DAY 1 – FRIDAY/SATURDAY, OCTOBER 20th/21st
Arrival in Israel
Mission participants arrived in Israel. The day was devoted to personal organization, bicycle assembly and adaptations and free time in Eilat, Israel's southernmost city and its various attractions. This evening’s program included welcoming dinner with an overview of the route and information for the exciting week ahead!
CYCLING DAY 1 – SUNDAY, OCTOBER 22nd
Eilat to Mitzpe Ramon
Long route cyclists cycled out of the city for their first climb northbound on Route 12, part of which parallels with the Israel-Egypt border. Together with the more northern Route 10, this area had seen significant infiltration of Africans, primarily Sudanese and Etreians and threats from ISIS forces. A security fence was constructed along the routes that significantly reversed the earlier situation. This mountainous desert highway begins on the outskirts of Eilat and cuts through the Eilat Mountain Range where it connects with Route 40 at the Neot Smadar Junction. Along the route, participants passed the Ovda Airport, a mixed military/civilian installation that aside from its classified operations also serves as a point of entry for low cost 'snowbird' flights from Europe to Eilat (until completion of the Ilan and Assaf Ramon International Airport in 2018).
They continued on a northbound track through the Eilat Mountain Reserve until reaching the Shizafon Junction where they were joined by the "short route cyclists" before continuing once again northbound through the Shizafon and Hamishar Plateaus and the Ramon Crater (Makhtesh Ramon). Interestingly, the crater is not an impact crater formed by meteorites or a volcanic crater eminating from a volcanic eruption. Rather, it is a geological landform unique to the Negev and Sinai Deserts. It is comprised of steep walls of resistant rock surrounding a deep closed valley that is usually drained by a single wadi. The first day came to a close riding up to the crater's cliff along what is known as the 250 meters long "Ma'ale HaAtzmaut" (Independence Ascent) (Route 40). At the peak, they reached a well-deserved break in the town of Mitzpe Ramon and its lovely Beresheet Hotel.
CYCLING DAY 2 – MONDAY, OCTOBER 23rd
Mitzpe Ramon to Ashkelon
On their second day of cycling, the ride continued as a single group. Together they departed the hotel cycling northbound until reaching the Nafkha Penitentiary where shortly afterwards turning westward on to a side road through the Negev Mountains taking them to the Israeli Airforce Ramon Air Base.
The base was constructed with American aid during the early 80's as part of Israel's redeployment following the Israel - Egypt Peace Treaty and Israel's subsequent withdrawal from the Sinai Desert.
Following a guided tour of the base, the group continued cycling in the direction of Midreshet Ben Gurion, a residential community that contains an environmental high school and branch campus of the Ben Gurion University of the Negev near the gravesite of David and Paula Ben Gurion. They visited the gravesite and stop for a light lunch at the adjacent national park. After passing Kibbutz Mash'abei Sadeh, they turn westward towards the Gaza Envelope Communities. They cycled by the Tze'elim Army Base, the IDF's largest ground forces training complex used by both regular and reserve army units.
Next, the group continued cycling past the communities of Tze'elim, Urim and Re'im to conclude the day's ride at the Kibbutz Be'eri Cycling Center where they took a bus to the nearby city of Ashkelon.
CYCLING DAY 3 – TUESDAY, OCTOBER 24th
Gaza Border to Jerusalem
The day began with a guided tour of the Gaza Division's Northern Regional Brigade Base; after which they take the bus to the Yoav Fortress, the site of a crucial battle during Israel's War of Independence that gave the newly created country a gateway southward and pushed out the attacking Egyptian forces.
From there, they headed out on their bicycles eastward, passing the communities of Komemiyut, Kibbutz Gat, Luzit and Agur, stopping for a light lunch at the Acanthus Camp Site in the Britannia National Park. From there, they cycled through the Adullam Grove Nature Reserve & Cave Park, where King David sought refuge during his struggle with King Saul, along a series of narrow and winding paths until we reach the community of Aderet where they met the highway that took them to Jerusalem by way of Tsur Hadasa.
From there they entered Begin Park, where they descended towards Nahal Refa'im and then ascended to the Ein Karem neighborhood in Jerusalem's southwest corner with its interesting mixture of art, religion and good restaurants.
CYCLING DAY 4 – WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 25th
Gaza Border to Jerusalem
On the fourth day, the group left Jerusalem heading SE to the site of the Herodion National Park, once a palace built by Herod the Great and later a base manned by Jewish rebels during the Bar Kokhba Revolt, for a short tour of the site. There they began cycling towards the Gush Etzion region. After a short break at the Gush Etzion Winery, they descended in the direction of the Elah Valley. This valley reflects much of Israel's history throughout the ages, it is where David supposedly fought and defeated Goliath. It also reflects that which led to subsequent technological breakthroughs as the site of Israel's first "satellite relay farm".
From there, they circumvented the city of Beit Shemesh and climbed back up to Jerusalem on one of the more famous climbs in the country (the "Burma Road", made famous by the film, Cast a Giant Shadow starring Kirk Douglas, Yule Brenner and John Wayne), in the vicinity of the "Nes Harim" region. After that, they cruised down in the direction of Ein Karem and one more challenging climb to the Kennedy Memorial that concluded with a bus ride to their hotel.
CYCLING DAY 5 – THURSDAY, OCTOBER 26th
Final Day - Cycling in & throughout Jerusalem
The day began with a visit to the "The First Station", now an exciting Jerusalem cultural and culinary compound where they were joined by a group of Israeli cycling enthusiasts for a brief memorial ceremony to remember our friend Pinhas (Pinky) Zoaretz (OBM), a former IDF officer and FIDF Deputy National Director from 2011 – 2013. Following the ceremony, the group departed for a joint ride around Jerusalem - going from the Train Track Park until reaching the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo - where they entered Ein Lavan in the general direction of the two moshavim, Ora and Aminadav. Near Aminadav, they parted from their Israeli day riders and continue along the roads to Ein Karem, where they connected with the Jerusalem Ring Bike Trail that passes through Nahal Sorek, the Arazim Valley, Har Hotzvim area of the city, concluding at Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. At the Hebrew University, they left their bicycles behind and were bused to Old City for a tour of the area. The tour came to an end with a final closing dinner and celebration of the week’s accomplishments!