Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Looking Ahead


It is hard to believe that we are already looking forward to the 2020 Israel Ride - though I know that planning for each ride starts long before the preceding ride ever kicks off.  I  understand the complex logistics of pulling off a ride like this,  but I was very disappointed to learn that the dates for the 2020 ride had shifted, with the ride ending the day before the 2020 presidential elections here in the states.  I am sad to inform my even-year friends (and those who ride every year) and my Ride supporters, that I must break my many years long tradition of riding every other year, and will miss the 2020 ride.  This is a very personal decision, but I believe it is important to be home in the week leading up to the election, and I will not risk the chance that a Monday night getaway from Eilat will be delayed, resulting in not being home when the returns come in on Tuesday.  I will miss my even-year friends, and hope to see some of you on the 2021 ride - though that seems very far away.

I remain deeply committed to the cause supported by the Israel Ride.  The Arava Institute is doing critical work, but in the science of environmental protection and in advancing cross-border cooperation and trust.  Likewise Hazon is promoting important environmental initiatives here in the states.  I urge my donors to continue their support and I look forward to hearing from all of you in 2021.



Sunday, November 18, 2018

Israel Ride Photos & Track II



I am recovered from my post ride cold - it was a doozey, and unfortunately I gave it to Robin, so she is a few days behind me in recovering.

In the past couple of weeks, the Arava Institute has held its 3rd Track II conference (I think I earlier said it was the second.).  You can read a recent piece in the NY Times, here: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/15/world/middleeast/israelis-palestinians-tackle-gaza-problems.html.  And you can see updates about the the conference on the Arava Institute's Facebook page.  As I wrote in my last post from the Ride - this is where the impact of the work we are supporting may be seen most dramatically.

And finally, as promised, here is a link to my photos from the ride.  More pictures than you probably want to see, but feel free to pick and choose.  In the middle, see the ones from the sandstorm!  Enjoy!

I have come to realize that I am not a faithful blogger - but my intentions are good, and I hope to post from time to time before I return to the Ride in 2020.

Until then,



Thursday, November 1, 2018

Post Ride Reflections

October 30, 2018

There have always been sight-seeing opportunities after the Ride.  A trip to Petra in Jordan is one highlight (think Raiders of the Lost Ark) - or extended stays in Eilat.  This year for the first time we had the opportunity to return to Kibbutz Ketura for a more in-depth exploration of the Arava Institute.  About a dozen of us have taken this option.  We have learned about edge cutting research being done in agriculture, with a group of professors and students doing long term research into developing crops that can be adapted to the hyper-arid climate of the Arava desert.   There is even if fig tree grown from a seed thousands of years old - aptly named the Methusala Tree.

There is ongoing study and development in solar power - the 4 megawatt solar field we saw two years ago has been joined by a 40 megawatt field that provides a third of Eilat’s power needs during the day.

And then there is the small scale, lower tech stuff aimed at improving the lives of the billion-plus people on this earth who live “off the grid,” without access to the basics that we take for granted - electricity, running water, waste-waster disposal. The Institute has developed an off-grid village, with operating examples of technology that is adaptable for these poor rural communities.  Together with partners in industry, they have developed portable solar powered units that run drip irrigation at a fraction of the cost and power needs of more traditional systems.  An inexpensive vacuum tube that functions as a high temperature oven, heated just by sunlight. 

A bio-gas generator that breaks down any organic matter into gas that can be used for heating and cooking.  It comes in a box and can be set up any where.

All of this work is incredibly important.  It has the potential to improve the lives the rich and poor alike, but mostly people from impoverished communities all over the world.  As important as the technical work is, however; equally vital is the study in the social science of ecology, negotiation and meditation, because the Institute is not just training scientists and technologists.  They are training leaders.  It is the mission of the Institute to foster cross-border environmental agreements , even the face of conflict, that will build the foundation of trust among nations that have long been enemies.  Part of the vision is that in 10 years, the ministers of the environment for Israel, Jordan and Palestine will all be graduates of the Arava Institute.  

