was one of the pioneer settlements in the Negev, playing a key role in the War of Independence. It was a lot like going to a Revolutionary War monument, in that it’s clearly history written by the winners. But we did get to go into their bomb shelter cave, which had been an ancient cistern.

We still made about 29 miles on the tandem, and did it in well under 2 hours, so it was still a pretty good workout. But, pain.

Tomorrow, Derek gets to go mountain biking, and I get a jeep ride.

First Day: Wheeeeeeeeeee!

Posted in Uncategorized on April 24th, 2013 by Rick

Up at 5:30, we eat another wildly complex Israeli hotel breakfast, then pile on the buses to drive to Bar Giyura near Beit Shemesh for the opening ceremonies. Thoughtful readings, Shir haMaalot sung to the tune of Hatikvah, and, of course, a shechechyanu started us off.

Then, the excitement. The first leg was pretty much straight downhill for 10 miles. Ever ridden a tandem downhill? Twice the weight with about the same wind resistance as a single bike. That means our terminal velocity, sans brakes, is quite a bit higher than everyone else on the ride. So: Wheeeeeeeee! Also, some profanity, and my brief thought that maybe I should say a quick Shema, which is, by tradition, the last thing uttered by a Jew about to die. Really, I trust Derek more than that, and I wasn’t really afraid for my life, but we did chew through a bit of brake pad.

From there, things calmed down quite a bit, with rolling hills and and a net downhill ride. We were going a little faster than the middle (Bogrim) group, so after lunch at Tel Lakhesh Park, we joined the faster expert (mumchim) group. We were a little fresher than they were, since they had a longer morning that included a climb too insane for us, so we kept up a nice pace for the next 35km until we reached the outskirts of Ashkelon on the coast. At that point, the heavy traffic, narrow shoulders, and, frankly, my fatigue, compounded with the relatively poor maneuverability of our tandem to make us choose the better part of valor and hop in the support truck for the last couple of miles to our hotel. Both of us fell asleep before we got there. We made about 50 miles today.

Tomorrow, we enter the Negev.

We Meet the Ride

Posted in Uncategorized on April 23rd, 2013 by Rick

So, El Al went on strike this week. Not so bad for us, but many of our co-travelers had their plans forcibly changed. For us, this meant that the early Ramah bus from Ben Gurion Airport did not happen (the large group of El Al passengers on the early flight all came later), and we got to spend a few more hours in Tel Aviv. Mostly, this consisted of Derek getting to swim laps in the gorgeous Gordon Pool, a fifty meter spring fed salt water facility a few blocks north of our hotel, while I relaxed on a lounge chair in the shade listening to podcasts.

(Also, I had a little of the chocolate cake at breakfast today. So sue me.)

Then, to go a little native and to save a lot of money, instead of taking a cab back to the airport, we walked to Dizengoff, took the number 5 Eged bus north to the train station, and hopped the train to the airport. Two highlights: First, we had to put our luggage through a metal detector to get into the train station. No pat downs or restrictions on water bottles or anything like that, but it’s a small reminder that life hear is not entirely like life back home. Second, the train staff was wonderfully helpful to me. When we got off at the airport, the conductor on the train called for the station manager, who grabbed my luggage and led me up to the information desk at airport arrivals so we could find our group. I didn’t catch his name, but thanks to him.

We met up with three more riders, Mark, Robin and Triss, and were collected by Ride staffer Yoni, who took us to the van and on to Jerusalem. On the way, he pointed out the spots where we went through nominal checkpoints out of and then back into the ’67 borders, and the wall along the highway separating Israel from the West Bank. His explanation was…polished. I can’t recall the words exactly, but I could hear some elision of very deep and troubling issues. He is an experienced tour guide, and I don’t think shades of gray serve tour guides here very well. It was a slightly off note in an the otherwise congenial chit-chat of our drive.

Arrival at the Crown Plaza was boisterous. Lots of people introducing themselves, checking in, and getting fitted up on our bikes for the ride tomorrow. We have a very nice white and red Cannondale tandem, supplied by the Israel Guide Dog Center.

After a little rest, we met everyone downstairs for a large buffet dinner. Getting downstairs was a little challenging. It seems everyone in the hotel was trying to get to food at once, including what appeared to be the guest of a very big wedding, so we had to pass on about 8 full elevators before we made it down ourselves.

