Because the topic of silence still resonates with me, I'm sharing now part two of an article I wrote some years ago.
On January 18, 2005, nearly a year after the birth of our dream, we took our first steps on the Trail. I hoisted my twelve kilo backpack onto my shoulders having tried to eliminate every unnecessary gram. The first day was a fourteen kilometer straight climb. We had walked this section many times but never from down to up. I doubted that many people walked in that direction.
After nine hours on the trail, as the sun was setting, we found ourselves the perfect camping spot – a sandy alcove under a cliff. We were soon sitting cozily next to our small fire, the twigs crackling and flames dancing in the air, cooking our packet of instant Thai rice. The meal tasted better than any I prepared at home and with our cucumber, carrot, and granola bar, nearly filled the hole in my stomach. We lay on our backs and looked at the millions of stars.
Besides a couple of satellites, pinpoints of light advancing steadily across the sky, and the faint glimmer of lights from Eilat, nothing here was man-made. Surrounded completely by God’s creation, total silence encircled us. I felt alive.
"I'm cold," I said.
"Let’s get into our sleeping bags and try out our new headlamps,” John said. “We can read for a while”.
In a few minutes John’s Bible fell out of his hands. It was only six-thirty. I scribbled some lines in my journal.
We woke up early the next morning. Our thin pads were more comfortable than I expected but when you fall asleep so early, you also wake early. The first hour was a gentle downhill walk in cool, refreshing air. I entered into a steady rhythm – step, pole, step, pole. In my daydreams, this was how I imagined our journey – soaking up the solitude and the peacefulness of nature. Free from the cares of our everyday life. No responsibilities except to stay alive and find a camping place every night. Unattached to earthly belongings with everything we needed in our backpacks.
We sang as we tramped along. We didn’t feel the need to speak all the time, and when someone came to our minds, we prayed for them as we continued on the path. Somehow it was easier to communicate with God out here than at home where busyness and my “to do” list often choked me. I hoped to put habits I acquired on the Trail into practice afterwards.
Then began the climb up two mountains, Har Amir and Ma'ale Amram, looking so imposing from a distance. We had hiked often in this area, but now I was viewing the scenery with different eyes. How could we ever ascend them with our heavy packs?
We had no choice but to go on, each step an effort, and to rest frequently. Panting with a hammering heart, I found this harder than anything I had done in my life.
Having plenty of time alone with my thoughts, I concluded that in life we also have mountains to climb. When we look at them from far away and concentrate on how tall they are, they seem formidable, but as we go up gradually, in the end we reach the summit. Then it all seems worthwhile, and we're glad we didn't remain in the valley.
Every time I looked back I was surprised to see how far we had come and after two hours of steady climbing, the ground flattened out. The Gulf of Eilat spread below us in the distance looking like a shiny blue tongue stretching out between the brown mountains. We could see Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia within a radius of twenty kilometers. As a strong wind swirled my hair, my spirit also felt lifted.
Sprawling across rocks on the top, we met a group of teenagers on a school trip.
“We're on the Israel Trail,” John announced.
“Well done!” a boy responded.
“We’re just on our second day,” I said. “We haven't accomplished anything yet.”
Or had we? Every journey has a beginning. We had begun walking on the Israel Trail and hoped that with God’s help we would complete it. I already understood this experience would change my life.
On March 21, our thirtieth wedding anniversary, we reached Kibbutz Dan, the end. We had hiked for forty-two days, been on the Trail for two months, and it was time to go home. As the lives of many Biblical characters – Moses, Elijah, Jesus, Paul, and others – were enriched by spending time in the desert, I was convinced the repercussions of our walk would continue far into the future. But for now we turned our backs to the Trail and our faces towards home and the noise of civilization.