Day 23, INT, 3-19-19

Ruin of Byzantine church or mosque?

23 Day, INT, 3-19-19, 24 to 25 miles. Detour for water around Kibbutz Bar Giora. Netiv Ha Lamed He to Ein Lavan,

Long morning shadow in the almonds.

Morning mist.

Ancient olive trunk

Dew was thick on the tall grass this morning. It rose in a thick mist in the warming sun as I hiked down from my evening aerie high on the ridge, through acres of almonds and then through the hills across from Netiv ha Lamed Heh. The hiking was spectacular all day, passing ruins and ancient olives, scrambling down rocky, densely overgrown canyons. They’ve had a lot of rain in Israel this year and everything is growing gangbusters.

Sarah on trail.

Byzantine Church? mosque? I’m not sure, but incredible

Ruins at Ein Kobi.

Terraced hills outside Jerusalem.

Just outside of Jerusalem. I caught up with Sarah mid morning and we talked nonstop as before, and then on a steep uphill, she left me in the dust, and around here, that would be the dust of the ages. I needed water and tried unsuccessfully to enter a Kibbutz, but found entry gate after entry gate, locked against me. I circled across rock jumbles and thorn bushes and then through a vineyard and finally found an entrance. Oy vey! All for a bottle of water.

Ein Lavan. A popular hangout.

By mid afternoon I’d gotten to within 5 miles of Roman, who had returned to trail a day ahead of me, and I was trying to catch up. Neither of us could find a trail angel who had an opening, so I climbed up onto the ancient terraces over Ein Lavan, the Cave Spring, and tucked myself in for the night. I’m on the outskirts of Jerusalem, and about as close as the Shvil comes to the Old City. Antiquity is in the very air.

Violets are everywhere.

Day 22, INT, 3-18-19

Sunrise at Tel Lachish

22 Day, INT, 3-18-19, Lachish to 2 miles before Netiv Ha-Lamed Heh. 19 mile day

Assyrian siege ramp in the morning light.

Sarah from Toronto was out of camp before me. I took my time reading more and just looking at Tel Lachish, the site of so much history. Roman has returned to trail, and has started 14 miles ahead of me so he can begin at a moderate pace and distance, and I can catch up to him over the next several days. This’ll be fun.

Lots and lots of mud!

Tight stretch of trail.

Once I hit the road, it was as muddy as the day before, but the closer I got to Jerusalem, the more common became the signs of ancient human habitation. Cisterns and foundation stones, ancient wine presses, a bit of mosaic floor right in the trail, old stone walls, or simply a perfectly straight line of stones, just breaking surface, cutting across the trail, all are the hallmarks of the past. People have been here for so long.

This year’s winter wheat and centuries old olives.

Mosaic floor for a trail.

The cisterns are deep and dangerous and usually closed.

Wine press

Line of stones across the trail.

Judean Hills

My ever so green path. Israel is beautiful.

That evening I was about two miles before Netiv ha Lamed Heh, and as I couldn’t find a trail angel there, I found a quiet spot on the ridge, in the Lee of an oak, and surrounded in wildflowers. It was a discrete spot, tucked into a hillside surrounded by history. Across the Ela valley is the ancient site of Socoh, one of the cities of Judah mentioned in the Bible during the battle between Israel and the Philistines. Each nation’s battle lines drawn, David and Goliath would have come against each other, just below my camp. That’s a new one for this hiker.

Day 21, INT, 3-17-19

Foundation stones if the palace at Tel Lachish

21Day, INT, 3-17-19, 25 miles.

Some of the muck of the day.

That’s some trail!

Looks nice, but it’s totally mud.

Today was one of the muddiest hikes of my life. The rains of last night left the farm roads the Shvil follows, an absolute quagmire. So it was very slow going for much of the hike. In spite of that, I knocked out a 25 mile day, primarily because I caught up with Sarah from Toronto, and she is not only one of the most well read young people I’ve had the pleasure of sharing Trail with, but she’s super fast. And it was really fun blasting out the miles, mud caked shoes and all. We talked about pretty much everything under the sun, as we walked past tel after tel. Each tel, a flat topped low hill, is the sight of a town or a city, sometimes going back 8,000 years and more. The more important buildings were built of stone, but much of the city would have been adobe brick. When the city was eventually abandoned, or conquered, the adobe would melt away, burying much of the town walls and foundations intact. So out of the tel, are often protruding a bit of wall, or the corner stones of a building. It’s fascinating.

