Reduce, Reuse, Recycle ... Return, Reflect, Repent

One of the action phrases for the environmentally minded is "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle"... as in reduce what you use, reuse it many times, and recycle it rather than trash it if you have to discard it.

This weekend is the high point of the Jewish high-holydays. Tonight and tomorrow is the Sabbath of Repentance, and Sunday night through Monday is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On these days, in Jewish tradition, the creator of the world is sitting in judgement and we are all supplicants to be written in the book of life. Ancient words ring through the synagogue, and who cannot be moved by them:
"who shall live and who shall die, who at the predestined time and who before their time, who by water and who by fire, who by sword and who by beast?"

The mantra for these days might well be "Return, Reflect, Repent". The word for repenting in Hebrew is actually very close to the word meaning return, and as well as repenting, we talk about returning to our best selves, returning to God, to doing the right things instead of the wrong things. Reflection is my twist on the heavy prayer quotient of these days. From before sundown on Sunday through to nightfall Monday Jews will spend several, up to 15 hours, praying. It can be uplifting, and it can be very hard going. Nigel Savage, founder and executive director of Hazon has written a beautiful piece on the prayer marathons of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, which I recommend to all. The net of it all is lots of time to reflect... not a bad thing for our times.

On Yom Kippur we fast, and we seclude ourselves away from almost all of the everyday world. Many do not drive, do not shower, and we certainly don't use very much in the way of electrical goods like TVs or PCs. We reach, for that one day, the nirvana of "reduce, reuse, recycle" - our ecological footprint on the world is as small on Yom Kippur as on any other day.

This Monday will be a pretty good time to be a Jew and a Venture Cyclist: "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle ... Return, Reflect, Repent".

While you can, and if you haven't, please go ahead and sponsor Hannah or me for the Hazon 2006 New York Bike ride.

Real cyclists ride recumbents

For all those who poo-poo the power of a recumbent, check out the story of Greg Kolodziejzyk who set the Human Powered Vehicle 24 hour distance record this summer on a specially designed recumbent bike with an aerodynamic faring.

While you can, and if you haven't, please go ahead and sponsor Hannah or me for the Hazon 2006 New York Bike ride.

VC:VC The Long Now

In his wonderful book, The Clock of the Long Now, Stuart Brand explores the work of Danny Hillis towards building a clock that will tick once a year, chime once a century, cuckoo once a millennium, and run for 10,000 years.

The notion is that we do not spend enough time thinking about time, and when we do, we think about now, the short now. If pushed we will think as far into the past as the birth of our grandparents, and as long into the future as the lifetimes of our grandchildren... altogether a span of around 200 years. Fashion provides an ephemeral now that is gone before we fully recognize it. Societal change frames a decade or a half century, and our own lifespan is optimistically set at a hundred years. Civilizational cycles occur over centuries, and religion allows us to think in terms of a few millennia. Only those concerned with geology and paleontology, or perhaps astronomy and cosmology, think in truly long timeframes.

Hillis, as reported in Brand's book, is seeking to expand how we think about time. Our impact on this planet now spans millennia, as exemplified by our creation of nuclear waste which must be disposed of in a way that will be safe over huge stretches of time. By creating a clock that lasts 10,000 years we might learn to think about energy sources that renew on their own, mechanisms that are self-healing, effectively forever, in the face of friction and wear, climate and human action.

The book is a great read because it is entertaining and thought-provoking. It is also a great context for thinking about venture cycling and venture capital.

Even as many think of cycling as a simple "back to nature" kind of transportation, that 10,000 year clock, makes me realize how mechanically sensitive a bicycle is (remember my 5th gear problems, and Hannah's mechanical problems at the start of the Hazon NY ride?). A bike is actually as much about the short now as it is about the long now. A bike is a great way to live in the present, smell the roses, stop rushing forward. Obviously admiring nature brings us to longer view issues around caring for the environment, too, but I am just as likely to be wondering if I will be fit enough to ride in 30 years, as about any concern for 3,000 years (or more) in the future.

In the early stage venture capital world we take the long view. The trouble is that we are being compared to many other kinds of investors for whom the longest practical timeframe is a calendar quarter, and more often the issue is about price movements today, or this minute.

An entrepreneur's fear is that venture capitalists want an "exit" within a couple of years. The long view that we espouse at Sigma is that we understand companies take five or even seven years to develop. Our funds are structured with ten year lifespans, and only the first three or four years are concerned with starting investments. The balance of the time is for the companies to mature and grow.

