January 21, 2016

Sir Edmund Hillary

Here I go again. Writing about hiking.  You may wonder if I ever do anything else. Well, I do. But hiking opens my eyes and heart in such an incredible way, I become inspired to share these experiences. 

And the darker our world becomes, the more drawn I am to the simple life of the trail where I am focused solely on placing one foot in front of the next, gazing at nature’s wonders with every breath of fresh air.

On our last hiking adventure, we came across a beautiful person, a hero in my hiking story. As we were taking a morning break on the edge of a steep wadi, a head popped up in front of us. A slight young woman with an imposingly huge backpack, a khaki canvas hat and round glasses asked if this was the right trail. Turns out she was on the right trail going in the wrong direction.

We picked up our packs and headed off together, kindling a friendship with one very special woman named Hilary. She is walking the Israel Trail as I write this. This letter is dedicated to our new trail friend.  (Are you curious as to why we named her Sir Edmund Hillary?) 

Dear Sir Edmund Hillary,

We are in total admiration of your spunk, curiosity, zest and sense of adventure. After spending 18 months of volunteering in poor communities all over Asia, helping the poor, teaching them and inspiring them, you have decided to visit Israel.

You knew little about Israel and, being from a small town in Wyoming, had not met Jewish people before. In fact, your motivation for walking the Shvil Israel came from reading a National Geographic article. Was it the same article I linked to in my last post? The article intrigued you so much, you caught a plane to Ben Gurion airport and took a bus straight to Kiryat Shmona. On December 18, you started walking south from Nimrod’s Castle.

You are a woman traveling alone in the Middle East in a foreign land with a foreign language. You do not know a word of Hebrew and cannot even read the road or trail signs. Yet you have a goal.  A very ambitious goal.

The first night, you pitched your tent in the dark at the side of a road. Two soldiers found you and offered you accommodation nearby. You followed, wondering whether this was safe or crazy until you realized that you were in a country where people look after each other.

Since that first night, you have spent countless evenings in the homes of perfect strangers, trail angels who happily invite you into their lives. They provide you with hot meals, a snug bed, laundry facilities and warm company.

You experienced Shabbat for the first time and have had Friday night dinners at many Israeli tables. “I just love Shabbat,” you said. “It’s like having Thanksgiving dinner every week. It’s amazing that families are together so often.”

When one trail angel asked you where your coat was and you replied that you didn’t bring one, assuming Israel was always a hot country, she explained that winters in Israel are cold. “And you’ll be in the desert in January?” she asked in shock. “Take this,” she said, handing you a coat.

And as we walked together through the cold desert, you were wearing this same coat. In fact, you said you were wearing everything you had in your backpack. I was intrigued by the beauty of your life on the trail: the sheer simplicity of this in a world over run with stuff and where quality is gauged by quantity. Not so on the trail, where every ounce of weight in your backpack is a commodity and can weigh you down.

And now here you are, 759 kilometers later, strong and lean and determined to finish the trail.  You have seen more of Israel than most Israelis ever will in a lifetime. And we hope you will go home and tell your story. 

Thank you for being a true world explorer and coming to Israel when most reports about this country are so negative. Your open mind helps you to truly experience all of the wonders and beautiful surprises in this country.  

Spread the word about the warmth and hospitality you experienced here, about the beauty of the land, the generosity of the people and their love for life.

Come back with family and friends...we look forward to our next hike together.

From your admiring hikers and new Israeli friends

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