One of many tels we passed today.

Sarah is a delight to talk and hike with, and she is fast!

When we got to the little town of Lachish, we bought fresh food and had a cold dinner at picnic benches in the parking lot. We each ate a full can of dill pickles as we so need the salt after a blast like today.

Walls protruding from Tel Lachish.

Assyrian siege ramp at Tel Lachish.

Tel Lachish walls and city gate. NP ramp.

City gate courtyard

Palace foundation

View from the top of the siege ramp.

Our campsite was at the base of Lachish National Park, and just before dusk, I went wandering all over the ruin with no one else there. This tel goes back 8,000 years to the Chalcolithic peoples, then it was Canaanite and eventually the second city of Judah, Jerusalem being the first. It was besieged by the Assyrian King Sennacherib, in 701 bce and a siege ramp was built against the walls, that is now the oldest intact siege ramp in the world, and the only remaining Assyrian siege ramp. We were camped right at its base! During the excavations, hundred of arrowheads were found at the top of the ramp, attesting to the Assyrian fire power, and at the bottom, all the stuff the Jews threw back at the besiegers, olive press wheels, huge chains and more. Once Lachish fell, the Assyrians took many more of the Jewish hill towns and then Jerusalem itself. Judah became a vassal state thereafter and eventually several hundred years later, Nebuchadnezzar, destroyed the first temple.

Walking around the site at dusk was quite moving. But I still slept like a log.

Day 20, INT, More storm and a Kibbutz respite.

Bedouin riding through a wheat field.

20 Day, INT, 3-16-19, Meitar to Dvir Kibbutz, 11 miles. Running to beat the storm.

I woke long before anyone else this Shabbat morning, as the forecast called for heavy rain and wind today, with a several hour, clear weather window early in the morning. So I slipped out quietly and after 45 minutes finding my way out of Meitar, was on the Shvil by 6:30am. Skies were clear overhead, but an ominous bank of clouds hung low in the west. I walked as fast as I could, just stopping to pop a picture or two. For the first time on this trail, I took off running for some distances when the slope was just right. It’s amazing what can be done when I’m not carrying 5 liters of water and a week’s worth of food.

Even at speed, the trail was lovely. Through forests and across stony ridges, and in the lowlands, through winter wheat fields that stretched on to the horizon. This is a verdant and abundant place.

Palm Tree Cave

I passed he Palm Tree Cave, so named because a palm grows right next to the cave, and then the trail became a roller coaster, up and down every hilltop in sight. This reminded me a bit of the Appalachian Trail, which is a roller coaster every day.

Black iris. I’ve never seen one in the wild.

The flowers were stunning again today, and the green of forest and field is so like California this same time of year. I do love a Mediterranean climate.

Rain on its way.

As I came off the last of the ridges, I could see rain approaching on two sides, and when it hit, it hit fast and furiously. I could barely get my rain gear on and pack covered before getting soaked. But it lasted only 20 minutes or so, just enough time to bring up the mud, and make the going a bit slower. The storms here come in waves, great bands of cloud, wicked winds and really cold temperatures, and then it passes overhead and there’s a period of relative quiet. But with the passing of that first big squall, I had enough time to make it into Kibbutz Dvir, and find my room, before the next one hit. All afternoon it’s been a procession of squalls and calm, but as evening approached, there has been the addition of lots of thunder and lightning, and heavier rains.

Ruins, caves, and cistern, in the forest outside Dvir.

I’m staying in a little room that was built to house a soldier at one time. It’s got a cot and mattress, hot plate, small fridge and kitchen, heater, and a wonderful hot shower. I thought I’d be sharing it with a few people, but I’ve had it all to myself, and all for the price of 10 shekels. That’s about $2.50. It’s worth much more, and I’ll leave more. Thank you Noa for hosting hikers!

So cozy when it’s frightful outside.

I’m so glad to be indoors on a night like this. It is pouring outside and there’s lots of flash and bang lightening as well.

Day 19, Forests and Shabbat Dinner

Forest and vineyards in the mist. Desert no more.

19 day, 3-15-19, Har Amasa to Meitar, 14 miles

Flowers are everywhere

The wind howled all night long, but by morning seemed to have blown itself out. It was foggy, the wet clinging to the entire landscape, but there was not a breath of air stirring, such a difference from yesterday. We all three headed out of DeDe’s nightclub at the same time, but those two young Amitai’s left me like a trail of smoke. I’d see them several times over the morning and early afternoon, when they stopped for breaks, as I just walk. I find my sustainable pace and just keep on. After 20,000 miles, that’s what’s comfortable.

