New Challenges and Chamois Butt’r

Who knew? Chamois Butt’r is the key to happiness. For the uninitiated, Chamois Butt’r is a product one applies liberally before going on long bike rides. Having just ridden for five days across central Israel in support of the Ramah Tikvah programs, this is one of the many lessons I learned.

This week’s Torah portion begins the book of B’midbar. The Israelites are wandering in the wilderness with no end in sight. They really don’t know what is coming, they are displaced, disorientated and completely reliant on Moshe and God. I think that is how most people feel when contemplating a new challenge or trying something new. It is scary. As an adult who has spent significant time in my career, it is easy to forget what it is like to be completely exposed, vulnerable, and unsure. There were many benefits to going on this bike ride, but gaining insight and empathy for others was by far the most important.

Let me explain. I can ride a bike, but I had no real idea what it would mean to ride a bike across Israel in the heat and up and down mountains. Although there were packing lists, I didn’t really know what I would need. I did ask questions of experts beforehand, but I had no real idea what it meant. So, after “training” for about a month, I set out on my adventure.

The night prior to the first day of riding, the group leader reviewed our route. “We will bus to this point and ride. It’s generally rolling hills. There are a few busy roads so be careful. The first water break will be about 25 kilometers in. It is going to be hot so drink a lot.” This is all good information, but considering how little I knew about biking, I really couldn’t use it that well. What exactly is a “rolling hill”? Turns out that “rolling” generally means forty five minutes of grueling peddling up followed by five minutes of whizzing down. It wasn’t that I didn’t know how to convert kilometers to miles, it is that I had no idea how long it would take to bike those 25kms. Hot? How about 106 degrees on the pavement?

The first day arrives after a fitful night’s sleep. We all gather in the parking lot of the hotel wearing our “Ramah Bike Ride” biking shirts as we were instructed. Am I being hazed? If you are a biking newbie, you might not realize how biking clothes are designed to fit snugly. Not exactly a great look for my relaxed fit body. Is everyone judging me? The ride starts, everyone zooms by me. I mean everyone. There are people in their middle-to-upper-70s crushing me. When we pull up to the first rest stop, I wonder if they are perturbed to be waiting for me. Everyone’s nice, but I feel like a burden to the group.

By the second day, I settle into a routine. We start out and quickly I fall to the back of the pack. The guide who is tasked to bring up the rear rides about 10 feet behind me followed by the equipment car which inches along another fifteen feet or so behind. I feel so guilty making the guide ride so slowly and can’t imagine how mind-numbingly boring it must be for the poor guy in the car to drive ten miles per hour behind a middle-aged guy who for some reason wants to bike across Israel. We are climbing “up” to Jerusalem. Side note: up to Jerusalem always meant something spiritually to me. Now I realize it really just means up. And up, and up and up.

The day stretches on and we are now making the last push into Jerusalem. The one quality I have that is serving me well is my dogged determination to complete the ride. As I round the bend on what looks like a crest to the hill, my spirits begin to lift. Except it turns out that salvation in the form of flat terrain has not arrived; instead there is another big uphill ahead. I have to admit, at that moment, I almost quit. I could just throw my bike in the back of the chase truck and ride the rest of the way. At that moment, I hear a voice in my ear. “This is the last big hill. It’s about a kilometer. You can do it.” The tour guide who had followed me for the last two days encouraged me. It made all the difference. I bore down and made it. Someone believed in me. The next day was just as rough and now the guide gave me encouragement and information throughout the day. After that day was over, the man who drove the chase car hugged me and told me how impressed he was with how I was doing. The rest of the ride certainly was challenging, but with my newfound friends, I knew I would make it. As I coasted down to Masada and raised my bike over my head for my victory photo, I felt a sense of accomplishment that I hadn’t felt in years.

Over the last two days of the ride, I began to think about how my experience had great similarities to new campers heading off to camp. They are asked to take a leap of faith and try something new. New living arrangements, new friends, new activities and new food. It can be a little scary and intimidating. Having the right preparation and equipment helps, but it is the human support that makes the experience. The madrichim (counselors) at camp are the guides that use empathy and caring and build connections, which can make all the difference in the journey of our chanichim (campers) even when they feel a little like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. This is the message I will bring to this summer as we gather for staff training in a few short weeks. It perhaps is a good lesson for all of us that no matter our stage in life, we should try new things. Oh, and Chamois Butt’r is a life saver. Shabbat Shalom.


Categories: Director, Dvar Torah, Tikvah