For the sixth year in a row, Michele Ban is preparing to take part in what is now an annual tradition — Hazon’s weekend gathering in Petaluma that involves a Shabbat retreat and up to 140 miles of bike riding.
But this will be her first time pedaling as a 60-year-old.
“Each year, sometime after January, I realize it’s time to dust off the bike and get on it,” Ban said. “I start slowly, always thinking I can’t do this, that I must be nuts. But little by little, I realize it’s all in my head, and I talk myself into it.”
This year’s California Ride & Retreat is scheduled for May 7-10, with rides of 40, 60 or 80 miles through the Sonoma County countryside on Friday and Shabbat programming on Saturday. The unique convergence of yarmulkes and bike shorts will take place at Walker Creek Ranch in Petaluma, where riders are lodged. The event concludes with rides of 40 or 60 miles into San Francisco on Sunday.
For the past five years, Ban has been the ride’s second-highest fundraiser. Last year, when 70 riders took part, she raised $5,847. “I have never had a problem fundraising. I get money from anyone who is breathing,” Ban said with a laugh. “I beg. That’s not beneath me. It’s for a good cause.”
Founded in 1999, Hazon is a nonprofit that promotes the creation of healthier and more sustainable communities in the Jewish world and beyond. (In Hebrew, hazon means vision.) In addition to bike rides in California, New York, Israel and now Philadelphia, the organization sponsors more than 60 community-supported agriculture programs in the United States, Canada and Israel, and also holds food conferences for educators, rabbis, farmers, nutritionists, chefs, food writers and families.
All that sounds right to Ban, who teaches fifth grade at Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School in Foster City, where she lives. She is a member of Peninsula Temple Beth El in San Mateo.
“I am inspired by Hazon, which is committed to food justice, environmental causes and community gardens, and also wants farm animals and the people who grow our food to be treated well,” she said. “This is how we should be acting as Jews, how we are commanded to act.”
Ban’s now 27-year-old son, Dylan, rides with her each year. He’s a San Francisco resident who works in the afterschool program at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center in Foster City.
“This all started in December 2009, when an announcement from Hazon about the first ride showed up in my inbox,” Ban recalled. “I didn’t own a bike at the time, and I’d never been on a road bike. I’m a yogini, practicing yoga now for 10 years.”
Feeling there was enough room in her life for both forward-facing pedaling and downward-facing dog, Ban promptly bought a bike and signed up. Then she asked Dylan to ride with her.
“He said no, but offered to train me,” she said. In March, two months before the 2010 ride, Dylan agreed to ride with Mom. “He told me that was my Mother’s Day gift for the rest of my life, but he is still riding with me, every year.”
In years past, Ban has completed the 40-mile loop through Sonoma County on the first day and the 60-mile ride to San Francisco on the last day.
“When you ride with a group, energy is generated from that group,” she said. “Individually I would have quit a long time ago, but being with a group is great and Dylan is amazing, telling me, ‘You can do this’ with every pedal.”
Ban praised Hazon not only for the rides, but also for the accommodations and the many activities available, everything from yoga classes to tours of an educational garden to talks about the local ecology.
This year’s activities include a presentation on kashrut and sustainability, a sushi-making workshop and live music. “Everyone is welcome,” she said, “including people from all levels of practice, whether you spend Shabbat meditating or in text studies.”
Last year, more than 115 people — including riders from ages 7 to 67 — took part in the fifth annual event. The non-riders are family members, volunteers and Hazon staff.
“I do this because I have to be a role model for my students, someone who says, ‘Do something,’ because you can’t look at what’s wrong and not feel a sense of obligation,” Ban said. “So I say, ‘Try it. Go outside your comfort level.’ Dreamers are people who believe the world can be better — and that makes the world better.”
Drisana Davis, director of Hazon Bay Area, said registration for this year is still open for riders, and there is still a need for more crew members to support riders. The suggested fundraising minimum is $1,000 per adult rider, though new young adult riders who raise $500 will have that amount matched. Last year’s event raised more than $82,000.
Registration costs vary, depending on level of participation and accommodations, but the basic numbers are $250 for riders and $150 for crew, which includes all meals, snacks, sleeping arrangements, luggage transport and support. Bike rentals are also available for either $90 or $150.
For more information or to register, visit www.hazon.org/bike-rides or call (415) 397-7020. There is also a free East Bay ride on Sunday, April 26, with 13- and 29-mile options from the Rockridge BART station. Hazon’s “Bike to Ice Cream” ride will be steep, but it also will include stops at up to four independent ice cream shops in Orinda, Berkeley and Oakland.