Over 90,000 shekels raised.
Over 1,000 people following on the blog, Facebook, and Twitter.
Countless spirits raised.
What an awesome night.
I want to say at the outset that it is very difficult to put into words what the “Longing for the Dawn” ride has meant for me and Stella. Throughout the night, we could feel the love and support from literally around the world. For the first time in many months, both of us were focused on something wild and crazy and helpful and positive. It may have been a “one man bike-a-thon,” but really, I was never alone on the ride. Even at 3:30 in the morning, as I rode along a deserted Route #60, I felt a crowd of people were along with me, making every turn of the pedals easier and easier.
So now, here’s the story as best as I can remember:
I was actually pretty pumped for the ride. I decided to wear the jersey from the bike racing team I was a member of a few decades ago, the Sleepy Hollow Bike Club. As a teenager, I was on a competitive team and spent many hours before and after school off on a bicycle somewhere. Maybe I could fool my body into believing I was almost thirty years younger. I added a reflective vest and had mounted a variety of lights to my helmet. I was less concerned with being able to see the road (since there are plenty of streetlights and a full moon) than I was drivers being able to see me. So I tried to glow.
I stocked the car with energy drink, spare clothing, bike tires and tools, a spare bike, and all the electronics (and snacks) that the support team would need as they followed me around all night. (They were wondering if they would have as much luck getting people to pledge for every kilometer they drove or snack they ate.)
I sent them all the info so they could keep people updated during the ride. We had a last minute discussion about the plan for the ride and it was time to go out for the start. I pedaled out of my house and over to join my family in the center of Neve Daniel.
This was my first surprise. A huge crowd of Neve Daniel friends greeted me, many wearing specially made T-shirts for the ride. Dozens of kids, all mounted on bikes were raring to go. The Rabbi of Neve Daniel gave a short inspirational talk. Then I tried to say a few words.
Usually that’s not a problem for me. But seeing how many people had come out choked me up and I decided to let my riding do the talking. I took off with all the kids in tow on a ceremonial lap around Neve Daniel. And then, it was time to get to work.
The first two hours, I rode my mountain bike around the Yishuv. I did this mainly so that there would be less traffic by the time I hit Route #60, the main highway through Gush Etzion. Riding around a small Yishuv can get boring quickly, but not on my ride. It seemed that on every corner there were groups of people cheering me on, some ringing cow bells (a European custom at bike races.) In areas where there were no people, purple balloons — hundreds of them — lined the route. The Rav had said I should see the balloons and know that I was not alone. It worked.
At 8:15, I switched to a road bike (graciously lent by Chaim at the Al Derech Burma bike shop) and set off on the second leg, a four hour journey of about 90 kilometers through Gush Etzion. I rode circuits between Efrat, Allon Shevut, Rosh Tzurim, the Gush Moetza, and the entrance to Kfar Etzion. I had a support team following in the car keeping everyone up to date using a variety of computers, iPads, cameras, and phones. I would look over at the car every now and then and see an interesting blue glow coming from inside.
I had gone over my “fueling” strategy with the experts at Hammer Nutrition, and I took their advice to avoid any solid food and just drink one bottle of a special energy drink every hour, plus a few gels and electrolyte pills. My crew made sure I was drinking the bottles down and were quick to mix up new ones and hand them off when needed. I had also stocked the car with spare clothing, but found that I only had to change a shirt once and switch to a warmer cap and gloves. Although it was a bit chilly, I did find that riding kept me warm enough to go without a jacket.
Near midnight, just as the Gush loops were getting a bit monotonous (each one was 15km,) my friend Dave Bender e-mailed in that he would be joining me for a little bit on the road. It was a pleasure to ride with him (after talking about riding together so many times.)
After Dave left, I was delighted to join up with four more friends from the Bet Shemesh Running Club for the third segment, the ride to Jerusalem.
I always knew that the real fun would start after midnight, and I was right. I was absolutely shocked and amazed when a bunch of friends from Neve Daniel came out to the road to cheer us on at about 12:30. Probably as shocked and amazed as the soldiers at the check point that separates the Gush from Jerusalem.
Riding to the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem’s Old City was fantastic. Despite my best arguing, they would not let me ride the bike into the Kotel plaza, so for the first time of the evening, I got off the bike and walked over to the Kotel. Right inside the entrance to the plaza, I got another surprise.
Guys from the Orita Yeshiva ran over and sang me in to the Kotel. We got a lot of strange looks. After all it’s rare to see a group of Yehsiva bochurs dancing to the Kotel with a spandex clad bike rider replete with flashing lights and reflectors.