I learned about the Track II initiative (check out www.arava.org/track-ii). Track II is a diplomatic term referring to non-governmental entities that work in any particular space of international affairs (Track I are the official diplomats).  So while Track I works at the official level (think UN or Oslo), there is always Track II activity going on to implement (and I suppose sometimes to circumvent) official agreements and positions.  The Arava Institute is very active with other Track II actors (NGO’s, donor organizations) all over the world, but particularly in the Middle East and Africa.  They are planning their second international Track II conference on the environment for next year.

This is what gives me hope.  Throughout this ride, in the midst of all the beauty, enthusiasm and energy, I have been troubled; worried that the work we were supporting existed only in a bubble of idealism; worried that the incremental approach of seeding the world of environmental technology with enlightened graduates of the Institute was merely “tilting at windmills” (certainly felt that way when we were riding against that sand storm!).  I wrote earlier about my sadness to learn that a young man I have come to know over the years, who had achieved the distinction of becoming the first Jordanian to earn a PhD in Israel could not find work in Jordan because of his degree - he is working in his family’s construction business.  But he does not despair. (and is recently married!)  I think he understands the slow arch of progress.  And I have come to better understand the role of quiet incremental change.  The enthusiasm among the staff and students for the work they are doing at all levels is infectious.  They truly believe they will change the world - and I think indeed they will.

And so I close this year’s ride feeling good (ok, I am little tired and I think I have a cold coming on).  This is not just a ride in a stunningly beautiful part of the world.  We are supporting exciting innovation through the research and development activity at the Institute, but perhaps more importantly, we are planting the seeds of cross border cooperation that is essential to the survival of our planet.  We are building trust.  We are creating hope. 

I plan to come back in 2020 for my 6th Ride.  I look forward to that time with prayers for health and peace.

Until then,



PS:  I hope to put together an album of photos from the Ride - mine and some more taken by the Ride photographers.  They had this cool new technology this year.  We all wore stickers or badges with a QR code that their video software can use to identify each of us in the photos.  So I can search for my number and find shots of me among the thousands they took.

PPS: The visit to Ketura was not all serious and meetings.  We took a walk a couple of miles across the road through the sands dunes to the Jordanian border - fun, but also a lesson in how arbitrary borders are when it comes to the environment.

And then there was the evening track into the desert with black lights to look for scorpions.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Day 5 - Into Eilat

October 29, 2018

Monday morning dawned cool and clear. This is the last day of the Ride.  It begins with a challenging 6 miles - back the way we came yesterday. A gradual climb from Kibbutz Ketura a couple of miles, then a left turn and 4 miles of steep climbing.  What was a thrilling descent yesterday is a grueling slow climb today. 

It took less than 10 minutes down and almost an hour up... but it is an accomplishment. The staff is wonderful - they are staged at strategic switchbacks with drums and music to cheer us on.  (I have not written about the photographers or the website that this photo came from.)

After a rest at the top, we start rolling towards the Egyptian border.  

The desert landscape brings an endless expanse of stark and stunning views.  My pace has slowed after days of riding, but it seems we have all slowed down a bit, but it gives us the opportunity to chat some more, and ride with folks we have not seen so much earlier in the ride.  And then suddenly we see the border.  I have written before about the border fence that Israel has constructed.  When I first came on the Ride, the fence was a mere stretch of chainlink and barbed wire.  The desert expanse on the Egyptian side provided sufficient security; but then there was the influx of migrants from Africa fleeing violence there.  On the Egyptian side, they shot to kill.  On the Israeli side, migrants were given shelter and food - but it was a terrible security and humanitarian problem.  The solution was controversial.  A new fence that stretches from Gaza to Eilat.  It is formidable, and has solved the migration problem - but it is an ecological disaster.  Animals, who know no borders, can no longer migrate through their natural habitat.  Another example of a human intervention that will have unknown consequences and potential environmental damage that cannot be calculated.

We stop for lunch, with all riders together - take lots of group photos,and begin the last leg - some rolling hills before the final descent into Eilat - a 6 mile descent that brings us to the shores of the Red Sea. 

The downhill begins high in the mountains, with valley walls on either side - until a final turn and the white city of Eilat appears - with the sea and the Jordanian city of Aqaba in the distance.  We ride to the beach, hoist our bikes in celebration, 

have a couple of beers, then pack our bikes....  

And all of a sudden, the Ride is over.  We have a final celebration, exchange hugs, and begin to disperse.  Some riders are leaving right away, some are extending their stays with trips all over the country.  I will be going to Kibbutz Ketura for a deep dive into the Arava Institute.  More on that later.