The fog gave way to a low overcast, but a vapor hung in the air that subdued the vistas and gave a mystical hue to the forests of pine and cedar, such a shocking change from the rock fastness of the desert I’ve been living in for weeks. But the calm of morning was pure bliss, the only sounds being the rhythm of my poles and the coo, cooing of doves in the trees. I walked tall on the mud that clung to my shoes, till its own weight sent it flying off in great clods, like a horse throwing a shoe. I’d walk a bit lopsided then till the other shoe droped. It’s the mud of creation, fit to throw a pot, or a human. And I walked through grass, wet with last night’s rain, dotted with flowers, tiny irises, and blood red poppies.

Two in tall iris. Gorgeous, tiny things.

Blood red poppies

Storm battered but still beautiful.

I heard dogs barking ahead and came upon a Bedouin camp with a covered corral full of sheep. Although the dogs kept barking, they never approached or got aggressive, just doing their job. But it was behind the encampment that I noticed cut stone and low arches on the rocky hillside. It was the remains of a Byzantine church and other structures. The arches and vaults probably supported the floor of the buildings at one time. Now that I’m hiking in the more habitable parts, history leaps at you around every twist and turn.

The hillside is covered in ruins.

Ruins of Byzantine church.

Don’t know what it is, but it is glorious!

The trail wound up through the ruin, and then across ridge after ridge with views in all directions. Far in the distance I could see the high rise of Be’er Sheba and many smaller towns and Kibbutzim.

This little guy was on his way to town too.

When I got to the little town of Meitar, the first person I met offered to give me a ride to the trail angel I was to stay with, as it was on the other side of the town. I was met at the door by Viti, and the wonderful aroma of a Shabbat dinner on the make. Originally of Toronto, Viti is quite an accomplished artist, as attested to by the beautiful canvasses all around the house, and her son, Yizchak, who was folding t shirts for BMX riders, that were so cool, I bought one on the spot.

Viti’s works

Yizchak’s work.

And then he showed me what a BMX bike was all about. Popping it into the air, he could spin the handlebars completely around and bounce off the rear tire. It’s a trick bike that is way beyond me even thinking of having a go at it.

Viti’s daughter Raz, their eldest child, was helping in the kitchen, as Shabbat was only a few hours away. She’s quite the traveler herself, having lived in South America for extensive periods. I even got to chop it up in the kitchen for a bit, doing a stir fry of spinach and kale.

Viti’s husband, Matti, came in a little later, and is a fascinating guy, an architecture professor in Be’er Sheva who’d lectured at Berkeley, not far from home for me, as well as many other places. He’s Greek, so we shared ouzo and nosh and sat down to a wonderful Shabbat meal when Moshe, their eldest son arrived. He’s running a hotel, but has plans to hike the Shvil as soon as he can get out of the job.

Food, prayers, great conversation and family, is what Shabbat dinner is always about. And what a gift for a dusty hiker to be invited in for all this.

I slept like a log.

Day 18, INT, Storm!

Almond orchards! I’m out of the desert.

18 Day, INT, 3-14-19 Arad toTel Arad. 7.5 miles

I woke up in my nice cozy hostel room to howling winds outside. After a great Israeli breakfast, I walked across town as people rushed to their morning occupations. It was all black hats and wigs. Arad looks to be quite the Hasidic community. People pushed baby buggies and tried to keep plastic covers over their kids as it looked like rain, while the wind just kept ripping them off.

The first grass in 200 miles

I stepped from pavement to trail about 9am, and it wasn’t long before the rain began. Just a smattering at first, but it got more serious as I hiked up a long wadi. On the ridges it was difficult to walk head on into the blow, so thank God for the bit of protection the walls of the wadi provided.

The temperature was in the 40s f and the winds were forecast to pick up to over 50mph later in the morning. With rain, those are conditions that can being on hypothermia. Cold and wet and windchill is what does it, and we had all three.

For the first time on this hike, I’ve been walking in orchards and near winter wheat fields. Almonds, olives and wheat, heck it could be California. The green is lovely after 200 miles of wild and magnificent rock.

Richard from Seattle had left town ahead of me, and we communicated via WhatsApp. But the rain got harder and the wind wilder, and wet as I was, when I caught up with him at the visitors center to Tel Arad National Park, I ducked in out of the storm and called it a morning. A number of the folks I’ve been hiking near for days were also there, and we chilled for hours on the benches out of the rain. It’s much too lousy a day to visit this very important archeological site, but I read everything I could find in English at the visitors center.

