Lost again.

DSC_0172I was supposed to link up with the Harley guys.   “It’s easy,” Eitan said, a week ago when I picked up his big, black hog.  Had he known I was going to use it to chase medics around through Tel Aviv and Jerusalem traffic, he might not have been sanguine about dropping the key into my waiting paw.

“You just go north until you come to Cinema City.”  He smiled.  “Glilot Junction.  You can’t miss it.”

This morning, brim full of an Israeli breakfast consisting of too much tuna, brioche, tomato salad and pickled herring washed down with a liter or two of black, black coffee, I asked the front desk to lay out the touron map, and to pencil in a route out of Tel Aviv to the north.

Presently I found myself easing along Rokach Boulevard past the university and turning north up Namir Street (Hwy 65).  Didn’t see any Harley guys, but I overtook a fine BMW R100CS with original smoke paint.  He was getting off at a gas station, and there were bikes gathered in the lot.

I like BMW twins.  They make me happy.  I got off.

Turns out, these people were from the quasi-official Israel riders’ group and “The Parliament,” a group somewhat outside quasi-officaldom. There were maxi-scooters (a more feminine hygiene-oriented moniker has never been applied to a motor vehicle), vintage sidehacks, ratfighters, sportbikes and a sea of v-twin cruisers (not one of which was a Harley.  OK – one.  The one I was on).  They seemed friendly.  I smiled, nodded, bit my non-Hebraic lip and waited for the Harleys to show up.

They did not so do.

After a few minutes, people abandoned their chemical orange, fizzy-bubbly drinks to gather around a porta-mic where a ride safety briefing was in progress.  Maps were passed out.  I took one.  Leo had already introduced me to “Robin Williams” and his callipygian girlfiend. Two guys had asked about the hog.  I was halfway to being family, so I pulled out with them.

Harleys are nice in many ways.  They gurgle happily along (I started calling mine “The Bubbleator”) and impress girls who like the idea of a motorcycle more than the reality. But H-D group rides tend toward relentless, inexorable death marches at walking speeds.

This group was different, a kind of Goldilocks balance:  slower than a hyperbike group, eminently quicker and smoother than a hawg gaggle.  We stopped nearby for a memorial service.  The woman next to me asked if I spoke Hebrew.

“No,” I admitted, “not a word.”

“So you don’t know what it is?”

Yes, I thought.  Yes, yes I do.

Using the same microphone that the safety briefer had used, a spade-bearded man addressed the crowd in quie, intense tones.  Israeli flags snapped in the crisp breeze.  This is a young country – only 62 years old, it’s actually shiny-new.  Israel’s Memorial Day starts tomorrow evening, and is somber and reflective.  The day after – Independence Day – is a party with barbeque and beers.  I decided these were things I could understand pretty well.  During the moment of silence, the Harley guys burbled by along the highway we’d just turned off.

As so very often happens, I didn’t know as much as I thought.  Besides falling in with the wrong crowd, I misjudged the gravity of the situation.  The spade-bearded man, Yonkola, lost a son several years ago in a motorcycle accident of specific and particular hideousness. Rather than hide behind litigation against motorcycle companies, the other driver, the state that built the roads and G-D in His heaven, Yonkola throws a biker party every year to celebrate his son’s life.

About 70 bikes of every description showed up.  A bunch of Harleys together may sound like rolling thunder, but this group produced a marvelous cacophony of sound ranging from the whirring sizzle of Burgman and Silver Wing scooters, through the gasping gurgle of single-jug big trailies to the melodious burble of big twins like the one I was on (“Harley: Porsche is no substitute”).  I had no idea where we were going, or what we would do when we got there, but everyone took me in and acted like I was supposed to be there, taking up space and getting in the way.  Sweet oranges and Turkish coffee were pushed on me, and Moshe insisted I eat one of the sandwiches his wife had packed.

We rode along the torn pavement of the Jordan border fence, visited Israel’s oldest power plant installation (dating back to 1935, it’s actually proto-Israeli) and looked over 6,000 years of history including the history of several recent wars.  We rode twisty roads, highways, busted-up pavement and a fair bunch of dirt (note to file: Harley Street Bobs have nice lazy steering for loose traction, but could use a bit more suspension – like about eight inches more).

At the end of the day, we gathered for dinner in a gourmet restaurant three doors down from the (sadly closed) Marzipan Museum.  Who builds a tangible paean to marzipan?  Only the Israelis, in my experience.

Between the last mountaintop stop and the restaurant, I was lost not less than four times.  It was hard not to be of good cheer about it, though.  If you have gas in the tank and daylight in the sky, you’re never lost.  You’re exploring.   Asking nicely will get you so much further than cussing yourself as you ride around in circles, listening to digestive fluids hose into your twisted–up stomach.

Besides, getting lost had – and not for the first time on this trip – enabled the entire adventure.

During one of the historical stops, I asked a fellow traveler if he believed the Biblical story describing Hebrew slaves escaping from Egypt. Outside the Torah, there is no extant historical evidence.

“Maybe,” he said.  “It’s our fable.  We believe it.”

He paused a moment, then said, “I believe it.

“But I don’t believe in G-D, though.”

“Neither do I,” I said.  “But that doesn’t keep Him from riding pillion when He feels like it.”

Next Post


  1. Frogpirate says

    I don’t think you have ever met a ‘cyclist that was a stranger, have you Jack? Thanks for sharing, even though your writing makes me insanely jealous.


  2. codeamazon says

    Your mother in law’s marzipan is better. 😉

  3. LOL. Why yes, yes it is. I have visited the Marzipan Museum a few times, but I’ll be heading to the Shkedia (“Almond”) kibbutz down the road next time. Best dark-chocolate-covered almonds on Earth.

    You rode clear across the Jizreel Valley, and got that close to the Golan and the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee)! Tiny country, but still, a lot of riding.

    Lovely day you had, Jack — and a very Israeli day.

  4. Hi, I am planning a trip by motorbike from the 6th of October to the 21st in Israel with a possible short detour to Petra. Do you have any advice?, I would like to rent one. Thanks for any help you can give to me, Matteo

    • Hi Matteo,

      I am a harlist from Chile and I am planning a ride for 10 days in Israel for next October 2013. I just read your post and will be great if you could tell me how was your trip , some of your experiences , what motorcycle did you rent , where , etc , everything that can help me to make real this dream. I am going with my wife and a couple of friends also harlists, so we need two motrocycles.
      Wher are you from ? , for your name may be you speak spanish ? , would be even better.
      Well, I hope to receive some news from you.
      Thank you very much.
      Best regards ,

  5. Matteo, send me your email address and I’ll try to put you in touch with a couple of guys.

Speak Your Mind