Well... This is it. My last night on the trail. It's been almost two weeks since my last update, partially explained by my effort to finish by tomorrow, which required pretty long and hard days this last two weeks. I won't go into detail here, but it was a fabulous, glorious even, conclusion to a phenomenal, extraordinary journey.
In the past 12 days I have walked from the western Galil to the Mediterranean to the Judean hills, up (and down) the Carmel, along the (beautiful restored & preserved) Yarkon river, in and around remains of Israelite, Roman, Byzantine, Crusader, Arab, Ottoman, British, and finally Israeli(te) fortresses, synagogues, mosques, monasteries, farms, fields, villages, baths/mikvaot... and wine presses ('gats').
And though my walking was still - somewhat surprisingly - almost entirely solitary, these last two weeks were certainly more social. I met a few people each day on the trail - young and old, Israeli and otherwise, biker & hiker & dog-walker & even a unicyclist. And I stayed or visited or reconnected with many friends, like Judy & Arnold, David & Amanda, Tally, Vivian, מאיר וריבקלה, Russell & Adena, Zachy, Matan, Jeremy, Aaron and Yaakov; and made a few new friends.
Each day brought with it, as it has this entire trek, not a few spectacular moments - incredible views, a variety of flowers, unusual animal sightings (I now have photos of many species of butterfly, let alone a few snakes, horses, cows, jackals, lizards, beetles, many birds, sheep, goats, and now - here outside my tent at Mitzpeh HarEl - a camel, to augment the flora I've shot & shared with Jo).
I spent a glorious Shabbat on the Sharon beach, commencing with an hour of guitar before sunset on a rock at the water's edge (shades of my youth) and ending with a massive bonfire on Motza"sh with the beach entirely to myself. Though occasionally lonely, I could at least sing every Shabbat song I know without any child of mine begging me to stop. 😏
Had a really special evening with Yonatan in Zichron Yaakov (having given up looking for the nearby campsite), and a lovely picnic with Moriyah & Tani at the end of a long day walking along Route 6 - an experience in itself, taking in all the variations in terrain and flora step by step, as the world speeds by, the drivers oblivious to the wealth and beauty of the hills full of flowers and butterflies, caves & ruins & groves & vineyards & wheat fields.
And I finally - finally! - have been initiated into the Secret Society of the Poika. Thanks Yon & Matan & Zachy for a crazy and marvelous campfire and evening - the poika was simply tremendous. And so glad we had enough wood. Good thing my wood-burning stove at home is at the end of its season.... 😎
I explored a few of Israel's earliest kibbutzim, swam a few times each day along the coast - and found a pristine hidden cove (had to jump in of course) on the way down to Herzliya. (I'll reveal the location to anyone who asks, but am not publicizing it. 😊)
I can highly recommend a walk - or bike ride - along the Yarkon river; it's like a long, narrow Central Park and just charming. And the Sources of the Yarkon national park near Rosh HaAyin (which means, for the uninitiated, 'beginning of the spring') is a unique and not-well-enough-known oasis of forest, rivers, ponds, paths, shade & water flora.
As I began to approach home, walking through these hills ever more familiar, I realized how much I have missed all that is dear to me - both at home and beyond. And how much I really don't want this journey to end.
I suppose this might be said for almost any peak experience, whether lasting two hours or two months. (On the other hand, yesterday was my longest hike yet, 31 kms with a lot more climbs than anticipated - so my feet and thighs and shoulders and back and neck have no such conflict.)
I can only say that I am a bit overwhelmed that I actually did this (Yonatan: I finished it!): I'm very, very glad I did, and I'm even more glad that tomorrow I'll be walking in the door of my house for the first time in 55 days... hopefully not to leave any time soon (Mo, you'll finally have me around for a bit...).
All of you - friends and family, and friends who are family - have been stupendous. Without your love and constant support I never could have succeeded. This is most especially true of Yonatan, Michal, & particularly Moriyah - I am, every day and always, so very grateful to you and for you. And those of you who helped or encouraged me at the most difficult moments - you know who you are - were and are the true מלאכים of my shvil. I thank you and love you all.
שבת שלום וחג שמח