When people ask me, as many do, whether the current stock market news is good or bad, I always reply, "ask me in ten years." This is my way of saying that at least I don't worry about current stock market price movements. Our work is about growing companies over five years or more, and although a good stock market can help with that, we need to show we can build value in companies even if the stockmarket is not a rising tide, lifting all boats. This is long term thinking for most investment professionals, but it does pale in comparison with 10,000 years.

John Maynard Keynes said "in the long run we are all dead". Yes, we are, but our descendants are not, and if we have any sense of responsibility or stewardship for the world in which we live, we should spend at least some of our time thinking about the long now.


Cycles: 1

Since returning from the Hazon NY Ride, I have been out on my bike four times for a total of around 50 miles. I notice I am faster and stronger than beforehand, and am really enjoying that. I am also aware that at next year's NY ride I will need to be stronger for the long uphills. Nigel Savage's suggestion of using a recumbent exercise bike for hour long sessions, set at the highest setting, is probably the right training for me for that.

My bike has re-developed the problems I had reported early on with slippage in 5th gear (also in 7th I notice). Last night I dropped it off at Wheelworks for them to work on - hopefully they will nail it down this time.

Cycles: 2

This evening is the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Although "shanah" means year, it also comes from the word meaning cycle or repitition. The Jewish New Year is always couched in the context of cycles - the cycles of the seasons, the years, our life. We spend this time of year thinking about how we could do better and be better in the next yearly cycle, and this culminates 10 days from now with the fast day of Yom Kippur (the day of atonement). This work is called "teshuva" which means returning ... returning to God, returning to our better selves, returning for another cycle, a new cycle.

I am enjoying thinking about these cycles from the new vantage point of being a venture cyclist. Autumn is arriving in New England, and at some stage I will stop riding my bike due to the weather. I am experiencing this bicycle cycle for the first time, and will look forward to returning to riding in the spring.

I am happy to extend the traditional new year greeting for a sweet and happy new year to all who are reading.

While you can, and if you haven't, please go ahead and sponsor Hannah or me for the Hazon 2006 New York Bike ride.


From a Bike to a Chair

On September 1st, at the beginning of the Hazon New York Ride, it was announced I had been elected as Chair of the Hazon Board of Directors. It turns out I am the first Chair, since the board has been operating without one since its inception.

I am thrilled to take my participation in this organization to the next level. I think Hazon has a great deal to offer the Jewish people and the world. One of Hazon's slogans is "Jews on Bikes ... and you don't have to be Jewish". Jews and non-Jews interested in the work of Hazon should feel free to contact me (see below).
As Hazon's new chair, I am the lucky one able to work with an organization that is recognized for its leadership, its vision, its contribution. I am able to participate in an important and exciting thread of the ongoing story of the Jewish People.

At the Ride Shabbaton (retreat) I was given the opportunity to share some thoughts about the journey that brought me to this new role for me and for Hazon, and my thoughts for the context of our work. The quotes on this page are from this talk. It is now available to read on the Hazon website (with my Hazon email address at the bottom of the transcript).
The word Hazon means Vision, and my personal vision is of a Jewish People turning from a relationship with the physical world that is unsustainable, which sooner or later must collapse, to a relationship with the physical world that is uplifted through a spirituality and morality to something that is good for the land and so brings out the best of the land.

While you can, and if you haven't, please go ahead and sponsor Hannah or me for the Hazon 2006 New York Bike ride.

Eating my words, but not my spinach

To mix some metaphors, I stuck my neck out in my first posting on the E.Coli problem with fresh spinach, and I now seem to be getting some egg on my face. I based my post criticizing the industrial organic food chain on early reports that Earthbound Farms, a very large organic producer, was the focus of the investigation.

There are, as yet, no firm data, let alone firm conclusions on the source of this particular problem, but it is now a non-organic subsidiary of Earthbound Farms that is under scrutiny.

The plausibility of my original thesis, that the industrial organic food chain is vulnerable to such problems, remains strong in my mind. However, this case may well turn out to be about the industrial industrial food chain, and so I stand back from my first post to wait and see.

There was a great discussion on this issue today on WBUR radio's OnPoint program - listen to it here.

While you can, and if you haven't, please go ahead and sponsor Hannah or me for the Hazon 2006 New York Bike ride.

More Google Whimsy

Regular readers know about my Google whimsy (here, here, and here).

Prompted by a correspondence with a new friend, I realized that for certain, very distinguished people, there is another number one can associate with ego-surfing on Google.

This number I call your Google Coverage, and is a percentage.

The name of my lovely wife, Dorit Harverd, when entered into Google, returns 33 entries. 31 of them are about her. Her Google Coverage is 94% (31 out of 33 as a percentage).

