Mud, Sweat, and Tears
Posted on November 5th, 2009
I just spent a week riding through mud.
Not the kind of nice warm Dead Sea mud that tourists buy. I’m talking about freezing cold mud. It gets on your arms, your legs, in your nose, and between your teeth. Every day after the ride you take a shower wearing your riding gear to try and get some of it off. But it’s just not possible.
The mud gets on your bike chain and in your gears. It gets in your brakes and clogs your pedals. Your bike weighs a ton no matter how often you try and clean some muck off.
What an amazing week.
But let me go back a bit. For the fourth year in a row I was riding in the Alyn 5 day bike ride to raise money for the Alyn Children’s Hospital in Jerusalem. I was joined by fellow Team Neve Daniel members Pinney and Lawrence.
Also along with us was our friend Bob, who we like so darn much we just put him on the team. He has a daughter my age, and he can still hang with the best riders in the pack. Also honorary team member Yael from Kfar Meiman, showing us that girls can ride crazy too.
This year, the ride would spend four days on the Golan Heights and one day riding from Modi’in to Jerusalem. Except when it rains, the Golan is an ideal place to ride a mountain bike since the views are spectacular and the Heights are full of amazing bike trails.
Like I said, except when it rains.
The Golan turned to mud.
We started the ride on Sunday in Rosh Pina. Within the first hour, I knew it was going to be a tough year. Riding fast down a winding trail, another rider swerved to the right to avoid a big rock. There was just one problem — I was on his right side.
Down I went and when I got up I found I had a gashed leg and a bent derailleur (the thing that changes gears.) As I was contemplating what that would mean for the next five days, the skies opened up and dropped what felt like a lake on us. The rain was so thick, you could hardly see where you were going. Then it started to get cold. Yael reminded me of the article I wrote before the ride about how we should just accept the inevitable and embrace the rain.
I told her to shut up.
We rode on road for a bit up a very steep climb and then turned onto the first segment of the North-South Golan trail. Here was my first experience of real mud riding. For what seemed to be hours, we road through the mud. The key is that you must keep moving, no matter how slowly. If you stop and put a foot down, it will become almost impossible to start again.
After the mud came puddles. Big puddles. These were not the type of puddles that kids like to jump up and down in. These were long stretches of the trail where water went from one side to the other and you had no choice but to ride through. At some point your bike could sink up to the hubs and you wondered if you were about to take an ice bath. (Lots of riders did). Every time you peddled your foot went through icy water. (Every morning I dreaded lacing up the cold wet shoes.)
To be perfectly honest I was not pleased with my performance. I felt tired and miserable and had a million reasons why I did not want to continue riding. My leg hurt, the bike couldn’t stay in gear, and the forecast was not gloomy — it was catastrophic.
Yet the next day, I decided I would have a better attitude. I put on all my rain gear, looked in the mirror, and gave myself a little pep talk. I was actually pumped up when I left the room and headed for the staging area.
That was when word came down the line that something had happened that has never happened before in the Alyn Ride’s ten-year history. The whole day’s ride was canceled. Due to massive flooding and extreme winds, the powers that be decided it would be too dangerous to ride. What followed was a rather dull day. As we ate dinner in the youth hostel and watched water leaking from the ceiling, no one was very upbeat.
It rained through the night and into the next day. Yet, the decision was made to ride. The route was changed so that the only off road segments became optional. But the route would still be a challenge.
We started with a 24 kilometer climb up the slopes of Mount Hermon to the Beduin village of Masade. The climb was fantastic although the fog was so thick that you couldn’t see anything but a patch of road in front of you. Along the way up I found the rider who had knocked me off on Sunday. We exchanged some pleasantries which gave me the added incentive to ride hard and leave him in the dust rain. (He did apologize in the end, and I did NOT knock him into the ditch at the side of the road.)
The real problem was that when we got up to the top, the temperature dropped and the winds picked up. I changed into the last dry shirt I had and still froze. Coming down the winds pushed us across the road. There was nothing to do but put your head down and pedal. Around this time I again started wondering if it was worth it. Actually, I felt miserable and decided it wasn’t. I decided that I would finish the ride but no way would I ever sign up for this hell again.
Later in the day we had a few off road bits including a dangerous descent which put my good friend Simcha into an ambulance and out of the ride. I didn’t see Simcha’s fall, but another guy in front of me lost the traction on his bike wheel and went skidding down into the ground. He yelled that he was o.k. so I kept going — gripping the bars, saying a prayer, and looking forward to getting to the bottom.
At the bottom were several kilometers through what were basically a few flooded fields with mushy patches of mud to ride on. The riders were so spread out that I could scream like a banshee all sorts of colorful words. I was in my own little world. My own freezing, wet little world.
Then an interesting thing happened. We came out on the road and all of a sudden I felt a surge of energy. I hammered down on the pedals and felt myself flying. Kilometer after kilometer just clicked by. I no longer felt the cold. When I reached Keshet, the end of the day’s ride, I felt exhilarated but completely spent. By 5:30 I was sound asleep. (Thankfully I woke up for dinner.)
The next day was more mud and more climbs including a 2 kilometer haul over a 15% grade. Yet the sun came out and that made everything much better. I even fell into one of the mud lakes, but I didn’t freeze to death. I joked about it and let the sun dry me off. We rode down one final descent to the Kinneret and all of a sudden there was just one more day of Alyn.
Of course today was more like Alyn rides I have done before. Tons of climbing going from Modi’in up to Alyn in Jerusalem, but it was warm and we knew the end of the ride was coming, so everything felt great.
We finished by charging up the hill from Ein Karem to Alyn and got to ride past all the cheering people who had come to see us finish. We got mobbed by our families and high- fived each other like we had just won the Tour de France.
Even better, there to greet us were all the children being treated at Alyn. A young child in a wheelchair put a medal around my neck and his smile said it all. Now I felt guilty for ever having such negative thoughts. What the hell is a little mud compared to what we were really there for?
I will leave you with one example of why this ride is important. There is a little boy who lives in a town near Sderot. During the Gaza war, his leg was blown off by a Palestinian rocket (HELLO JUDGE GOLDSTONE?? YOU HOME??? — Sorry).
Anyway, after he was stabilized, he was fitted with a prosthetic leg. Yet learning to walk with an artificial leg is not easy, especially for a child. At first, walking is very painful. But that is exactly what you need to do for your body to get used to the leg. This boy would just not walk — it was too painful.
So at Alyn, instead of medicine, they gave him…. a rabbit. His job was to try and walk after the rabbit. Now it was no longer painful therapy – it was a game. And that is how this boy is learning to walk again. That’s Alyn for you. This kind of therapy is not covered by health insurance – it is covered by Alyn Ride insurance.
So if a boy can forget the pain and learn to walk even when it hurts him, I guess a bike rider can forget about a little mud and cold and just enjoy learning what he is capable of doing.
Kol HaKavod to Alyn for staging another great ride under very trying circumstances and thank you to each and every one my sponsors for making this week possible.
Not even a question.
I’ll be there.
How about you?
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