Day 19: Hod Akev to Midreshet Ben-Gurion
Day 19, March 18: Short day. Slept in late (chose not to go up on mountain for sunrise) and hiked up a short but absolutely insane hill to Midreshet Ben-Gurion, "Oxford of the Negev." At trail house in quarters of volunteer leadership program. High schoolers making fancy Purim floats. Possible Shabbat dinner then possible drinks/party then 2 days off. After break expect to be in best shape of trail and able to handle difficult last days of the desert hike inc. Mt. Karbolet. Weird bonfire - bailed. Midnight hike.
The rest of the group roused me at 4 am in case I wanted to climb up Hod Akev to watch the sunrise with them. If you know me, you can guess what I opted for. We then climbed up a short but absurdly hard (with a full pack at least) cliff to Midreshet Ben-Gurion. It was a lovely green oasis after days of dry wilderness, and contains Ben-Gurion's tomb overlooking Nahal Zin - another breathtaking, alien vista full of weird rock formations and little nooks and wadis leading up into the cliffs.
The high school students (the place is basically a big boarding school) were making amazing floats for a Purim parade. Purim is a Jewish holiday commemorating the story of Esther, and combines religious celebration with the costume-party festivities of Halloween and the godforsaken drunken debauchery of St. Patrick's day. I have pictures of the floats, which were on the themes of "Bugs," "America," "The Afterlife," and "Chickens." I really found their interpretations of American culture hilarious, and was also very impressed by how hard the kids worked and how professional-looking the floats turned out compared to anything I ever produced in high school or saw produced by anybody else.
We stayed in these little spare huts belonging to a kind of leadership program for kids who are taking a year off before doing their army service. I basically lounged around reading the Bible (I must have been getting into Chronicles by this point) and took a few side trips. I didn't have the energy for any Purim festivities; this is the point where I realized my backpacking schedule had definitively turned me into a grandpa. This is a change that has not fully reversed even a year later. I did go with a couple guys to what they said would be a cool bonfire, but I got there and there were nought but a handful of creepy goth-like people, some kids that appeared to be in high school, and some dude in a trenchcoat. And they couldn't even get the woodpile to light, so I just slipped off into the darkness and went back to sleep.
I also went on a midnight full-moon hike in a famous wadi just below the Midreshe. It's full of white rocks and is supposed to be brightly lit and full of unearthly beauty on a full moon night. It sure was! Unfortunately we were out till 3am or so, and I was close to the most tired I've ever been. We sat around in the wadi for a while while somebody read out loud a short story, which another person then gave me a rough translation of. My knowledge of Israeli literature is limited to one Etgar Keret anthology, but I thought this story sounded like one of his. I guessed this and was correct, hopefully impressing them all with my apparent sophistication.
I met four old Americans (in their 60s and 70s) who were staying in the same hut as me. They were hiking south and were all multi-thru-hike veterans of the Appalachian Trail. They were also paragons of ultralight hiking - their base weights (weight of your pack excluding food, water and fuel) were 9-10 pounds each. They accomplished this by sleeping on half-length, extra-thin mats with only tarps for shelter, using soda-can stoves to heat dehydrated meals, and making numerous other concessions in terms of comfort. Although I'm aiming to get my base weight down to 15 or so pounds at some point, there are certain lengths I just won't go to, and sleeping with barely any padding and without a bug net are among them.
Aside from pack weight, they had much lore about the Appalachian Trail, which I was interested to hear. I'd like to hike that trail, though not all at once, as I think two straight months of hiking was about enough.
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