For many mere mortals Google Coverage is beyond calculation. My name, entered as a search term in Google (no quote marks, remember), returns over 23 million entries. It is just not possible to inspect each entry to know which are about me.

Talking about my wife... Dorit asked me last night what some of the posts have to do with VC (Venture Cycling) or VC (Venture Capital). That my initial response was a guffaw makes me realize that I do tend to meander. However, in my defense, I believe that the best VCs (and the best VCs) are curious and opinionated and so you will get these digressions from time to time.

A more considered response is that I am a venture cyclist because of Hazon, and so you will get posts about bikes, food, vision and Jewish topics on a regular basis. The other stuff I put down to being a venture capitalist.

While you can, and if you haven't, please go ahead and sponsor Hannah or me for the Hazon 2006 New York Bike ride.


Which Organic Food Chain?

Across the US, consumers and retailers are throwing out bagged fresh spinach, much of it from certified organic producers, some of which has been tainted with a toxic strain of E. Coli bacteria.

The underlying cause or source of the problem is not yet known. However, it is noticeable that this is currently impacting the parent company of Earthbound Farms which produces a very large proportion of organic greens in the US. Why would this happen at an organic producer? It sounds more like the kind of thing that happens in those industrial mega-farms demonised for inhumane treatment of animals and farmworkers.

Having read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, I am now attuned to the fact there are two organic food chains in operation. One is the local organic food chain that starts on a small(ish) farm near where you live and ends in a CSA share, at a farmer's market, or in a local store marked as local produce. The other is what Pollan calls the industrial organic food chain which ends at your local Whole Foods or other supermarket. Industrial organic might meet notional standards of organic food (no pesticides or herbicides, organic fertilizers, etc), but still relies on large-scale mono-culture farming, large (organic) fertilizer inputs, (organic) chemical processes and so forth. This kind of industrial farming has some (many?) of the same weaknesses as conventional industrial farming. In particular, industrial mono-culture farming is designed to overcome "problems" through treatment, rather than avoiding problems through harnessing natural processes. You have to read the book to get a better idea of the interplay here, but think of the mono-culture of the Irish potato farm economy and how it was vulnerable to a single problem (the blight that led to the famines in the 1800's).

The spinach problem, so far, is clearly in the industrial organic food chain. I will stick my neck out here (with the possibility of getting egg on my face later) and posit that this will become a case-study example showing that industrial agriculture, even organic industrial, has systemic weaknesses which will be exploited by nature - just like the mono-culture Irish potato harvest example.

I agree with Pollan that industrial organic is clearly preferred over industrial conventional agriculture. I also agree with him that local organic food chains are impractical as the sole approach to agriculture in our highly urbanized world. However, I absolutely agree with his assertion that local organic is an ideal food chain for many reasons, not the least that it is structurally immune to systemic problems like today's fresh bagged spinach debacle.

Pollan has made headlines by highlighting his thoughts on this in public debates with the Earthbound Farms group and also with Whole Foods (the largest specialty organic retailer in the USA). This spinach event will only strengthen his arguments.

Think globally, buy locally!

While you can, and if you haven't, please go ahead and sponsor Hannah or me for the Hazon 2006 New York Bike ride.

Choose Life!

This week Jews read (according to the traditional cycle of readings) my favorite phrase from the Torah. In Deuteronomy 30:19 we read
I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed.

Deuteronomy is basically Moses reiterating the history of the Jewish people and their obligations to follow God's laws and commandments. In many of these exhortations there are carrots and sticks to encourage the Israelites to do the right thing, but as a result of marketing department focus groups Moses calls these blessings and curses. We are reaching the end of the book of Deuteronomy and the end of Moses's life. In this wonderful summary section, the entire obligation of the Jewish people is wrapped up in the notion of doing the right thing and earning blessings and life (rather than not doing the right thing and earning curses and death).

My favorite phrase is "Therefore, Choose Life!" Much commentary has focused on life, on blessing, on the positive choice. My emphasis is on the word CHOOSE. This is an active verb and I believe we should choose with the same urgency, purpose and directed energy that we bring to eating, to singing, to cycling, to doing. Choice is very powerful - all activity is choice, and choice is therefore the fulcrum on which our world turns. In every instant we choose, either blindly or with full consciousness. As we choose we create our world. We literally choose life in each instant, or we choose death. We choose to affirm, to act, to see or we choose to close our eyes, to ignore, to avoid.

Earlier in this same week's reading (Deuteronomy 30:11-14) we find that God's law
[...] is not too hard for thee, neither is it far off.
It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say: 'Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?'
Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say: 'Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?'
But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.

