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Biking through history

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Evergreen couple ride across Israel during fund-raiser

By Stephanie DeCamp

They bicycled for five days through a desert where their ancestors trekked for 40 years to reach the Promised Land.

Beth and Jonathan Miller of Evergreen rode from Jerusalem to the city of Eilat in Israel to raise money and promote awareness of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies and a nonprofit called Hazon. Together, the organizations work to bring Arabs and Jews to the same table to solve environmental problems. With 130 other cyclists from around the globe, the couple, members of Beth Evergreen, rode an average of 62 miles a day. The organizations reached their goal of raising $500,000, as did the Millers, whose personal goal was $6,000.

Each day the couple were up by 5:30 a.m. and on their bikes by 7, riding until about 3 p.m. Then the rest of the day was theirs to explore.

“There’s a tremendous sense of accomplishment,” Jonathan said of the ride. “I’d never done something like this before, and it gives you this sense of knowing that you can do it.”

With each rest stop, Beth said, the guide told about the history of the region, and there was always shade, fresh fruit and water. They even saw where David fought Goliath.

"It didn't matter how hot or hard it was," Beth said. "It was just like, ‘Wow, this is what happened — right here.’ ”

“Wherever we went,” Jonathan agreed, “we were always getting the significance of where we were and what it meant.”

There were rest stops every 10 miles, some mandatory and others optional. All of the provisions were provided locally, Beth said, so with every lunch the Millers knew they were giving to more than just the two organizations they were there for.

“You have a lot of time to ride side by side with people,” Jonathan said, “so you can ride next to other cyclists and get to know them really well as you pass the miles by. There's no music allowed, so conversation becomes your music. The miles just fly by, and you don't even think about it.”

Overall, Beth said, many aspects of Israeli life are similar to the American lifestyle, but a lot was very different, too.

“There are still the same teenagers that hang out and are on their phones all the time,” she said. “There's still shopping with the same brands and stuff. Jerusalem is the heart of all religion, and it's a very touristy city.”

The old section of the city, Beth said, offered fascinating sights and insights; they visited the Mount of Olives and the Dome of the Rock, two sacred sites.

“The people-watching was amazing,” Beth said. “Everyone just gets along in the city. There's a Catholic priest in this photo I took, and behind him there are two Hasidic Jews. It’s not in the picture, but right behind them was an Arab woman with her head covered. People really live together here,” she said.

The Wailing Wall had separate visiting sites for men and women. Beth saw women of all religions rubbing the wall, crying and chanting. She put a note from a friend in the wall, as some travelers do.

“I guess you just get a certain feeling,” she said. “There's all of these Hebrew and Arabic voices, all together …”

“Riding through all of these historic places,” Jonathan said, “and knowing that you're riding your bike over the same land that your ancestors had walked before you … and not just them: There (are people) that live in the desert on the same piece of land that their ancestors did.

“That you're a part of living history kind of settles you a bit, and gives you focus you don't normally have because you get (wrapped up) in life. … Life-changing is a little strong of a word to describe it, but after I got back, I guess, yes, it was.”