So here we go again. Lads adventure number 4, 3rd bike ride.  Months of training over, excited and apprehensive but really looking forward to the whole thing.

The alarm went of at some ridiculous time of 3.45 this morning and after I struggled out of bed and started to get ready, actually felt quite excited by the thought of this adventure. As always, sorry to leave my family behind and I know they will miss me. Of course I will miss them too!!  Does sarcasm come across in an e mail?

Since our San Francisco to LA ride was 3 years ago almost to the day, London to Paris last summer has been my only other tour having decided not to do the Garden Route in South Africa, which at the time I knew I would regret and now do. I couldn’t join the ride in the Canyons near Las Vegas because I was away trekking The Inca Trail and discovering Peru  last year with my family.

It was great meeting up with the boys again, sadly not with Craig to complete the set.  The ‘boys’ consist of:  Me, Richard Pearlman our fantastic organiser and “leader”, David Black, Darren Feld, Richard Rains, Keith Crossman, Alan Spencer and Stuart Bookatz.

The Motley Crew in Jerusalem
The Motley Crew in Jerusalem

Richard R has been as entertaining as always and predictably is stuck on the ” all riding together” bandwagon. The general consensus is that we give the idea 10 minutes, perhaps 15 maximum. Time will tell. This time we are all on hired bikes and hope they will be decent quality. I’ve only ever ridden my current road bike and so the comparison will be interesting, although I have brought my new saddle with me and we have all brought our own pedals that fit our cycling cleats.  We should have our bike fitting session this afternoon and I’m sure that will be fine.

We had an hour delay taking off because they found an extra bag in the hold. However, we made up most of  the time and landed 20 mins late. After a long queue at passport control we easily found our guide, Assaf, waiting for us. Mini-bus loaded, we started the 1 hour journey to our Jerusalem hotel in our mini coach. We are relieved it’s very comfortable, clean and quiet.

I forgot how hilly Jerusalem is.  Some of the hills are very long and we are so pleased we cycle round it not over!  There is some amazing infrastructure construction going on of a new 3 or 4 lane motorway and high speed train track. The trains will go from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 35 mins which will dramatically cut the journey time between the two cities. To make the railway, because of the landscape, they have to go 30 km through mountains and over valleys. Assaf tells us that 500,000 people go in and out of Jerusalem every day, so these are really needed to keep up with population growth. Chinese engineering is being used for some of the massive rail bridges.

It seems very green with lots of trees. Assaf starts to explain some history of Israel on the way which is nice as we do need to know more about the history and politics of this amazing country.

We are all a bit tired and hungry as the early morning and not having a chance to eat properly all day starts to have effect. But we soldier on regardless!

The hotel is Hotel Prima Royale and is fine. We gave pedals to Assaf to set up the bikes. They look fine too, but we will see more tomorrow.

I really wanted to start our trip in Jerusalem, not only because the trip would be a bit empty without a flavour of the city but to experience Friday night at the Western Wall as Shabbat comes in. I don’t recall ever doing that before and it was on my “bucket list”. We started walking to the wall @ 17.30.

Even though we got a map and directions from reception, it took a while to work out the way, and despite being a group of men we asked 3 separate people for directions! We saw the outer wall from the old windmill and worked out where the Jaffa gate was. There is no actual gate by the way, just a large gap in the walls where it was. Some of the group had been worried about being in Jerusalem because of the security situation and events in the press in the last few days, I was sure we would be safe but nevertheless a bit concerned.  It seems very quiet and under control, police dotted around very conspicuous with guns visible, Israeli style of seemingly relaxed but don’t mess with me attitude. Passing a few restaurants we had a short discussion of do we eat now or later, with the later option getting  agreement mainly so we could get to the wall whilst it was still full for Shabbat (The Sabbath). I was pleased about that.

We walked on through the narrow streets.  I’m sure they are the same shops from 30 years ago with the same products! The signs to the wall certainly look familiar. It was not busy, but the narrow streets with tall buildings seemed intimidating and oppressive. I remember how more so that is when it’s hot and crowded so was glad it wasn’t. There were noticeably more police around, especially at junctions in the narrow streets which bring home how volatile an area this is, with such a contrast to the holiness of the site we are near.

We got to the wall at about 6pm when the sun was starting to set and Shabbat coming in. Great timing really. I was surprised that it wasn’t that busy. The wall looked smaller than I remembered , but now thinking about it I think it is because the area leading up to it is massive and before I think the approach to the wall was closer.  There was some singing and dancing but not much, with many Shabbat services going on in both the men’s and women’s sections.

There was an impressive selection of the types of men’s hats, black, wide brim, furry. Some yeshiva boys singing from the walls above as we entered the area added to atmosphere.

We went right up to the wall, said the Shema and also some private prayers. It is a special, mystical place and I never know how it will affect me. I was expecting some reaction and was a bit emotional shedding a tear or two, with some sense or both release and relief. But that didn’t last long.  As is tradition, I put a note in the wall and one I brought with from my parents.  Strange, I feeling emotional again as I type this up. May we all be blessed with health, happiness and realisation of our dreams.

1. Me at The Western Wall 9.10.15

The Western Wall on Shabbat
The Western Wall on Shabbat

Overall it was a lovely, special experience but not as vibrant as I has expected. I got told off twice for using my camera in Shabbat by what must have been some patrolling religious people, looking to make sure the sanctity of Shabbat was observed at such a holy place. I really should have known better, but…….

We then walked back through the streets to the Jaffa Gate for a very welcome meal. It was a sad sight that everyone was on their phone as we got wifi, but it didn’t last long. The meal was good and we felt refreshed.

Walking back to hotel we noticed the fresh temperature, due to the height of Jerusalem in the hills. The fresh air helped as I had a headache on and off since afternoon, which is most unusual for me . My head feels blocked up too. Hopefully just a travelling day cold. I took some pills when I got back to the hotel that I brought with ” just in case”. I hope it’s just a travelling day thing that goes quickly.

Back downstairs for a 20.30 briefing. We were given our touring pack which consisted of a T-shirt, a map for each day, turn by turn sheet for each day,  a road map of Israel to tear out relevant pages for each day. Very organised. Our guide has been doing this for 5 years and knows what he is doing.

We need to be down for a 6.30 breakfast and on our way for 7.00 for the 4 hour journey up north in order to start cycling.

Back to room to organise clothes and kit for tomorrow.  This always takes longer on the first day as we get organised but I wanted to get it done before going to sleep. I’m sharing a room with David, which is great.

I wrote up the points for this blog, to type in full during the journey tomorrow.  My sinuses feel full, I hope I will sleep ok and be clearer in the morning.

We are are all looking forward to the start. It’s now 22.05 and I’m done. All ready and wanting to get on with the ride. Excited. Why is it I feel so shattered the day before we start? Surely it’s not meant to be this way. Note to self for the next time to be different!  And yes, we have started the ” what next?” conversations………..!!!!!

Good night

Neil xx zzzzz

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