Here is the crux of choice. Choices are immediate. They are not far away, remote, distant, hard to find. In each instant we make choices. We choose to accept what is and we choose to create a new reality. We cannot say our actions are irrelevant and that we have no impact on our world. Each moment we choose, and we have profound impact (like that butterfly beating its wings, causing hurricanes across the globe).

Therefore, Choose Life!

While you can, and if you haven't, please go ahead and sponsor Hannah or me for the Hazon 2006 New York Bike ride.

A picture is worth a thousand words

Two great New Yorker cartoons...

I have been mentioning Michael Pollan's wonderful book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma (and will likely keep on doing so). For those who have not read it, this cartoon from The New Yorker is basically the entire book in one picture.

This cartoon is a great summary of my view of the real state of environmental and sustainability thinking for the chattering classes (of which I, with my blog, am a paid up member).

While you can, and if you haven't, please go ahead and sponsor Hannah or me for the Hazon 2006 New York Bike ride.

Environmentalism: 1. It's not about global warming

I am a venture cyclist because I am on the Board of Hazon, a Jewish environmental non-profit. Is this because I am an environmentalist? Does this make me an environmentalist? I am going to publish a long-ish article over a few posts, looking at environmentalism. Your thoughts and comments are welcome as I muse. One punchline, whether or not you believe global warming is a priority to act on now, is that environmentalism is not about global warming, just as being a Democrat is not about abortion rights. It is easy to confuse a political or philosophical ideal with a keynote issue, but I urge we move away from such confusion, such party-line-voting, and this is what I want to try to untangle.

If environmentalism is a party-line-vote kind of thing, then I want no part of it. Two of my partners are avid hunters. They spend more real dollars on protecting wildlife habitat every year than my entire philanthropic capacity. More healthy habitat means more healthy game for them to hunt. Does the fact they are hunters, not usually a party-line kind of environmental activity, strike from the record the clear benefits they endow on our environment? Others I know (me included) eat organic produce, but that includes produce flown in from around the world, with those planes spewing out many pounds (tons) of carbon and pollutants. Is that environmentally positive behavior?

Environmentalism has become inextricably bound up with "... The ... Fight ... Against ... Global ... Warming". It shouldn't be. (All those mean imagine a drumroll in the background). Global Warming is a complex topic, in fact it is a "... Complex ... Topic". Check out this intriguing article about complexity from Michael Crichton. He discovers, amongst many things, that in 1978, a leading environmental concern was "... Global ... Cooling".

This is a digression. This article is not about global warming. Instead it is about what Environmentalism really should be about, and what it means to me, and (I think) to Hazon.

I think I start with the notion that environmentalism is about sustainability and unsustainability. In Michael Pollan’s wonderful book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, he defines unsustainable as meaning “sooner or later it must collapse.”

So what is going to collapse? According to our current understanding, the oil resources on the planet are finite. We are still discovering new deposits, but there is currently consensus that we will exhaust those deposits at some time (ditto coal and natural gas). What else? There seem to be some water sources (aquifers generally) that are also understood to be finite, and which we are draining. Many modern agricultural processes deplete soil fertility or erode topsoil entirely. Current fishing practices may be driving some species of wild fish to extinction. Industrial processes that release toxins into the ocean are making other species unhealthy (or dangerous) to eat. Degradation and destruction and shrinkage of habitat are making land species locally or globally endangered or extinct.

In each of these examples, systems based on these resources will collapse if the trends play out as expected and absent changes in human behavior. None of these may pressage disaster, although some might. By the time we run out of oil we may have a functioning hydrogen energy infrastructure or even solar/hydro/wind/wave energy. By the time we drain our drinking water supplies, large scale desalination or other reclamation may be economically viable.

Furthermore, natural (non-human) processes may do as much or more "damage" to our environment as human activity. Volcanoes, new infectious agents, wild fires and tsunamis are examples that come to mind.

However, collapse is a miserable prospect. Just as any of these collapses may not bring disaster, they still might. Should we be courting such possibilities if we have other options? I think not. Do we have a responsibility to find sustainable alternatives? I think so.

Next time ... why are we responsible, and to whom?

While you can, and if you haven't, please go ahead and sponsor Hannah or me for the Hazon 2006 New York Bike ride.

VC:VC Income and Outcome

Here is another posting in my VC:VC series (comparing Venture Cycling to Venture Capital).

When does income = outcome?

In Venture Capital, outcome is exactly income. We are a ruthless, capitalist lot (hence the name), and its all about the dollar. In the end our investors measure us purely on the income we provide them on the investment they make in us. Outcome = Income.

