Monday, July 23, 2007

A bit too much excitement while hiking...

This weekend was the big trip to Tzfat and the Galilee hike. If a trip is supposed to include adventures, the hike would certainly be one, though not one that I would choose to repeat.

The plan for the trip was to spend the morning and early afternoon in Tzfat, then hike down from Mount Meron, drive to a campsite where would spend the night and the next day hike the Nahal Amud trail. Tzfat was interesting—though enormously crowded. Apparently it just keeps getting more crowded through the end of August. So don't go on Friday during the summer is the message!

Aside from tourists, Tzfat is full of the Orthodox in all kinds of dress. While being in Israel gave me a feeling of wholeness as a Jew, Tzfat reminds me how much women are not part of Judaism. When a man dressed in full black—hat, coat, knickers (yes, indeed)—turns his head as if I don’t exist, I feel, shall we say, alienated. The stones of Tzfat feel full of the events that took place there—but do they include me? I’m not so sure. The idea of my reading Torah in Tzfat just seems incongruous—wrong, somehow. But then what does that say about me and my Jewish practice? Very difficult to think about—an irreconcilable contradiction.

However, we also saw Luria's synagogue, as well as Joseph Caro's--the one a founder of Kabbalah; the other a legal mind. The synagogues reflect the differences in the two rabbis.

Then we took a bus to the top of Mount Meron and hiked down. It was absolutely beautiful—lots of good views, lots of shade. The guide was a guy from New York who had lived in Israel for upwards of thirty years and who had been guiding for fifteen years. Our path took us through places where Ketusha rockets had landed the previous years, burn patches still black on the hillsides. We saw a place where a volcano had imploded, sat under a “cedar of Lebanon,” and then out the end of the trail by an ancient olive tree. Then back on the bus to our campsite. It was a pretty fancy campsite—bathrooms, a whole cooking area, lots of places to lay out sleeping bags. We were divided into groups—some to cook a variety of dishes, some to guard, some to clean-up. I ended up on cold salad detail, something I know pretty well. It was me, plus my roommate Joysa (the Recon rabbinical student), and three other people—one girl from Wilmette who goes to Stanford and is planning on applying to HUC; another from Madison; another who is becoming a Jewish educator at JTS.

The range of students and interests continues to amaze me—from the very serious “I need this and I need to do well for X program” to the “I love the language and want to learn it” to the “Golly, need something to do with my summer and being Jewish is cool so I’ll come and hang with my friends and be cool while I use mummy’s credit card.” That last group—that’s why it’s important to remember that it’s “we will do and we will listen” or “we heard and we did” not “Yo! We cool ‘cause we was born Jewish and our friends are Jewish and man, just being Jewish—that’s so cool.” They are only a small minority of the students here, but, like a single buzzing fly, can be excruciatingly annoying.

We got our salad done in a pretty good time, but other groups—hot salad, soup, meat, and potatoes—all took longer, so we didn’t eat until full dark. Then to bed—or sleeping bag. I hadn’t really paid attention to the sleeping bag, but when I got in, it was as if I had been short-sheeted. It was a sleeping bag borrowed from the Ulpan stash and it must have belonged to a child previously. Nevertheless, I slept—apparently through the fearsome hyenas that the guards chased away, along with a couple of scorpions. Why is it that I always sleep through the wildlife? I did it at 4-H camp too… Sigh.

The next morning, we were warned that it was going to be hot. I was a bit nervous about being able to make it—I had also been warned that it was strenuous—but everyone encouraged me and it sounded like the most difficult part would be in the morning. I switched guides (there were two groups, as the trip was too big for one guide), partly because of the “cool Jew” factor in Israel’s group and partly to get another perspective. Jeremy was an ex-Brit of the Marxist persuasion, who had moved to Israel and believes that this is where Jews are meant to be “a light to the nations.” More on that later, if I remember. He was fairly new to being a tour guide, but had done remarkably well on the test and lives in an urban kibbutz (which seems loosely based on Marxist principles). All this, by the way, I found out during a lunch conversation.

We began the hike at 8 and from 8 to about 12:30, it was shaded and we stopped frequently. Nahal means stream and Nahal Amud, which is the trail we took, means Stream of the Pillar. It was extremely interesting—the stream could, at other times of the year, be a flat out river and was used for water power, so all up and down the stream we saw aqueducts and small mills. There was a place where the water pooled near a stone mill fed by one of these aqueducts and there we stopped for a break—food, water, cool the feet and head and other necessary activities.

(By the way, no toilets and no culture of removing toilet paper from where you go in the woods. Which made for interesting additions to the scenery. And also meant that, by the end of the trip, I wasn’t bad at peeing in the bushes. (Yes, you did need to know that—it was not unimportant, given the amount of water we needed to drink!)

