He's back at it!

People who know me know that I belong on the Trail. I've thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail (twice),the Pacific Crest Trail and the mighty Continental Divide Trail. I've hiked many of the long trails here in Michigan including being the first to hike both the Ironwood Trail and the Great Lake To Lake Trail. My next big adventure will be the Israel National Trail starting in February 2017.

The purpose of this blog is to keep anyone who is interested informed of my progress and to encourage those who are able to support me in this endeavor.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Done But Not Done

 

I've been scheming and dreaming of hiking the Israel National Trail since 2012. Finally, I've done it. And, oh! what an adventure it was.


As with all my hikes, I had a ton of help along the way. Especially from Tom and Meg and all my good friends at Moosejaw Mountaineering. I buy all my gear at Moosejaw.com and you should, too!


For guidance, planning and being excellent hosts, I need to thank Noam Gal and Orna Lipkin, Shakhaf Avital, Jacob Saar and John and Judy Pex at the Shelter Hostel in Eilat. Thanks also to Richard Smith and Michael Lindsey at Israeltrail.net for all the great info. 


Ahhh... my friend and my teacher 'Nightmare' Sammy Glenn and all his friends and family here in Israel especially Davi Haberman, Dr. Spielman and his wonderful family and Sammy's Uncle Lenny Glenn and his family in B'nei B'rak. Irad Fenichel, his amazing parents and his brother's whole family for letting me celebrate Passover with them. Good times hiking with Nightmare. I learned a lot from him. 


A big shout out to Benjamin, Luke and everyone at Trayvax wallets for making a great product right here in the USA.


And, of course, to the lovely Manuela Petzold for all the encouragement and support - can't wait to see you soon!


Special thanks to Becky and Jerry Patterson. Two of the finest people I've ever met. And to Nancy Smith who has been helping me hike since the AT '15. 


I was very sad to hear that Hilary Taylor passed away shortly after I arrived here and so I dedicated every step of this hike to her memory and to her daughter Louise for being such an amazing caregiver to her mom. Hilary will be missed. 


So, I'm done with the Israel National Trail but I'm not done hiking. Now I need to make my way over to Mt. Hermon and begin a southbound hike of the Golan Heights Trail. Stay tuned for pictures and updates from that trail!


Thanks everybody!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Golan Heights Trail

 

 



Since I've been hiking the Israel National Trail, I've heard several other hikers mention the Shvil Hagolan (The Golan Heights Trail). This trail starts in the north at Mt. Hermon (right near where the INT finishes) and ends 150km later at the Sea of Galilee. 


 

 


I think I could hike this trail in 7-8 days which fits in perfectly with my schedule: Finish the INT sometime during the first week of June, hike south on the Golan Heights Trail then tramp (that's what they call hitchhiking over here) west to Tel Aviv and fly home. 


By all reports, it's a beautiful trail. The only downsides are that it falls within an area where the border is disputed with Syria and, in some places, the trail passes near minefields so you have to stick to the marked trail. 


 


This is what Wikipedia says about the Golan Heights:


"Internationally recognized as Syrian territory, the Golan Heights has been occupied and administered by Israel since 1967.[1] It was captured during the 1967 Six-Day War."


Hiking this trail was not part of the budget so if you want to see this adventure continue and you're feeling generous, please click on the 'donate' button at the top of the desktop version of this page. Thank you!


Finances aside, the question remains: Should I hike this trail? Please leave your comment below!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Animals on the INT

Another cop out. Instead of writing a thoughtful post, I'll just post a bunch of pics of all the wildlife I've seen on the trail. Sorry if any of these are repeats. 

 
Scarab Beetles. They're everywhere. 

 
Crazy green-headed lizard. 


 
Atheist goats. 

Ring-necked parakeet. I found out later that these are an invasive species that are competing for territory with indigenous species. 

 
Cheeseburger with flies. 

 
Veal. 

University of Maryland mascot. 