The one solace I have as a not-so-closet wealth-redistribution-supporting pinko-liberal type is that a large proportion of our investors are educational, academic and charitable organizations and we are helping them maintain and grow their endowment funds.

In the Venture Cycling world, there is also some component where Outcome = Income. I have been soliciting sponsorship for Hannah and me for the Hazon 2006 New York Bike ride and I am proud to say between us we have raised nearly $7,000. In this case Income is Outcome. However, if you have read my series of recent postings on our experience on the ride you know that the outcome was so much more than income. The emotional charge of the accomplishment of the ride itself, the time spent with Hannah bonding around biking, and the connections with the great community of people we met, are all outcomes I will treasure long after this years fundraising dollars are spent.

Outcome is greater than Income...

But I think we all knew that before I started.

While you can, and if you haven't, please go ahead and sponsor Hannah or me for the Hazon 2006 New York Bike ride .


Who invents the axioms?

During an interesting discussion amongst friends at Synagogue on Saturday about the nature of knowledge, talk inevitably turned to Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem (inevitable because I was chatting to a bunch of geeks). Wikipedia tells me there are two such theorems (who knew?).

Ari Trachtenberg, a BU scientist, piped in that "for mathematics, we invent the axioms. In science, God invents them, and we work on discovering them."

I think that is an excellent distinction, and it may be extensible to a discussion on unsustainability. In industrial agriculture we invent the axioms, in nature, God invents them.

What happens when we try to create an agriculture such as at Polyface Farm, as described so beautifully in Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, in which we harness nature rather than fight it. I think this is science at its best: discovering God's axioms.

While you can, and if you haven't, please go ahead and sponsor Hannah or me for the Hazon 2006 New York Bike ride.

Hazon 2006 NY Ride: Pun, Fun, then Done

This is my final narrative posting about the Hazon 2006 NY ride. Thanks for staying with me as I record all my impressions in this informal journal. I will return to "normal blogging" (what is that?) this week.

A long while ago, Hazon adopted a pun for its bike rides. As Jews we are often known as "The People of the Book", so Hazon adopted the slogan "The People of the Bike" (ba da boom).

As well as a couple of hundred riders, there was an amazing crew to support us, and they had their own slogan: "The People off the Bike".

On Sunday evening, after the first day of the ride, we arrived at Surprise Lake Camp for dinner. Following a great cookout and some chatting, we had mid-ride circle time. In the camp's large gym, we all stood in a circle. Being half way through the ride there were only riders and crew. Nigel called out categories and those who fit the category would jump to the center of the circle so we could see how many different kinds of people we were. Here are some of the categories:
1) people who rode the century route (100m, instead of the standard route of 65m) on day 1
2) people who are over 60
3) people who are under 18
4) riders who took the party bus during the day
5) people who travelled more than 200m to start the ride (and 500m, and 2000m)
6) people for whom it was their first Hazon ride (and fifth or more)
7) people for whom the day's ride was a personal distance record
8) people riding with family members
and so on...

By seeing the diversity of backgrounds, experience and interest we were able to see what draws us together. It was a great deal of fun, and energized the group for a route briefing for the second day before we headed off to sleep. Hannah and I had registered for the accomodation "upgrade" to a local hotel with a couple of dozen others, to avoid the very rustic nature of camp sleeping.

I covered day 2 in an earlier posting, so I will jump forward to the roof of the JCC in Manhattan, where we had the closing ceremonies. This was equally fun and more emotional. Many new friendships had been made. Many riders (Hannah and I included) had ridden well, and over much longer distances than we ever had previously. Those most closely involved with organizing (both lay and professional) had spent huge amounts of time together and were seeing the fruits of their labor. As well as closing remarks from some of these leaders, Nigel invited invidividual participants to share some of their impressions, thoughts, feelings at the close of the ride.

Hazon is an idealistic organization - the word means Vision - and if we were measuring the nurturing of idealism and vision in the ride participants, then we were scoring very high. One rider who had been on the Stanford bike racing team talked emotionally of how wonderful it was to get his wife, an "indoor girl in high-heels", onto the ride and how proud he was of her efforts and success. Another woman spoke of how inspired she was by the Arava Institute alumni, and others of their own personal achievements.

We sang the Shehechiyanu blessing, which is a Jewish prayer thanking God "who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this time", and is recited at holidays and when special events occur. There was no doubt this was a special event for us all.

As I write, it is 8.00am on Sunday morning. Exactly a week ago Hannah and I had just embarked on the ride (we were probably struggling with her bike in the rain right around now). The intervening week has attenuated the high emotions, but not our high enthusiasm. Watch for us next year at the Hazon NY 2007 ride ... better yet, join us!

