When my friends told me they wanted to do an eight-hour, 23 Kilometer trek from Arad to the Dead Sea, I laughed.
With three sandwiches, apples, crackers, four liters of water, sunscreen, a hat, bathing suit and towel, my backpack weighed about twenty pounds. I wondered if I’d make it out alive, especially after a nearly sleepless night.
Groggy and tired, I joined the group of twelve courageous souls down the road, leaving Arad.
It was still dark. Some locals were by the bars, after a long night out, astonished to see a pack of Americans and Brits bearing hiking gear, a map, a compass, and eager expressions. Despite it being the middle of the night, we couldn’t wait to get started.
We began by walking down the winding highway as the sun was rising behind the mountains. Not a bad way to start.
While we walked we alternated between word games, chatting, and making up our own “Year Course” lyrics to popular songs. Though these games helped me stay awake, it was during the moments of silence, between conversations, that I felt most content. There was a calm nothingness in the air--a silence I’ve only ever experienced in the desert.
When we began getting a bit hungry and sore, and we hadn’t yet reached the path, we knew something was wrong. According to our map, we missed the left turn to the trail that was supposed to be marked with a blue white blue symbol. We called our hiking leader, woke him up, and made him confirm that the path was, in fact, blue white blue. He insisted it was, and that we simply missed it by a few Kilometers on our left.
So, we turned around, and stopped when we saw the tiniest rock with a white blue white symbol. We had seen it when we walked by the first time, but automatically dismissed it because we were instructed it was, for sure, blue white blue.
It was the right path after all.
Turns out that slight err of detail was the cause of our frustration. My friends and I came to the conclusion that in addition to reading backwards, Israelis must also have their colors backwards.
And so the walking began.
The soreness and blisters emerged soon after, sometime between the hours of eight and ten AM. However, I’ll never really know, for the hours are blended together in my mind as one big physically intense challenge.
Around every bend and after climbing every hill, my friend Tasha would exclaim “I promise we’ll see the sea just after this turn!” We would automatically yell back, “TASHA, WE AREN’T EVEN CLOSE YET!” This went on for about six hours, until we finally reached the last stretch of hike.
Though much of the hike itself is merely a hazy memory of sweat, snack breaks, and guzzling water, I’ll never forget when we reached the halfway mark. Due to my level of soreness, I thought for sure we were nearly at the Dead Sea. When Josh showed me where we were on the map, I couldn’t contain myself. In a state of utter delirium and dehydration, I began to laugh. Correction—I BURST out in laughter at the helplessness of the situation. I was going to finish this darn hike. There was no turning back.
The uncontrollable laughter didn’t subside for a good twenty minutes. My friends thought I was going insane, and insisted I finish my bottle of water. It’s easy to forget to drink when you’re focused on the fifteen blisters that are overtaking your feet.
We were able to distract ourselves from our aching feet every time we took a second to notice our incredible surroundings: No buildings. No electrical poles. No streets.
To many who’ve never been, the desert seems simple—rocky, sandy, dry. But when you have walked miles through it, lived in it, and been immersed in it, you see much more. You see the craters that appear to be miles deep; hills of every shade of red, orange, and brown; blue-ish purple mountains in the distance, where the ground fades into immaculately blue sky. And from the top of a mountain, seeing it all at together, makes you feel so small in the vastness of Israel’s Negev.
Every time we stopped to notice our environment, we felt that we had to express our gratitude:
How lucky are we to be doing this hike, with our best friends, in our favorite place in the world?
Hours of hiking passed; ten AM turned into noon, and soon, it was the hottest part of the day. Around one, we reached the hardest part of the hike.
Being the ambitious young adults we are, we chose the most difficult trek down. The Red Path.
We proceeded to rock climb down the incredibly steep mountain, which may have just as well been called a cliff. Thankfully, we could see the Sea from the top, so we had a clear destination in our view.
At first, we were all a bit hesitant to start climbing down. Blistered and bruised, we were ready for bed. It took all of our strength to push ourselves down the mountain, taking caution with each shaky step.
At one flat formation on the way down, we decided to take a break. The view was absolutely stunning. We perched ourselves on different rocks on the tiny plateau and sat in silence, marveling at the crystal blue still water. We knew, as we stared at the sea below us, that we had truly accomplished something great. Though we hadn’t yet reached the bottom, we didn’t need to touch the Dead Sea to affirm our efforts. That view was enough.
When we did finally reach the bottom, we hobbled like penguins across the road and immediately removed our hiking boots. Our feet weren’t a pretty sight. We had a bit of a laugh comparing blisters, aches, and pains. Fifteen miles of hiking will do that to you.
At that point, all I could think was hallelujah! I’m in civilization! Now someone get me an iced coffee!
Without exaggeration, a turtle would have beaten us in a race to the nearest Aroma (the Starbucks equivalent in Israel). We inched our way there, laughing as people five times our age in wheel chairs blew past us at lightening speeds. (Others joined in laughing, too, making us a great amusement to the Dead-Sea goers.)
When we finally made it to the cafe, we purchased some iced coffees as a gift to ourselves for completing the biggest hike we’ve ever done. Sipping on that iced Aroma, with my feet up on the big comfy chair, was everything I needed at that moment.
The only thing that could have made that moment better was if we somehow found a hot tub to soak in.
So we did.
Pretending to be guests at the Crowne Plaza Dead Sea hotel, we changed into our bathing suits and casually walked right in.
We placed our backpacks and shoes on a spa chair, stepped into the soothing, bubbly Jacuzzi, and thought silently to ourselves:
What a day.