Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there lived a princess named Emily. She would happily go on walks in the forest with her friends, not considered a dangerous thing to do, but not for the tame of heart. One day, a ferocious dragon spied her as he flew overhead. The dragon swooped down unexpectedly and caught Emily in his talons. As he lifted her higher and higher, her friend, Fred, took out his bow and arrow and shot the dragon. The princess fell through the canopy and arrived on the forest floor a bit out of sorts. Emily’s bright pink dress was torn, her beautiful blond hair was all mussy, and she was a bit bruised. The dragon flew off back to his lair to lick his wounds.
Fred said, “Emily, maybe you shouldn’t take walks in the forest. Maybe none of us should. The dragon can come back at any time. And it doesn’t really matter what you do. He can come back and get you and carry you away for good.”
Emily replied, “I appreciate your concern, Fred. But I have walked in the woods before without incident. I love walking in the forest. I love feeling the cool shade of the trees, exploring the moss growing, picking wild mushrooms with you, my friends. I will be more careful from the threat of the dragon, but I intend to continue walking in the woods.”
Emily went out and bought pepper spray in case the dragon got close to her. She learned archery and bought herself the latest, state-of-the-art bow and arrow set, she changed her clothing to blend in more with the trees. But still in the back of her mind, she remembered the dragon. If I could just best the dragon, I will be free of him.
And so one day, she decided that this time when she was out in the woods with her friends, if she spied the dragon, she would slay him.
I love hiking, and being outdoors. When I was in fourth grade, I decided to become a naturalist when I grew up, so I could work outside. The naturalist plan went the way of so many other little girl career plans, but the love of the outdoors has stayed with me my whole life.
In Israel, hiking is a way of life. G-d told Abraham to walk the land, the width and breadth, North, South, East, West, and that commandment has embedded itself into the Israeli psyche. Israel offers so many wonderful, beautiful interesting trails and I was excited to find friends who liked to explore these trails. Also, my kids like to hike, they like the challenge, and they like going new places; they like the map reading, the discovery of hidden pools, identifying flowers, encountering wildlife. And they grew up with me – someone who believes that a day is not complete unless you GO somewhere.
When I started hiking for real, on the invitation of my friends Rochel and Yossie, I was an amateur. I didn’t have the right gear. I didn’t have the right experience. One of the first real hikes I went on with them was to Tamror Cliffs and Nahal Bokek in the Dead Sea area. It is a 5.5 hour hike, the first 2.5-3 hours of which you are hiking in the desert totally exposed to the elements. The second section is descending 350 m. down (vertical distance) the cliff on a rocky, winding path. The views of the Dead Sea and the Judean Desert throughout the walk are spectacular. Chalk slopes, fins, “castles” for birds. Volcanic blast-out remnants from a long, lost time, remains from fortresses. All that stuff I really like.
When I went for the first time on this hike, 4.5 years ago, I did it without enough water, in sandals, and without any real hiking experience. About 1/3 of the way down the cliff face, I tripped on a simple rock. Nothing so out of the ordinary. Not a particularly difficult section of the hike. I tripped with enough force to topple head over heels, spraining my ankle, deeply cutting my elbow and passing out. Getting me the other 2/3 of the way down was only accomplished through the diligence of my sons Boaz and Asaf who literally helped me every step of the way. Many really bad things could have happened to me that day, but, thank G-d, they didn’t. Elliot calmed me down and drove home, Yossie gave me water and sugar. Friends help friends.
And I made a few decisions about hiking.
1. Have the right gear. I bought the hiking boots, the walking stick, the good camelback water system, clothing that was appropriate for hiking. I bought the entire collection of topographical maps and always hike with a first aid kit.
2. Hike a lot. That’s right. Hike as often as you can. Learn what works well for you. I worked myself up to carrying 6 liters of water on even the hottest days and the steepest ascents. I know that the food I need is protein, nuts, and a few sugary candies. I know how to pace myself and others who are hiking with me so we don’t run out of water or daylight.
Yesterday I went back to “slay the dragon” of Tamror Cliffs and Nahal Bokek. I went with Yossie, Rochel, Asaf and a lot of other friends who love being in Israel’s great outdoors as much as I do. It’s a tough hike, rated “medium” in the book. But I finished it. That dragon is dead. I am in a better place now than I was the first time I faced him.
Maybe I am showing my age, but John Denver said it best:
Reach for the heavens
and hope for the future,
all that we can be,
not what we are.