While you can, and if you haven't, please go ahead and sponsor Hannah or me for the Hazon 2006 New York Bike ride.


Hazon 2006 NY Ride: The Shabbaton

The Hazon rides are not just about cycling. Our experience started when we arrived at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center for the Shabbaton (weekend retreat) on the Friday afternoon. My entire family came down for this part of the event, and once Hannah and I started riding on Sunday morning, my wife was to take the twins into Manhattan for a couple of days of fun through to when they would meet us at the end of the ride. The retreat center is reasonably rustic, but certainly very pleasant. The group was large enough that we did not fit in the dining room to eat, so there was a large tent outside where all the food was served.

Once we checked in and found our rooms, we had the opportunity to participate in various programs. Some of the activities that afternoon included discussing the various environmental programs at Isabella Freedman, Yoga, swimming, discussions on conflict resolution, local organic food, and so on. The kids worked on posters which would be used to cheer the riders.

That evening there were a variety of options for welcoming in Shabbat (the Jewish sabbath arrives at sundown on Friday), including prayer services from the very traditional to the completely alternative. I opted for the "cocktails by the pool" alternative, where I got to meet a remarkable woman who had founded Footsteps, an organization that addresses the overwhelming needs of people from the ultra-orthodox and Chasidic communities who choose to enter mainstream America. This was one of many great encounters I had over the weekend. Jumping forward, another such encounter was with a doctor who works at Johnson & Johnson in their pharmaceutical research group who was familiar with Phase Forward (the company I co-founded almost 10 years ago). Yet another encounter was meeting someone who works as part of the NYC civilian police investigation board (who take over after Internal Affairs leave).

Although most participants in the program and ride were Jews, some were not. There were two Palestinians who were alumni of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in Israel (a Hazon grantee), where Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians work on regional environmental issues together. At least one or two other non-Jewish people had come with their friends because they were attracted to the environmental aspects, or wanted to participate in a great cycling experience.

Later on Friday evening, Anna Stevenson (the Hazon staff ride coordinator) delivered a wonderful keynote lecture on how vision can be translated into reality (remember, Hazon means vision).

On Saturday there were many many different programs. I attended a panel on the state and future of food, where the panelists included a chasidic organic maple syrup farmer from Vermont and the President of the American Jewish World Service. Discussion ranged from the practicality of local organic farming in an industrial world, to the notion of Fiji brand water being shipped all the way round the world because somehow we like it better than the local water (According to Wikipedia, it has more arsenic in it than Cleveland municipal water).

Suddenly, after sundown and the traditional celebration of Havdallah, the end of Shabbat, the mood changed, and we started to prepare for a bike ride. We had safety briefings, route briefings and bike prep. We went to bed nervous, and I for one slept fitfully.

Waking up early Sunday morning, and fuelling up (big cooked breakfast), was great. The weather was miserable, but people were happy, excited, edgy, ready to go. Dorit and Asher and Rina saw us ride off, and then went off to Manhattan as planned. Hannah and I rode off into the rain at the back of the line.

I have covered the story of the ride (day 1 and day 2) separately. In a later posting I will talk about the community gatherings at the end of day 1, and at the end of the ride.

While you can, and if you haven't, please go ahead and sponsor Hannah or me for the Hazon 2006 New York Bike ride.


Hazon 2006 NY Ride Narrative - day 2

Continuing on from the description of the first day of the ride...

Here is the elevation chart for day two. Hannah and I set out with the first group of riders (the slow ones) at 7.30am. As you can see it is "rolling hills" for the first 10 miles or so, mostly heading down hill, and we agreed it was really pleasant.

At the very bottom of the hills (around mile 13), is the Bear Mountain Bridge. This was spectacular, as you can see in the photo. However, immediately on the other side of the Hudson, in New Jersey, we started the steep climb that you can see as a big spike on the elevation chart and as the hills in the background on the photo. This being the second day, we were both more tired and walked some of this hill. On the other side of the first hill we dropped all the way back down to river level again, and then had to ride up the smaller hill before dropping back down to the rest stop also right on the river around mile 20.

Hannah wisely decided to jump forward to lunch in the party bus and I rode with Nigel mostly. A couple of very short very steep hills got the better of me and I walked those segments. At one point when I was walking up a hill, a "Monday morning cyclist" steamed by telling me, in profane language, to get on my bike. I thanked him for his support! Monday (Labor day) was a beautiful day and there were many many cyclists out on their 20 mile rides. They seemed to have a real attitude, and of course did not know the Hazon riders were at 100+ miles by this stage. Bikes may be good for a person, but they don't always bring out the good in a person!

