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Sweet Defeat on the Hermon

By Moshe Feiglin

It was two o’ clock in the morning. We packed our bicycles into the car, added our backpacks, helmets, warm clothing and some food and headed north.

It all began two weeks earlier, on a routine bicycle trip that I had taken with my son, David, to the Kaneh Stream, near our home. After splashing about a bit, we began pedaling up the path that leads back to Karnei Shomron. To my surprise, I saw that my young pedal pusher had turned into a full-fledged mountain cyclist, thank G-d.

“Someday you will even ride up to the peak of Mt. Hermon,” I said when we got home.
“If I ride up the Hermon will you buy me a new bicycle for Pesach?” my son retorted with a question. “No problem,” I answered. “If you can make it up the Hermon on this bicycle, throw a snowball at me and hit your target, you will get a new bicycle for Pesach.”

I didn’t really believe that in such a short time the young lad would manage to acquire the physical fitness necessary to accomplish his goal. At the bicycle store, where we took his old bike to fine-tune the gears and check the brakes – the technicians were highly skeptical, especially with his vintage bicycle.
But the young generation joined me every morning at daybreak for a mountain ride, and continued pedaling during his free time. And so, a captive of my promise, I found myself driving north with my son in the middle of the night, wondering if we would really manage to touch the snow and return on our bicycles all in the same day.

***

We parked our car at Kibbutz Dafna. As it began getting light, we recited the morning prayers, packed up and set out into the cold morning air along the banks of the Dan River. Our first stop was the Golani Outlook.
From the beginning of our climb along the paths of the Golan Heights I had an unpleasant surprise. Any similarity between the paths that were outlined on the map and the actual reality on the ground was purely coincidental. It was hit or miss, with many paths fenced off for cattle. I had to scrape the rust off my army navigation skills to keep us focused on our goal. As we passed through a cattle fence, a tremendous, long-horned bull blocked our path, unsure of how to react to the two strange beings that had disturbed his peace and quiet at such an early hour. David didn’t leave me many choices. As I was trying to decide what to do, he simply and fearlessly rode up the mountain path, right under the bull’s nose. All that I could do was to whisper a short but heartfelt prayer and pedal past the surprised bull to catch up to him.

We climbed Tel Fahar from the west, taking the same route that the Golani fighters had climbed in the Six Day War. We reached the “Crude Oil Route” and out of breath, entered the gates of the outpost. As we boiled water for our instant breakfast, we sat and listened to the automated story of the heroic battle that took place at that outpost. It was cold. Very cold. We had not yet even reached the foot of the Hermon and we already had to put on warm clothing.

On to Fit, an abandoned Syrian village with a beautiful spring at its center. We continued to the Sa’ar River. Riding at the brink of its cliffs is one of the most remarkable and beautiful cycling experiences that I have ever had. As we rode up from the river and on to the outskirts of Mas’adeh, I slowly realized that I was going to owe David a bicycle. True, there were a few crises. The weather kept getting colder as we climbed and the paths – that absolutely cannot be bypassed in the mine-strewn Golan – led us astray time and again. But a few hot cups of tea and the breathtaking views of herds of deer and wild horses galloping at the foot of the Nimrod Fort renewed our spirits and redoubled our strength.

From near Majdel Shams, the last village before the peak, there is no way to ride the paths. We had to pedal the pavement, up through the inheritance of the tribe of Menashe for the remaining kilometers.
And there it stood, the peak of the highest mountain in Israel, Mt. Hermon. Defeat was never sweeter…

David wasted no time with his barrage of snowballs, followed by hot chocolate on the peak of the mountain. Now came the hard part – keeping our bicycles on track and out of danger on the steep, winding road down the Hermon. The wind blew cold and fierce, biting our hands and eyes as we carefully made our way down the mountain. After an hour and a quarter of downhill gliding, we were back at our car, complete with an experience we will never forget.

The new bicycle? The next day was the Fast of Esther, but on Friday we went straight to the bicycle store, where I made good on my promise, to the satisfaction of all concerned.

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