 
I've seen a few of these. Not sure what species they are but man, are they fast!

The Golden Jackel. I was curious about this animal before I came here. They turned out to just be the Israeli version of a coyote. I hear them howl almost every night. 

 
This is how fast I hike. 

This is the white-throated kingfisher. Their back is a brilliant blue. Lots of these on the Yarkon River heading into Tel Aviv. 

 
Lapwing. It's a type of plover - like a bigger version of a killdeer. Very noisy. 

 
 Jack or Jenny. I couldn't tell. 

 
Creepy dead lizard. 

 
 How do you keep a camel from running away? Tie his front legs together. 

What the hell? Why did I even take a picture of this?

 
 Giant locust. Remnant from the plague? 

 
Ibex. Lots of these in the desert. Like a cross between a deer and a mountain goat. 

 
Giant weird bug. 

 
Stank nasty hiker trash. This species is rare in the Middle East. Can be easily captured using coffee and wifi as bait. Warning: Emits a pungent odor. 

As usual, all of your comments are appreciated. Thank you!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Meeting Jacob Saar

 
 
 About ten times a day, I break out my 'Red Book' to see where I am on the trail and to see what's coming up. Every INT hiker does this. Most carry the Hebrew version, I carry the English edition. All of these books have one thing in common: They were written by Jacob Saar. 

 


As I was preparing for this hike, I reached out to Mr. Saar with myriad questions which he either kindly answered himself or directed me to an online forum where I could get the latest info: 


Israeltrail.myfastforum.org


Imagine how shocked and honored I was when he offered to meet me on the trail and let me spend a night at his home. We stayed in touch during my hike and made plans to meet. 


Jacob Saar is a fascinating man. He has a PhD in electroanalytical chemistry. He's owned his own business and been a consultant. He is very knowledgeable about history and has traveled much of the world but his passion is obvious: The Israel National Trail. He knows every bit of this trail and has thru-hiked it twice (plus he'll be hiking it for a third time with his granddaughters). In 2006, he wrote the first guide book which was, in fact, in English (I had heard otherwise) and was far removed from the book that I carry today. It was bigger (and thus, heavier) and featured many stories from the trail. The latest edition (2016) is smaller, more concise and has the latest maps offered by the Survey of Israel. I'm happy to carry it every step of the way. 


Jacob met me on the trail and took me back to his beautiful home in Gedera. We had great conversation about the trail, our mutual acquaintances and the current state of long distance hiking. Not only has he thru'd the INT, he's hiked the Jesus Trail, the Jerusalem Trail and the Golan Trail among others. 


After I got a shower and threw my nasty clothes in the washer, we sat down to eat. Jacob had promised me a 'taste of Russia'.  A taste? It was a BANQUET! Salad, sauerkraut, herring, pelmeni with sour cream... And multiple desserts including Russian ice cream! With a full belly and a comfy mattress, I slept like a rock. 


 


The next morning started off with (you guessed it) MORE FOOD! Coffee, cereal, grapefruit and Russian pancakes with homemade strawberry jam. He even packed up a bunch of food for me to take with me on the trail! I was bursting at the seams. 


We made one stop before he returned me to my home (the Trail) and that was to Emmaus Nicopolis - a place of important Jewish, Roman, Christian and Byzantine history. It was fascinating to visit and I'm so glad he offered to bring me along!


 


After we said our goodbyes, I got back to my hike but my head was swimming with all we had talked about and my pack was heavy (with FOOD!). It was really an honor and a privilege to have met him and I feel like my life is richer for it. 


 


Ever had a 'brush with greatness'? Leave me a comment below and tell me about it!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Mo Pics

Ahh... Cell phone pics. The lazy man's blog post. I'll write a 'real' post when I get my thoughts together. In the meantime, please enjoy some pics from the Israel National Trail and leave at comment at the end. Thank you!