Nigel beat me to the lunch stop because of the hills I puffed up just after mile 30.

Hannah and I both decided to jump forward on the party bus for the stage after lunch. This is a tough climb (straddling mile 40 in the chart above), and we wanted to be fresh, and on time for the last stage into Manhattan. Many others were doing the same (those who cycled said it was a very tough 10 miles), and in any event I was on track for over 100m in total.

Our ride briefing the night before had mentioned that the south side cycle path on the George Washington Bridge was currently closed for renovations. This meant using north side, which had no ramps - just a large number of stairs. This was going to be tough enough with regular bikes, but near impossible with recumbents. I, along with Nigel and Kennis (with an amazing recumbent trike - check out the photo) somehow had to get over the bridge. Hannah really wanted to be riding this segment, as did we all. Luckily Nigel is the boss, so he arranged a private jump to just over the bridge for our small group. From around 133rd Street we found our way down to Riverside Park and onto the bike path and magically merged with the Hazon rider route. The West Side Greenway bike path is magical on a warm relaxed Labor day, and Hannah and I rode with Nigel and a mass of the other riders down to the Boat Basin at 79th Street where we were greeted by friends, family and supporters. We had reached the end of the ride.

Well, not quite. The Boat Basin was a collecting point for all the riders coming on from the ride route. Once we were all there, we still had one more step. After some ice-cream and celebration, we massed up to ride in a block up to the JCC at 76th and Amsterdam (Hannah is front and center of the riders in this photo). This was only a few blocks, and was lots of fun. We were all singing and blocking traffic and it was a great way to end the ride. At the JCC there was more singing in the street and we got this great picture of Hannah with Mandy Patinkin. Finally we went up onto the JCC roof for some closing activities, speeches, thankyous, goodbyes, ... and then that really was it.

As it is now four days since the end of the ride, the high emotions are starting to fade. However, I noticed when dancing on Wednesday evening (my regular weekly Israeli folk-dance date with Hannah), that I was fitter than I had been before the summer. Hannah and I are planning some fall rides, and we are excited to do it all again at the 2007 NY ride next year. This was an amazing experience all round (I think I am repeating adjectives at this stage) and I recommend it highly!

My next post will describe some of the community building at the retreat and during the Sunday evening (after the day one ride was over).

While you can, and if you haven't, please go ahead and sponsor Hannah or me for the Hazon 2006 New York Bike ride.


Hazon 2006 NY Ride Narrative - day 1

The Hazon New York ride takes two days to go from the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls River, CT to the JCC at Amsterdam Ave and 76th Street in Manhattan. Here is the first part of a narrative of my experience of riding in the 2006 event with my daughter, Hannah.

There are two things which happen at the start of every Hazon ride. First there is the reading of the prayer for travelers, and next is a shofar blast (musical note played on a traditional rams horn). Here is a repeat showing of the photo of Hannah reading the traveler's prayer (Tefilat HaDerech) for the ride, at 7.20am Sunday morning before we all set out. This was followed by a rousing blast on the shofar from Dan Kestin. (Click on the photos to see them full size).

Hannah and I stayed back to let the mass of riders pass, and then we started, in the rain. Nigel rode with us. Right away we could see (and hear) the gears on Hannah's bike were giving her some problem. However, it was less clear whether this was her nerves or something mechanical. As we tried to deal with this Nigel said he dropped something and that we should go ahead, so off we went, but it was really tough going. After a short while we stopped and Sal, the bike mechanic sweeping up the back of the group stopped alongside in his van to try to help. It was obvious to him something mechanical was wrong and Hannah reluctantly joined the party bus (her bike was stowed in the van and she rode up front with Sal) going ahead to the first rest stop. Looking back, although Hannah had ridden her bike on Saturday afternoon, and all was fine, it appears that a slight knock it took in the evening had dislodged something. Ugh!

I was left riding on my own, feeling terrible for Hannah. It did not feel like an auspicious start. However I was able to ride faster, and started making up time. As I rode up one hill and downshifted gears under strain I popped my chain off, and right at the side of the road, gently fell into the soft grass (damn clipless pedals again). Oops! No injury; not even a bruise - it really was very soft. I got my self up and, as luck would have it, Ed (one of the marshalls, and no mean mechanic himself) came by and helped me get the chain back on. This only took a couple of minutes. However, within another few miles I got a flat rear tire. The inauspicious start was getting worse. I recall not feeling too bad, however. There was something fun about the whole thing, and it felt like this was part of the experience of the ride. I called the marshall's emergency contact number on my cell, but before I could finish talking Nigel rode up. He had locked his chain in a bad gear change and had been stuck for 15 minutes dealing with that. He and I started working on the tire. Ed rode up again - although Ed is a fast rider, he was riding "sweep", at the back of the rider line. Ed reminded us to check the tire for the cause of the flat - which was lucky because we found some steel from a car tire which would have taken out the next tube. After another few minutes we were off again, and it was pretty smooth from then on.

