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November 19, 2012: The Ride — Im Tirtzu (If You Believe)

So now I must try and find the words to describe the ride… but I don’t know if it’s possible to describe how it felt and what this ride meant to me, and to Stella. When I rode the last kilometer through crowds of people cheering me on and screaming “Go Stella’s Army!” to beating drums, I was so overwhelmed that I started to cry.

Of course sitting on a bike for 13 hours could make anyone cry.

But let’s back up a bit…

We started from the Mount Hermon Field School at a few minutes past midnight on Thursday night. We estimated the ride was about 260 kilometers and would take 13 hours. I say “we” because there is no way I could have done this by myself.

Luckily I have some very good friends. Avi and David S. — AKA the Salami Support Crew — drove my van loaded with spare bike equipment, energy drinks and bars for me, and an array of exotic and pungent snack foods for them. They were continuously updating all the social media networks to bring everyone along with us, no matter where they lived. At the same time, David B. — AKA Treppenwitz — rode his Vespa alongside me wearing his special Ninja Kilt.

The first few hours I rode through the Golan Heights. I never realized just how dark and how hilly the Golan can be. When you are zipping by in a car at night, you may not notice that there are quite a few ups in the road, regardless of which direction you are going. The settlements on the Golan are few and far between, meaning that there is little ambient light. Thankfully I just followed the red back lights of the van while Trep’s headlight illuminated the road.

The Golan can be beautiful… But not at night when you are riding a bike. The only real excitement was when a large, furry animal scurried across the road right ahead of me. Not sure what it was, but he was probably not sure what I was either. And, of course, we all noted when I was actually “Crossing the Yarden.”

But that got old real fast.

Just when I started wondering how nuts this ride really was, we reached the descent to the Kinneret. This is a very long and winding road. It plummets hundreds of meters while winding down from the mountain ridge. Because of the constant turning, there was no way to open up the brakes and just enjoy the ride. While riding back and forth down the road, all I could think about was how dangerous this would have been in the rain and how we made the right decision delaying the ride a week.

At the bottom of the hill I felt the rear tire go flat. Luckily there was a gas station that I made it to where we could change the tire with some light. That’s when we discovered that a number of the tubes I had brought were defective. I decided not to lose time and just grabbed a spare wheel and took off with Trep while the crew stayed behind to fix up the tire.

From Tiveria to Bet She’an was my favorite part of the ride. Along the Western edge of the Kinneret is where the Tiveria Marathon takes place and it was really neat to be riding a bike where I am normally running. For once the wind was at my back and with no climbs, I could really move. I felt great as we zipped along, passing Deganya, the first Kibbutz in Israel, and then leaving the Kinneret for the trip south. It was around three in the morning so there was little traffic. We made great progress, even with a small climb into Bet She’an.

That’s when the temperature dropped and by 5:00 AM I was freezing. Luckily, Trep’s daughter studies at a Mechina in the area and she had arranged a small reception. So we pulled off the dark road and were soon greeted by a Stella’s Army sign, warm smiles, and some boiling hot tea. While the support team stretched their legs, I changed into a long sleeve jersey and cap to try and ward off the cold. But the minutes passed quickly and before we got too comfortable, it was time to plunge once more into the dark and pre-dawn chill.

After a few kilometers we passed the checkpoint and as I looked over my shoulder, I saw traces of light in the sky. To me, this was huge because not only did that mean it would soon be warming up, but I finally felt like I was making progress. With a little more light, David on the Vespa could back off a little and just let me hammer away. The light and the warmth were very welcomed and the desert scenery just seemed to fly by. Going through the Arab village along the road I waved at the people along the road who seemed as surprised to see me as the (hedgehog?) had been on the Golan.

I realized that we were actually a little ahead of schedule, so after a couple more hours, I told Trep to tell the crew that we would be making another stop at the gas station about forty kilometers north of Almog. While David went searching for some hot coffee, I changed from the long sleeve jersey into a lighter weight shirt and added sun glasses and sunscreen. Because David wanted a complete photo journal of the ride, he insisted on following me to the restroom with his camera. (You people who are NOT on Facebook have been spared.)