As usual, it will take me some time to process this experience, and I will try to continue posting my thoughts.  Until then,


Sunday, October 28, 2018

Day 4 - To the Arava

October 28, 2018

This is a complicated post to write.  Many conflicting emotions.  Saturday evening, as the sun goes down, Jews celebrate the end of the sabbath with a ceremony called Havdalah - which comes from the Hebrew root that means differentiating or dividing between - it is the moment, when 3 stars appear in the sky that the Sabbath ends and the next week begins. It is both joyful in its celebration and wistful as we leave the holy space of Shabbat and enter the everyday week.  On the Israel Ride, we gather at the Makhtesh as the sun sets over that magnificent sight in a moving moment of community.  This year, as we began our songs, we began to learn for the first time of the horrible shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.  We had no information on the extent of the horror, but we have several people on the Ride from that community, and others who have spent time there in other phases of their lives.  So our usual rush of spirit of the moment was complicated by sorrow and fear.

On Sunday morning, as the extent of the horror became clearer - with 11 dead and others injured, we gathered again at the Makhtesh to begin our ride for the day.  Many people begin the day with morning prayers as the sun rises.  The rest gather for a spirited group photos and send off.  But we begin with a moment of silence for the victims of Pittsburg, and the blast of the shofar.

Then we are released, one at a time, down a thrilling descent into the Makhtesh, across the floor and a steep climb out the other side. Then a long day of riding in the desert.  This is one of the best days of the ride - for we are truly in the desert, riding through miles of stark landscape, over rolling hills, with precious few interruptions that might suggest civilization.  

We have lunch in a village that is quite literally in the middle of nowhere.  Finally we gather at the edge of the Arava Valley and prepare for a last descent of the day - a 4 mile thriller with the mountains of Jordan in the distance, to Kibbutz Ketura, home of the Arava Institute.  We are greeted warmly by the students and staff.  After 89 mile, the beer is the best tasting ever - and the potato chips almost taste sweet!  

Here is today’s ride video:  https://www.relive.cc/view/g26234249606

Tonight we have the opportunity to meet with current students (as we met with alumni yesterday).  We hear their stories and their vision of hope that through their studies and work they will break down some of the barriers that exist among the peoples who share this precious corner of the world.  I am still processing the enormity of the challenge, and my fear that this effort will bring change only at the margins.  Perhaps I will have more to say about this in a later post.

Tomorrow we climb back up the 4 mile thriller - which I can tell you is a very different experience!  We will ride along the Egyptian border to our last descent into Eilat on the shores of the Red Sea.  There is a point on the route where you can see 4 countries.  Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.  Pretty cool.  We will dip our toes and wheels into the Red Sea and celebrate having accomplished this challenging and thrilling adventure.

More later.


Saturday, October 27, 2018

Day 3: a washout. Shabbat: a Consolation Prize

 October 27, 2018

Friday was a day on the bus.  Really disappointing, but I understand the decision.  The death toll from the flooding accident in Jordan is now 21, and there are still children missing.  And it seems that a young child in the Israeli desert was also swept away by a flood.  We will ride with sadness in our hearts for our little brothers and sisters and their families.  On the other hand, the day was bright and clear - if a bit windy.  It was hard not to ride.

Our bus took us many of the places we would have seen if we were riding.  I must admit that the hills are a lot easier on a bus. We visited Sde Boker - the settlement where David Ben Gurion retired and where he and his wife are buried.  It sits in the Negev, with majestic vistas of the desert.  Ben Gurion understood that the future of the State of Israel lay in taming the desert.  He viewed the north and the big cities as limited in space and resources.  And as one spends time in both the north and the south, it is easy to see the wisdom of his vision.  Alas, the country has not yet caught up.  As a result the north grows ever more crowded, and the desert, in all its stark beauty, remains a largely untapped wilderness.  This is not to say that there are no flourishing desert towns; there are.  It remains a question of balance.  But who would not want this vista with their morning coffee?

We also passed an incredible solar field with an array of tens of thousands of mirrors focusing the sun light on a generating tower.  It is positively other-worldly in how it glows.  Supplying enough power for a small city, this technology is able to generate electricity 2 hours a day by storing the heat that is collected during sun light hours.  I have a not-so-good photo that I will replace later with a better one from one of my fellow riders.