Back on the bikes, it was time to move on. Mike and I did a detour to add some kilometers by heading off to the Tayelet and then to the checkpoint by Kever Rachel before catching the other guys on Route #60 headed back to the Gush. Riding bikes on a major highway that was devoid of traffic was fun. For those of you who didn’t know, Gush Etzion is in what some would call the “West Bank,” and this road has certainly seen its share of terror and tragedy. But at that moment, it was a road of life.
It was right around 3:15 AM then I started getting worried. Although I was not yet getting tired, I still had three hours to go and thought I would be alone. It was starting to get really cold. I had kind of gotten used to riding with the Bet Shemesh crew and was not looking forward to riding alone again.
But then I got a nice surprise. Mike decided to stay and ride with me until I returned to Neve Daniel, where other riders had agreed to meet me around 4:30. So to log some more kilometers we did a few more laps through the chilly air between Efrat and Rosh Tzurim.
At four thirty in the morning, we headed back to Neve Daniel. For those who have never visited, Neve Daniel is one of the highest points in all of Israel. That makes for spectacular views and really hard bike rides, especially after you have already been riding for ten hours. But, with really no acceptable choice (I was not going to get in the car for a ride up, that just wouldn’t be right,) we just got out of our saddles and hammered our weary legs up that hill.
Near the top, I was greeted by a most wonderful sight, the most beautiful of the evening. Stella (and Bailey, my dog) were waiting for me. Even though there were still two hours left, how wonderful it was to pull over and get hug from my wife. It may still have been pitch black, but Stella’s smile is dazzling and she can light up the night and even make a frozen biker feel warm again.
As time went by, I was joined by more and more friends. Some were on bikes, and others were waving pom poms and cheering. At this point, having gone over the 200km mark, we were riding slowly and just fooling around on our bikes. But as a crowd grew, I realized that I didn’t want to finish the ride that way. So, I started doing laps and ramping up the pace again. At this point, it was sheer adrenaline .
More and more people showed up as the clock counted down to the twelve hour mark. In all honesty, although I was pretty tired, part of me didn’t want this magical night to end (not that part that had been sitting on a bicycle seat for 12 hours however.)
When was the last time that me and Stella and all our friends smiled like that? When was the last time that we felt really, really good about ourselves? When was the last time that we felt so optimistic about the future? Certainly not for the last four months.
Since Stella’s diagnosis, we have been dealing with the ugly word “incurable.” But we cannot accept anymore when someone tells us that something is not possible. With faith, and perseverance, love, and G-d’s will, anything is possible. So many people giving to charity in Stella’s merit has to have an impact.
We have already seen with our own eyes a scan result that was not supposed to happen. Stella is actually feeling much better and I have no doubt at all that all that the tremendous embrace of love we have felt is the reason. While the ride did not change at all how people have felt about my amazing wife, it did let people participate in a very meaningful way.
So now with our feet on the ground again, we are ready to resume the battle against cancer.
A friend brought over a plate of fruit after the ride. She said we should eat the fruit but keep the plate to use at our Seuda Hodea (a celebratory meal of thanks) when Stella is cured. We like that — and by the way, when that happens you are all invited.
I could not thank everyone who helped out so much individually, but know that we cherish every donation, every balloon that was tied up, every cheer, Facebook post, e-mail, and blog comment. But that being said, let me give an extra special “Yasher Koach” to a few who made this literally the ride of our lives.
Chaim Wizman, Yosef Sonneblick, Reuven Yagel, and Mike Ben Ari who rode to Jerusalem with me (Mike actually stayed to ride back to Neve Daniel.) Chaim is the owner of the Al Derech Burma bike shop which lent me the bike for most of the ride. If you need bike stuff, go visit his store. Marc Gottlieb has been running my Website for years and was up all night “live blogging” the ride. if you need anything web-related, get in touch with him.
Avi Levine was in the support car all night long, keeping everyone up to date and making sure I had everything I need.
And then finally, there is my amazing, amazing wife. Compared to her challenge, my bike ride was nothing at all. She is my inspiration every day and I will do anything I can for her. Together and with all our friends around the world, we are going to fight this cancer with every ounce of strength we know we have, and a lot more that we don’t even realize we have.
No matter how difficult the future may be, nothing can take away the magic of that night, nothing.
If you have enough faith, don’t let anyone EVER tell you that something is not possible.
See you on the road.
Yarden Frankl, Neve Daniel