Nigel and I rode on to the first rest stop through the rain. As we arrived it started to clear. Hannah was there and feeling really sorry for herself. Sal had not fixed her bike yet. She had so wanted to start well on the ride. I gave her a hug and tried to cheer her up. However, I really needed to flush my buffers. Nigel said he would look after Hannah for a moment and off I went. Of course, there was a line at all three loos, so it was a few minutes before I got back. Nigel said he had taken care of everything. Hannah was already back on the "party bus" and being taken ahead to the lunch rest stop. Sal promised to fix the bike before we got to lunch so Hannah could ride in the afternoon.

Nigel and I rode on through wonderful rolling countryside, enjoying the thrill of two recumbents riding together, catching up with the upright bikes one after the next. Recumbents are noticeably faster on downhills (aerodynamics) and the momentum can often carry you up the next uphill in a higher gear (and so faster), as long as it is not too long.

The weather really started to clear by now, and Nigel and I rode the last few miles into the lunch rest stop thinking about sun screen. As we arrived Hannah was there cheering us in, and all smiles. Sal had fixed her bike, and would I please hurry up and eat so we could get out there and RIDE!

So basically, that's what we did. Nigel and I took care of outputs (peeing) and inputs (food and water) and then we rode off, with Hannah in the lead, into the afternoon.

This was now serious fun. Nigel was wonderful as a riding companion, encouraging us both and chatting with us in turn. And then we hit the hills; you can see what the riders' cue sheets said about this stretch.

Here is the elevation chart for the first day's ride (we did the 65 mile route, which follows the chart above minus the "century loop" segment). The hills where Hannah dropped me twice are shown with the red highlight. As we rode into the mid-afternoon rest stop, I was bursting with pride for Hannah (as well as with something else relevant to all well-hydrated cyclists). After answering nature's call, and as Hannah chatted, beaming to other riders. I sat through a lovely emotional moment, shedding tears of pure joy at how fabulous it was to be riding with my daughter, who was doing so well. The high lasted all the way through to now, several days later, as I write this.

We continued to ride with Nigel right through the afternoon, and then, all of a sudden, there we were, at the end of the first day's ride. Hannah had done amazingly well, had bounced back from a really disappointing start and had ridden over 30 miles. Fabulous. Unbelievable. Amazing.

To be continued ...

While you can, and if you haven't, please go ahead and sponsor Hannah or me for the Hazon 2006 New York Bike ride.


Ride photo highlights

Some of my favorite photos from the ride... click on the photo to see it full size.

Here is Hannah reading the Prayer for travelers (Tefilat HaDerech) for the ride, at 7.20am Sunday morning before we all set out.

Here we are on the road:

Here is Hannah getting congratulated by Hazon board member Mandy Patinkin.

"Dropped on the hills" by my daughter

We are back from the Hazon NY ride and we had an amazing, inspiring, fabulous time. I will write a few posts about it over the next couple of weeks. The photo is of Hannah and I at around 8.30am on Monday morning as we prepare to cross the Bear Mountain Bridge from New York into New Jersey.

The headline for me is how wonderfully Hannah did. Before this event, Hannah had ridden about 40 miles in total, with a maximum single-day ride of 14 miles. Over this weekend Hannah rode around 70 miles, and I did a little over 100... wow! I just bought my bike on July 3rd, and Hannah got hers August 3rd.

There were so many high points, but on the afternoon of the first day, as we push up three miles of hills, Hannah dropped me, twice. I hadn't heard the word used in this way before. I was told, gleefully, that it means she left me in her dust. She just muscled her way up those hills without stopping or wavering, while I puffed up behind her. There were three stretches, with some flat and downs in between. She and I (and Nigel, with whom we were riding) rode the first stretch together. Then on the second stretch she just kept going with Nigel as I slowed down. This happened on the third stretch as well. I have never felt more proud of my daughter than at the top of those hills and at the end of that day. What a remarkable young woman, with such inspiring grit, determination and poise.

At the end of two days I was completely exhausted, emotionally and physically, but also on a wonderful high. Hannah and I have a date with the Hazon ride for next Labor Day weekend... the venture cyclist rides on!

While you can, and if you haven't, please go ahead and sponsor Hannah or me for the Hazon 2006 New York Bike ride.