Richard, Amitai, Amitai and Moishe, greet me with a cup of Israeli coffee at the visitors center

A Tel is a town or fortress site that has usually been occupied for millennia, one civilization on top of the next. Tel Arad goes back over 7,000 years, to Canaanite and Chalcolithic peoples, and it’s excavation in the 1960s and after, brought to light many ostraca (potshards written on and sent as letters or kept as documents, papyrus being much too expensive) that have helped understand the development of alphabetic writing. It is a big site, with town buildings, fortress, towers and walls, that trace the regions history from those early people up through Davidic Times, Hellenistic and Roman, and I wish I had been here on a nicer day. I’ll be back.

Tel Arad townsite walls.

Tel Arad fortress

In the early afternoon, I contacted DeDe, a trail angel at Har Amasa, about 7 miles up trail, and he had no problem taking us in, we just needed a break in the weather so we could get there. But it just got colder, and I don’t think snow or hail was far away, and then DeDe happened by to help with things at the National Park and it was too good to pass up his offer of a ride to his place, so as a cold evening set in, we jumped in and took the lift.

DeDe is quite a wonderful character, and reminded me of some of the desert trail angels I’d stayed with on the Continental Divide Trail in New Mexico and others in the deserts of California on the Pacific Crest Trail. DeDe arranges and supplies big events, and he put us up in his very one off, sometime nightclub. He had mats and supplies for the multitudes of kids and adults he arranges for. Heck, he could have pitched a huge Bedouin tent or 3 if we’d wanted one each! DeDe and I both go back to the 60s and had lots to share. Back then, he’d lived in the US for 4 years in a van following the Dead and other bands, so we hit it right off.

DeDe, Amitai, Amitai and the pot bellied stove.

DeDe’s sometime nightclub

He stoked a fire in a pot bellied stove and the chill began to leave us as we settled in and made dinner. I’m sharing the room with two Israelis, both named Amitai, who met each other just a week ago, and who are now sharing the trail together. So fast. The connections come so fast when you’re living in the elements and need to rely on each other.

Quiet night in the old gin joint.

Day 17, INT, 3-13-19 Arad

Morning Light.

17 Day, INT, 3-13-19, Be’er Efe to Arad, 15 miles

Today’s hike was primarily in wadis and along their banks and was very slow. River rock is never a fast walk. It was hot and me wonderful, silver umbrella earned its weight again as it made it easy to keep on hiking when all I wanted was shade. Yellow sage was blooming all along the wadis and I later learned it’s somewhat rare, so this was a treat. It looks like a pitcher sage from someone’s garden, it’s so lovely.

Yellow sage

You can’t walk far without encountering ruins.

Donkey and donklit.

Students climbing to a ruin.

When I got to the town of Arad, I met up with Felix, Nir, Nitzan and Richard, who had just eaten swarma for dinner. I on the other hand was looking for a restaurant that would take my credit card as the atm in town had eaten my atm card! It turned out it had expired while I was here. Richard was kind enough to front me cash so I don’t have to worry in the short term. That’s just how fast friendships and trust can be established on a long walk. In the meantime, Katie is sending a new one to Tel Aviv, so I should be OK. What a goofball. I’m just not good with dates.

For Steve who loves all things camel.

First stand of trees since Eilat. Edge of Arad.

After doing my shopping, finding an electronics shop for a new charging plug, and a wonderful dinner at Muza, chicken livers and onions, mashed and fried potatoes, neither of which I could finish, and a huge Israeli salad, it was back to the hostel and now, with unlimited power, a chance to update my blog entries. I’ve been relying only on the power generated by my solar panel for almost 2 weeks now, which was fine out on trail, but for extended use in towns, I was afraid to draw down the extra battery too far in case I needed it for navigation the next morning and had a cloudy day. I’ve been using a Suntactics 5, solar charger now for several years and it’s been great. It’s light, durable and even gives some charge when it’s cloudy. From the Te Araroa in New Zealand, the Winds and Sierra back home, and now on the INT, I can’t recommend it more highly. I trickle charge an external battery during the day and use it to charge my phone in the evening, or whenever it needs it.

I called Roman and he thinks he’ll be ready to hit trail again this coming Monday or Tuesday. Yeee Haawww! Been missing my crazy hiking buddy.

The hostel is quiet tonight. Lights out.