The food was decent, but I always forget that kosher meat can make you feel like you’ve eaten an entire bag of potato chips. Water. Please.

Finally, introductions, thank yous, and logistics from Rabbi Mitch Cohen of National Ramah and our staff. Mitch was extremely gracious introducing Derek to everyone as the only other clergyman in the room. The highlight, though, was the introduction of the doctors–there are seven of them riding or hiking–including, helpfully and to everyone’s half-ironic, half-serious delight, 2 cardiologists.

Tomorrow, we ride.

Walking Around Tel Aviv

Posted in Uncategorized on April 22nd, 2013 by Rick

Up bright(ish) and early(ish) this morning. Today is our only full day to experience Tel Aviv. It’s not over yet, but I needed to get some details down before I forget.

First, again, I must stress how fantastic our lives are in the privileged industrial world. The first thing I did this morning was video chat with my family. This is not new technology, but I had to pause to savor the pure wonder of seeing the faces of my loved ones 7000 miles away, in real time, for FREE (except for the cost of the equipment and our home internet service, but that’s not important now). Just fantastic.

Breakfast. Can i tell you about breakfast? I have vague memories of our family trip to Israel when I was a kid. I remember cucumber and tomato salad and yogurt for breakfast every morning, and not much else, though I’m sure there was more. I’d heard about the standard Israeli hotel breakfast, and I knew it would be varied and plentiful. But the scale of it. I was awed. I skipped the 3 kinds of fish and the cheeses and the yogurt entirely. Also the chocolate cake (that was a challenge). Still didn’t come near to tasting everything. I will never be happy with an American-style hotel buffet again.

Fortified, we set out south along the water toward Jaffa. On the way, we had a stop at Shuk haCarmel, the large market in the middle of town. The sounds and the smells were wonderful. I really missed Bonnie here–this is the kind of thing that she loves. Derek bought some sugary pecans from a stall staffed by Russian speakers, and I smelled fish and cooking meat and fresh fruit and bakeries.

On to Jaffa. We kept walking for a bit along the beach, then turned left up the hill on which the old city sits. About halfway up the hill, we stopped to look at the minaret of the local mosque, the middle of which was just about eye-level from our position. Just as I was taking a picture of it, the midday call to prayer began. We stopped to listen to the 2 or 3 minutes of chanting. I was struck by the musical similarity with the sound of Jewish prayer, and felt a little melancholy about the continued tensions in the region.

We climbed the rest of the way up the tel and admired the views of the Mediterranean and the surrounding city. And then it started to rain. Just a little. Then a little more. And then we were in front of the Napolean Patisserie (very Israeli sounding, non?), and we thought it was a good time for a cup of coffee. Just in time. If we’d been outside for one more minute, we would have been soaked by the 10 minute downpour. As it was, we had some very nice coffee and an excellent plate of hummus.

A little more walking around Jaffa, now in the sun, brought us to an old palace that is now full of bats. The sound of their chirping was kind of cool, but I was glad I wasn’t inside.

And now back at the hotel, having some blogging time, giving the feet a rest, and enjoying the afternoon “snack” once again. I think in a bit we’ll try walking north to see what’s in that direction. Maybe eat again.

Traveling Day

Posted in Uncategorized on April 22nd, 2013 by Rick

Since I didn’t write on the evening of our arrival, I’m catching up now.

Yesterday was our marathon travel day, or, really, two days. We left Denver around noon on Saturday, flew to Newark, had a 5 hour layover there, and finally boarded our flight to Tel Aviv. Newark to TLV was scheduled to be a 9.5 hour flight, but tail winds bought us an extra hour. Slept for a bit on the plane, but we were pretty beat when we arrived.

As we came in for our landing, I thought about how unpleasant, uncomfortable, and cramped flying has become, and then I thought: you are a spoiled child of the 21st century. Three or four generations back, this trip would have taken weeks or months. It took us less than 24 hours to travel 1/3 the circumference of the Earth. And then the jet lag.

We took the way of the exhausted and affluent traveler, and caught a taxi to our hotel in downtown Tel Aviv. It’s a pleasant place a block from the water, with a comfortable lobby (with free WiFi) and very European-style (read: compact) rooms. We cleaned up from the road, and sat down in the lobby to catch up on email and for the hotel’s afternoon “snack”: coffee, tea, bread, cheese, olives , fruit, and warm croissants filled with chocolate-hazelnut wonderfulness. I am immensely glad that we will be spending a lot of time riding in the coming days, because the food already seems just a wee bit too good and plentiful (more about that later).

