There’s always a lot of of curiosity from family, friends, supporters and new C4Gers about what happens on the road once the wheels get rolling. Some imagine a group of extremely experienced, well trained, lycra-clad cyclists, zipping through in perfect peloton formations, while others cross their fingers and toes and hope that we just come back unharmed. The truth lies somewhere in between. Annie Robbins from Mondoweiss described Cycling4Gaza as the perfect example of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and I can’t think of a better way to put it.
The Cycling4Gaza (“C4G”) rides always kick off on a Thursday with a team dinner and introductions. This year was no different with 40 cyclists dwindling in throughout the day from all over the world. Our welcome dinner this year was particularly memorable this year with the attendance of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (“PCRF”) Philly chapter, and of course Ahmad Abu Nammous, our 16 year old cyclist and PCRF patient from Gaza.
Friday the 19th September marked the 1st day of the ride. The route had us riding the 130km from Philadelphia to Lancaster. Things start quite early: quick and hearty breakfast, final bike checks, a team photo, a bit of nerves and a lot of excitement and we were on our way. It’s always tricky getting out of the big city with such a large group. Our tour operator Dave Walsh and his team from Best of VA Bike Tours did an excellent job at marking the route with unique postings for us to follow – however, unsurprisingly, some people got lost the first day (and the second day as well, won’t mention any names here!).
We usually spend most of the day, apart from breaks, on our bikes. A highlight of our rides is the time we get to spend with one another while cycling. I thoroughly enjoyed these stretches – meeting the other cyclists, learning about their own unique life stories. On the first day, right after our morning snack break, Ahmad got on the bike for the first time. The entire team was a bit worried about him, since he was having issues with his prosthetic leg and had been on crutches minutes before. But Ahmad was eager to start cycling. When it was time for him to join us once we were out of busy city traffic, Ahmed casually dropped the crutches and got straight onto his bike. Before anyone had the time to process this, he was already well on his way, weaving through the group, and racing to the front of the line. What he would keep reminding us during the cycle was that, despite his serious injury, he was just a regular 16 year old kid, who wanted to ride his bike as fast as he could.
Day 1 was perfect riding condition: open roads, beautiful weather, endless corn fields and a few rolling hills in Amish country. We were thrilled to make it to Lancaster and to complete one third of our ride. The second day saw us riding from Lancaster to Cockeysville. It was an easier day in the saddle – we were more comfortable riding together, and nearly everyone had mastered reading the C4G route markings. In York, we were invited by the very hospitable Quaker York Meeting house for our morning pit stop. Most of the ride on Day 2 was along the railroad tracks – upside: flat roads. Downside: uncomfortable cycling on gravel. In the evening, we grouped at dinner for a couple of birthday celebrations, followed by a ‘fireside’ chat with Ahmed. Most of us have never been to Gaza or met anyone who lives there. Listening to Ahmed talking about things ranging from his favourite subjects at school (none) to more serious issues like his injury and the three wars he witnessed deeply marked each one of us. Ahmed brought to life the cause we had all been working so hard for, and he made our drive even stronger and our goal more worthy than ever. We all went to bed with Gaza on our minds that night.
It’s still surprising how fast day 3 came, yet how long it seemed to last! It was the toughest day of riding. We were faced with a lot of steep hills in the morning fog, and still had to ride 130km at a decent pace to make sure we arrived in DC on time. Although tired from 2 days of cycling, the thought of being so close to the finish line and so close to successfully finishing C4G2014 worked wonders for self-motivation. Another wonderfully supportive Quaker house hosted us for lunch, this time in Sandy Springs, 30 miles from DC. We were delighted to have a new group of supporters join us along the last stretch as we cycled together towards Capitol Hill. The last few miles were unforgettable – everyone’s energy picked up and we rode together in a beautiful formation, cheering for ourselves and getting lots of supportive honks and words of encouragement from those we passed. This carried on all the way through to the finish line, where we were welcomed by a huge group of cheering supporters.
The final moments of cycling into our destination, meeting supporters, and taking photos together, always make every mile we cycle and every hill we climb worth all of the pain. To those who came out and greeted us in DC, who cycled part of the route with us, who joined us on the first night in Philadelphia to show their support (PCRF chapter), who hosted us in their meeting houses (the Quaker community in Pennsylvania and Maryland) – thank you for your support; you gave us motivation when we most needed it. Thank you also to our long-time supporters worldwide, who allow us to keep Cycling4Gaza going and growing stronger year after year, and to our hero cyclists, who pushed through all of the pain in the name of our cause.
It’s incredible to witness 40 strangers from all walks of life and all corners of the world, driven by a common goal, come together for 3 days and instantaneously ‘click’. It’s incredible to witness this remarkable display of compassion, camaraderie, passion, and motivation unfold – and this is one of the many reasons why C4G will always be an unforgettable journey.