The trip was largely flat or slightly downhill and I was pleased that I had no trouble keeping up. It felt like Del Valle in the summer: hot, dry, and dusty, although the dust was a slightly different color, more gray and less brown. Similar kinds of plants—those adapted to the six months wet, six months dry cycle—although most were not precisely the same plants. Similar dryness to the air. Similar kind of terrain. So there was a real déjà vu—I felt at home in the feel of the place, and yet very much not at home in every detail. I was also very pleased that I could keep the pace that Jeremy set—I felt that my month of walking around Germany and climbing stairs to Haifa had really increased my endurance.

We ate lunch and I finished my second liter of water at what was more or less a shady wide space in the road. Some slept; I spent it asking Jeremy about what his background was. I also asked what was coming. He said were through the worst of it—it would be easier and faster from then on, although less shade and that shade would come from the hills themselves. At least part of this was a flat-out lie and was at least in part responsible for what happened later. I am still burning mad about that. I suspect there is a philosophy that people can do more than they think if they don’t know how much they are doing. I don’t support that philosophy. Even stupid teenagers who need to chivvied along do better if they are given control of their lives. Had I known what was coming, I would have gone slower, and perhaps slept at lunch. Would it have made a difference? Who knows? But at least I would have had a better chance to realistically pace myself.

After lunch, the road went through a gorge—a narrow path climbing up the gorge and then down. Okay, fambly—remember the hike where I sat on my butt? I did none of that. I climbed up like a champ, took pictures, and climbed down into the gorge again. Then we climbed up again, over pre-historic caves where people once had lived, and through a few olive trees.

By now it was about two-thirty and we were walking a very narrow path along the mountainside in full sun—later found out it had been 116. We went up and down, though mostly down, and I was enjoying myself, despite the intense heat, when I realized I was very dizzy and really hot—much hotter than I should be. So I sat down in the shade of one of the few small trees and waited for people to pass and the medic/security guard, Eido, and Erez, one of the madrichim, to show up. They did, along with one of the women from my class, whose family has a medical background.

For the next two hours we walked along the path, with Eido and Erez helping over parts that I couldn’t manage. The three of them kept making me drink water, but in fact that wasn’t the problem. I simply needed to be cooler, and (in retrospect) I think I had lost electrolytes from the water and hadn’t eaten enough. But by then it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other and try not to fall off the mountain. We stopped when I couldn’t go on and at one point I did get some halvah—I was so tired that it took me 10 minutes to eat a very small amount. After some time, we got to a resting point in the shade of the mountain where the rest of the group had been waiting. I simply lay down and closed my eyes and waited to cool off. Eido pulled out an icepack and put it on my forehead; someone else poured water on my shirt, at my request.

Jeremy got the others playing a game. What really scared me was two things—that I knew how hot I was and how unable to move in ways I was used to moving, that my body simply wasn’t functioning, and that the people who were in charge were clearly worried about me. But as the cooling happened, I regained energy and could feel my body start working again. Then we began the second part.

This was both harder and easier—easier because most of it was on flat ground, though still in sun, and harder because, despite reviving temporarily, I was deeply exhausted and my body really couldn’t cope with the sun and the hiking. We made it to the bus, eventually, and I collapsed into a seat. Jeremy gave everyone a lecture on drinking enough and making sure that we wore hats. By the end of the day, I had drunk around seven liters of water and I had worn my hat religiously, precisely because I didn’t want what did happen to happen. So a lecture like that gives the impression that I wasn’t careful enough and doesn’t give other ways to take care of yourself. I would add: pack and drink electrolytes. Make sure the food you pack is easy to get to. In heat, keep your head wet. Make sure you pace yourself according to the terrain. And perhaps, don’t go when it gets dangerously hot. If I had done all of that in addition to the hat and water, perhaps I would have been okay. In fact, I think that my age contributed to it—I’m in the hot flash stage of life, so perhaps my body’s not as good at regulating temperatures as those of the others. Perhaps I wasn’t strong enough. But I would have had a better chance.

As we walked, Erez kept telling me that I would feel proud when I was done. How do I feel? I would do it again in a flash at another time of year. It was truly beautiful and I would like to see the part I missed because I was simply letting one foot fall in front of the other and concentrating on the ground one step ahead of me. But this was far too scary and frankly embarrassing to feel any pride about. I am deeply grateful to the three who helped me, but also embarrassed to have needed their help.

When we got back to the dorms, I felt okay enough to carry my stuff to my room. One last note: when I took my shoes off, I found that both big toes were as bruised as if I had dropped something on them, simply from hitting the end of the shoe repeatedly as I walked downhill.

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