After Derek finished his blogging, we took a walk around the neighborhood. It’s not a particularly charming neighborhood–concrete is the dominant aesthetic–but there are a few restaurants and bars, and it’s a block from the water.

At 9, we met up with a local guy I met online when I asked on a message board for restaurant recommendations around here. Dani is a software engineer like us, and we spent a pleasant hour or two chatting over glasses of Guinness at an Irish pub around the corner. And I believe that fully sums up the international character of this city. Nice to make a new friend here in Israel, and I hope he visits Boulder some time, so we can pay him back for the beers.

And then we collapsed.

And so it begins

Posted in Uncategorized on April 20th, 2013 by Rick

Derek and I begin our adventure to Israel.

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Customer Complaint Letter of the Day

Posted in ephemera on March 6th, 2013 by Rick

This letter came to our company support email (mistakenly, I should add), forwarded twice by the original author when he couldn’t find the correct place to send it. I note with some astonishment the sheer number of establishments he has tried.

I’ve redacted personal and business names and email addresses, but it is otherwise exactly as we received it:

From: XXXXX XXXXX XXXX THE ANOINTED <xxxxxxxxx@xxxxxx.xxx>
To: “xxxxxxxxx@state.co.us” <xxxxxxxxxx@state.co.us>
Sent: Sunday, March 3, 2013 10:22 AM
Subject: MEDICAL MARIJUANA DISPENSERIES

 

TO: THE STATE OF COLORADO MEDICAL MARIJUANA REGISTRY
FROM: XXXXX XXXXX XXXX
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
BOULDER, COLORADO xxxxx
xxx-xxx-xxxx
xxx-xxx-xxxx
RED CARD #: xxxxxxxxxxxx
    I ASK IS THEIR ANY TYPE OF LAW ENFORCEMENT THAT IS DIRECTLY ASSOCIATED WITH MEDICAL MARIJUANA DISPENSARIES? I HAVE BEEN FINDING THE QUALITY OF THE MEDICAL MARIJUANA BEING OFFERED TO ME AT THE VARIOUS  BOULDER DISPENSARIES, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO THE FRESH BAKED THAT I NAMED AS A CARE GIVER, TO BE VERY INTENTIONALLY SUB PAR!
    MUCH OF WHAT I HAVE PURCHASED SINCE JOINING THE REGISTRY HAS TASTED LIKE AND POSSES UNSAVORY SMELLS OF CIGARETTES AND ASH TRAYS, STOOLS INCLUDING THOSE OF FROM CATS, URINE, EJACULATION, CHEMICALS AND WHAT NOT!! A VERY UN CLEAN DEFILED FEELING EMANATES FROM MOST OF WHAT I HAVE ACQUIRED! I BELIEVE THAT MOST OF IT HAS BEEN SOAKED IN VARIOUS EVIL SOLUTIONS, AFTER IT HAS BEEN CURED, AND THEN ALLOWED TO DRY BEFORE BEING SOLD TO ME FOR THE PURPOSE OF WEAKENING THE STRENGTH OF THE MARIJUANA, RUINING THE TASTE, PHYSICALLY HARMING ME SUCH AS MY BONES, BRAIN, AND EYE SIGHT THROUGH THE CHEMICALS, DEFILING ME AND FOR THE PURPOSE OF SO CALLED “RIPPING ME OFF”!! I KID YOU NOT!!
    I HAVE PURCHASED FROM BOULDER MEDICAL MARIJUANA DISPENSARY <redacted>, <redacted>, <redacted>,  <redacted>, <redacted>, <redacted>, <redacted>, <redacted>, <redacted>, <redacted>, <redacted>, <redacted>,  <redacted> AND <redacted>!!!
I BELIEVE THAT OTHERS HAVE HAD THE SAME EXPERIENCE AND MAY HAVE CONTACTED YOU AS I AM, ALREADY!
    WHAT CAN BE DONE? PLEASE ADVISE! I THANK YOU FOR ANY AND ALL ASSISTANCE THAT YOU PROVIDE ME WITH THIS TROUBLING AND ILLICIT MATTER!
SINCERELY,
XXXXX XXXXXX XXXX

 

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