And finally we roll into Mitzpe Ramon, the town that sits at the edge of Makhtesh Ramon.  Commonly translated as “crater,”. A Makhtesh is a geological formation created by millions of years of water seeping through limestone and washing through the valley.  I don’t really understand it, but the sight is absolutely stunning.  This is a wonder-of-the-world - visible from outer space.

Shabbat is an official day off for the Ride.  The crew (which has been AWESOME in handling the logistical nightmare of the interrupted rides) is off..and generally we do not have access to our bikes.  But in an effort to assuage some of the disappointment of the last two days, the bikes have been made available to those of us who want to ride on our own (no support, no mechanics, no food!).  I rode with a small group out of town on the road that leads to the Egyptian border, about 25 miles away.  We did not ride all the way - but about 17 miles out and then back made for a reasonable consolation prize for missing a day and a half of rides.  And if I am completely honest - there were a couple of hills I did not miss!  Here is the ride link:  https://www.relive.cc/view/g26188107785.  And of course a few photos.

And I ended my ride at the Makhtesh.

Later today we will hear from some alumni of the Arava Institute, who will tell us of their work and the impact the Institute has had on their lives - this is alway a highlight of the trip. Then we will gather at the Makhtesh for Havdalah, the service that closes Shabbat and greets the new week.  Always a joyful and raucous gathering.  Dinner then early to bed, for tomorrow we WILL RIDE!!!  Down the steep descent into the Makhtesh - across the floor, tracing the route of the Nabatean spice traders, and out the other side.  We end tomorrow night at Kibbutz Ketura, home of the Arava Institute.  More on that later.

Until then,


Friday, October 26, 2018

Day 2 - There is always something new on the Israel Ride

October 25, 2018

Today dawned cool and breezy.  It would not stay cool - and breezy is to mild a term.  Riding out of Ashkelon is fun, since we have a bit of an fan crowd.  People walking to work, kids going to school, waving and cheering - they don’t often see a couple of hundred riders barreling through their city streets.  But soon enough we are out in the open road.  We haved a few miles of good steady rolling - and then the winds began to pick up.  As the day grew warmer, the winds kicked up, and then the sand stated blowing.  After 37 miles of blinding sandstorm, the police shut us down.  No more riding for today. A disappointing end to what was supposed to be our longest day riding.  Instead of pedaling, we spent about 3 hours sitting in a gas station rest stop waiting for the busses and bike trailers to get reorganized and rerouted to take us to our evening stop. As disappointed as we were, it was the right decision - it was incredibly hard to ride against the wind and sand, and really unsafe. At least we are a group of nice people who like to spend time together!

Here is the video of our shortened ride: https://www.relive.cc/view/g26128298952

And we are taken to Nitzana.  Which is a youth village high in the desert.  Full of interesting programs for kids from all walks of life.  Eritrean immigrants, ultra-orthodox, pre-army, post-army.  Worth exploring. http://www.jewishagency.org/jewish-social-action/program/214   

Some more disappointing news:  It is supposed to rain throughout the south tonight.  Although it will stop by morning,when it rains hard in the desert, there is a high risk of flash flooding.  In fact, we learned of a terrible tragedy earlier in the day.  A bus of children in Jordan (just next door), was swept away in a flash flood form this storm and it appears that up to 13 kids have died.  As a good neighbor, and in spite of the political tensions between the countries, Israel sent helicopters to help in the rescue.  But the army has pulled all permits for outdoor activity in the south. So we cannot ride.  One of the most beautiful days of riding on this trip has been cancelled.  Instead of riding along the Egyptian border, we are hoping they will at least let us take our bus there.  

Tomorrow is Friday, and we will spend Shabbat in Mitzpeh Ramon - and the edge of Makhtesh Ramon - the largest erosion crater on earth - visible from space!  (More on that later, perhaps).  We are talking about some impromptu rides on Saturday to make up a little for the lost time.

I know that the weather is beyond our control, but I am bitterly disappointed.  There is an Israeli phrase in Hebrew - y’he-yeh tov.  It will be good (better).  So that’s how I will close.  Y’he-yeh tov.