Biking from New York to Florida

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17 Aug 2017

Two visitors enter the Brith Sholom Beth Israel Synagogue in Charleston, SC for mincha/maariv. He is wearing a white shirt and black pants, she is modestly dressed in a skirt and sheitel. They look like a typical frum couple in their sixties. He says they’re originally from Chicago but have just arrived from New York, on their way to Florida.

Looking at them, you would never guess that they actually just arrived by bicycle. Or that on the road, they are referred to as “Doc” and “Sunshine.”

Before retiring, Zundel Glassner was a principal in the Chicago public schools. His wife, Chana, was a grant writer and urban planner. They moved to Florida three years ago. Together, they have four children.

Zundel had always wanted to do a biking trip when he retired. His initial plan was to bike from Chicago to Nova Scotia to Key West to San Diego to Alaska and then back to Chicago.

Then they calculated how long this trip might take. When they realized it would be three and a half years, which would include many shabbatot and yamim tovim to figure it out, they decided to compromise and set their goal on a few “short” biking trips that would cover 50 states.

This trip was considered one of those “short” trips.

An eight week bike trip requires much preparation and planning. To train for the trip, Zundel and Chana biked 4-5 days a week, averaging anywhere between 20-80 miles each day. To make the feat even moe impressive? Chana has a pacemaker. But the physical challenge was only one part that they needed to prepare for. Being frum on such a trip requires a whole different level of preparation.

They bought kosher food in New York to take with them for the beginning of the trip and ate with people they knew in cities with large Jewish populations. In smaller cities, they found OU certified products at grocery stores. They managed to fit all of their belongings- one set of everyday clothes and Shabbos clothes, a sheitel, toiletries, medicine, tallis, tefillin, siddurim, kinos, chumashim, and a Shabbos kit in panniers and/or travel bags that hooked onto their bicycles. They arranged to stay in hotels at night and bigger cities for shabbatot.

The challenges came with things they couldn’t plan for. Torrential rain, flat tires, roads closed to bikers, getting lost, Tisha b’Av on the road…

But that’s where the “bike angels” come in. Although the Glassners embarked on their trip to see some of the more beautiful parts of the country- such as Charleston, Savannah, Richmond and northern Florida, it was the people who helped them during their challenging moments that really made the trip something memorable and inspiring for them.

““What really made our trip meaningful was the people we met,” says Chana. “We were fortunate to come into contact with people who helped us in various ways–be it as a guest in their home, providing us with water on a hot day or giving us directions. We referred to them as ‘bike angels.’ Especially for those times when we were either tired or wondering where to fix a flat tire, it was people who made the difference.”

Like one man they met at a gas station. Somehow they got into conversation with him and, after they explained their mission, he asked to take a picture with them. He then told them he was a minister and would ask his congregation to pray for them. He wanted to use their story as motivation for teenagers that you can do anything if you only try.

Then there was Bob from the welcome center, whom they met when they stopped for maps. He gave them directions and warned them about an upcoming storm. They thanked him and continued on, passing a Powell’s Fruit Market that had a “Pray for Israel” sign with an Israeli flag. They continued riding in the rain when 12 miles from their destination, they spotted Bob. He had been looking for them, concerned they would be get stuck in the rain. He took them in his truck to the nearest motel.

Tisha b’Av may be an unlikely, and perhaps inconvenient place to spend on the road. But in some ways, Zundel found their experiences to be representative of the lesson of Tisha b’Av.

“The theme of Tisha b’Av is unity/baseless hatred/pre-judging people”, says Zundel. This trip emphasized not only the good of klal Yisrael but how wonderful the non-Jewish community is. We received help from ‘bike angels’ of diverse populations, reinforcing our belief that judging people by race, religion or gender is foolhardy until you get to know them personally.”

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.