After a few minutes it was time to mount up again and continue on. I couldn’t wait to get to Almog because I knew Stella and friends would be there. We also had planned into the schedule a nice hour break. It was at around the 210 kilometer point so it felt like the right place to stop.

Almost until this point, I was still feeling good. But when I turned West from the Jordan Valley road, very quickly things got hard. There was a massive headwind and the road turned upwards. Even though this stretch was only four kilometers, it hurt much more than the previous forty. I finally wheeled into the rest area feeling horrible.

Stella and friends were there to greet us. The crew from Shaare Zedek were there. Even Stella’s Doctor came to take part in the fun.

Unfortunately, I was not much fun. All I could so was drink bottle after bottle of Gatorade and force down a bunch of energy bars. My leg muscles started to shake and my head was spinning. But worst of all, I was doubting myself. From Almog to Jerusalem is one vicious climb. It is twenty-four kilometers and the last five are a beast. All I could do was sit in a chair and think about what lay ahead.

But that was exactly the point.

I cannot say that I know what it feels like to be the one with cancer, fighting through treatment after treatment. But I did want to show Stella how powerful the mind can be. I know there have been times when her body has been hit hard and moving forward depended on her mind. I wanted to reach a point where, no matter how much training I had done, finishing would depend on my attitude, not my lungs or my legs.

I could have given up and gotten in the car then. Believe me, I wanted to. I wanted nothing more than to go home and crawl into bed.

And if it wasn’t for Stella, I would have done so. No question.

But my message to her is always — We can do it. We can do anything. By quitting right when things got hard, what sort of message would I be sending?

We are fighting cancer. We are fighting a tough, aggressive disease where the treatments can feel worse than the sickness. It is not the time for taking things easy. We can’t play nice.

Yes, the ride was a crazy adventure. Yes, we raised buckets of money that will have a real impact. Yes, we wanted all our friends to have something uplifting to focus on.

But sitting at Almog, I came to one conclusion.

I’m gonna finish this F-ing ride, no matter how hard the road gets.

And Stella and I are going to beat this cancer — no matter how tough it becomes.

In both cases, we must banish all thoughts of failing.

So just as I am writing this now back in the chemo room at Shaare Zedek, it was back on the bike to take on the mountain.

Besides Trep and the Salami crew, I now had a few more friends who were going to ride with me. Mike, my training partner, actually rode all the way back to Neve Daniel with me. And that was key because I don’t think I would have made it without his pacing me up the hill. At Mitzpe Yericho, a friend greeted us with chocolate chip cookies. Before Maale Adumim more friends lined the road with Stella’s Army signs. If I wasn’t so terrified of the climb still to come, I would have enjoyed schmoozing with them.

But we continued. And very soon we got to the point where the climb feels like a wall.

As my brain got mushy, I just focused on following Mike’s wheel and we climbed to Mount Scopus. Then it was simply a matter of navigating through Jerusalem traffic until Tsomet Gilo.

Riding along the tunnels highway, many cars started honking us. The crew were making sure we had protection in the front and the back. Some of the honks were from supporters, while others were from impatient people just trying to get by. We decided to simply interpret all the honks as ones of support — even from the buses.

When we finally saw the turn up the hill into Neve Daniel, it was an unbelievable feeling. I would have stopped riding were it not for the crowds cheering us on. Going up the hill to the finish, the crowds closed in until I felt that I was riding the Tour de France. People were screaming and holding signs and beating drums. Many yelling “Stella’s Army.”

Everyone started chasing me to the finish, but I was able to get there about a minute before the crowd. I unclipped my shoe and put my head on the handlebars, completely drained. Mike and Trep helped me off the bike and I lay on the ground, trying to catch my breath and understand that we had done it.

I looked up and saw Stella and could not speak. I just grabbed her and held on tight. Soon my children joined me and we stood together. What a feeling!

Words cannot express my gratitude to the Salami Crew, Trep, and Uri and Tal, our Homefront Command. Words cannot express my gratitude to the people of Neve Daniel, who made me feel like I had just won a Gold Medal.

Words cannot express my gratitude to all the people along the way who were there with the wrist bands and “Stella’s Army” signs.

But more than any of that, words cannot express my gratitude to Stella. She is my hero and my inspiration, and I would bike to the moon for her.

Come on Stella, we CAN do this.

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