 
Bedouins and their flocks. I see them almost every day. They give a wave and ask, "Kef Halek?"

 
The landscape changed dramatically after Arad. Here is a mixed pine and palm forest. Wait.. wha? Those trees don't go together!

 
Me leaving Arad. Yes - I escaped!

 
These Red Anemones are everywhere. 

 
So is the hiker trash. 

 
Nightmare and I in front of a 400 year old tree. 

Baby donkeys are so.... I hate that word. 

 
Free pita! Thanks for the photobomb, Pootis. 

 
Nightmare strapping on his watermelon helmet. 

 
Life Pro Tip: NEVER confuse these two. Especially early in the morning. In the dark. 

Watch your step - the trail here is lined with cactus. 

 
 Kunafa from the Muslim quarter in Jerusalem. So good!

 
Beer!

 
Leave a comment below and tell me what's wrong with this mural. 

 
Me, Classic Rock and Pootis on the Mount of Olives. 

Classic Rock being silly. We ate those flowers (not kidding). 

 
And, finally, the beautiful vineyards outside of Latrun. I should hit Tel Aviv in a few days. I'll post again then. Bye for now!


 

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Hiker Magnet


I've encountered this phenomenon many times in my hiking career. There are just some places that are so inviting, so hiker-friendly, that you absolutely don't want to leave. It seems impossible to break free from their gravitational pull. Most often, it's a city or small town but it can just as easily be a hiker hostel or even a lone acacia tree in the desert. 


 


My first encounter with a Hiker Magnet was when I was northbound on the AT in 2011. I had been warned that Damascus, VA was a very special place and that many hikers not only stayed there way too long but some even quit their hikes to live there! After one day in that town, I could see why: Damascus offers an interesting mix of hikers, mountain bikers and old school Southern charm. Lots of cheap hostels and good food. It's a 'bunching up' point where you're likely to see people you haven't seen for weeks. And it's VERY difficult to leave. Southbound on the AT in 2015 was even worse: After a double-zero in this town, I ducked into a bar on my way back to the trail to top off the charge on my cell phone only to find college football (Michigan State vs Ohio State) on the big screen TV and Bell's Two-Hearted pale ale on tap. Must.... *clearly straining* Resist.....


 


There are hostels and hiker hangouts that are just as bad (Casa Luna on the PCT comes to mind). It takes super human levels of will power and determination to get out of there and get back to the trail. 


Pagosa Springs, CO (on the CDT) was so darn welcoming that I felt as though the city itself was trying to keep me there. I eventually ran out of town, hip-checking multitudes of Trail Angels and fending off well-wishers with my trekking poles until I finally escaped. 


The city of Arad here in Israel has a similar vibe. It's the first town you arrive at, as a northbound hiker, when you emerge from a month in the Negev Desert. Geographically, it's not too big yet it still has everything a hiker needs and it's easy to get around on foot. There are several good grocery stores and at least a couple of bars that serve huge cheeseburgers and delicious craft beer. There is even a house - a really NICE house - that hikers are welcomed to stay at for free. It has no furniture aside from a couple couches and lots of sleeping mats on the floors of the bedrooms. It even has a shower and a fancy flush toilet! I never met the owner - not sure anyone has - but someone is paying the bills for that place and I'd sure like to thank them for such a pleasant stay. Of course, I was reunited with all my hiker buddies in Arad. We swapped stories about how difficult and beautiful the desert had been. Friends of friends invited me to their home for a wonderful dinner. Visiting the Dead Sea was a (Trail) magical experience. It was all so good... How could I leave?


 


 


After two days in Arad, I (gulp) summoned the courage to hike on. Even as left town on a Sunday morning, shop keepers were opening their shuttered doors, filling the air with the scent of fresh baked goods and just brewed coffee. I felt powerless against these overwhelming temptations. I staggered, half delirious with desire, back toward the trail. 


 


I'll let you know in my next post if I escaped or not. In the meantime, leave me a comment!