then & now pt. 1

Good morning wonderful people! Recently, I’ve been writing short comparisons between daily experiences in pre-pandemic times and the world we live in now. Below is a free-write I compiled Wednesday morning, loosely based off of a NYT Pandemic Diary prompt. No scene feels more striking, mundane, and *different* than a trip to the grocery store. I hope you relate, and perhaps are inspired to jot down a few of your own observations on “then and now”.  

The date was March 13, 2020.

It was noon, and I was at the grocery store for the sole purpose of a chocolate bar. (Chocolate, I argue, is a food not a dessert, and it is appropriate to eat at all times of the day). The store’s crowded parking lot hadn’t set off any alarms for me. Neither did the elevated bustle at the door. Even upon entering the store, it didn’t register to me that the scene I was stepping into was evidence of the world turning on a dime. 

Headphones in, music on, auto-pilot engaged, I entered, weaving between people to get to the store’s chocolate section. I compared chocolate bars for a minute, picking up and putting down at least five before settling on one. Probably scratching my head and touching my face at least as many times, too. 

On my way to check out, I bumped up against maskless shoppers, passed by toddlers plopped on the ground at parents’ feet, and slid between couples staring at empty shelves…empty shelves. It was the empty shelves that caught my attention first. I hadn’t noticed them on my way in. 

Then, when I got in line, I saw carts packed high with cans of tomatoes and beans and rice and hand sanitizer?! Every cart had duplicates of each item, making each shopper’s selected stockpiles strikingly obvious. Rumors of quarantine and lockdown had been circling, and many companies had already gone WFH, but standing in that line was the first time I genuinely wondered: Wait, are the floodgates opening, is this corona thing – which seemed so distant and ephemeral – really here with us and among us?

I tried to take mental stock of the food we had at home as I stood there with my one measly chocolate bar, absurdly close to the family in front of me in line. We have quite a bit of food at home, but should I still be loading up? I pondered, the concern slowly rising in me. Suddenly, it felt like I was in some sort of denial if I left the store without at least a few extra things. 

So I dipped out of line, grabbed a basket, and filled it with what remained on the shelves – a few boxes of pasta, granola, tuna (in retrospect, my gathering was more psychological than practical). When I got back in line, two shoppers near me recognized each other from school and embraced without hesitation. I thought nothing of it. I checked out, chatting briefly with the friendly cashier. Despite the chaos, his smile was big.

Outside, I loaded the groceries into the car. Before turning the car on, I pulled out my chocolate bar, and broke off a piece with my hands. The chocolate melted in my mouth. Delicious. I licked my fingers. 

The date is September 1, 2020.

It is noon, and I am at the grocery store for more than a chocolate bar (because the calculated risk of a trip to the store for just a chocolate bar doesn’t make much sense anymore). I grab a cart (methodically wiping down all its surfaces) and stand outside of the store in line waiting to enter. I am six-feet-apart from others, on spray painted dots with smiley faces and “your safety is our priority” slogans. 

Somewhat vigilant, I enter the store. Shoppers are proportionally populated to the building’s square footage. Even so, I cast a wide berth around people as I load my cart, as if in an invisible bumper car. “No, after you, I insist!” I subconsciously evaluate the density of aisles before I proceed down them. I’ll come back and get the peanut butter later, I tell myself. (Of course, I forget the peanut butter). 

I don’t browse anymore. I don’t pick up five versions of chocolate bars – or any items for that matter – to compare. I try to touch as few things as possible. I resist every urge to scratch my face or adjust my mask. If I find myself in the unfortunate position of needing to sneeze, I hold it in as if the world depends on it (no pun intended). 

When I go to check out, I find myself an empty dot to stand on. I feel like a buoy, along a line of evenly spaced out shoppers: bobbing a little left and right, but never too close to the person in front or behind. No one chats in line. Two people recognize each other and they wave, without getting any closer. 

When my turn comes, I unload my items on the conveyor belt (which is damp with disinfectant). I reach around the partition to hand the cashier my card. We chat briefly. It’s hard to hear him behind his mask. He is friendly.  I find myself searching his forehead and the corners of his eyes to see if he’s smiling.

Once I’m home, I wash my arms up to my elbows, lathering and scrubbing and rinsing, as if I were a surgeon. I unload the groceries, then wash my hands again. I never used to wash my hands all the time (I am not I was not particular about germs), but now…well, now is now. 

I unwrap the chocolate bar I bought this time and cut a piece off with a knife. The chocolate melts in my mouth. Delicious. And just before licking my fingers, I catch myself, wiping them on a napkin instead.

INT [belated] gear review

For the prospective Israel National Trail hikers — plus the die-hard gear-junkies and all who find joy from reading about the trade-offs between spoons and sporks — here’s a long delayed gear review on my carefully curated “backpack of things” I carried last autumn along the Israel National Trail (INT).

For context, my trail stats:

  • Israel National Trail, completed North to South (Kibbutz Dan > Eilat)
  • ~ 1090km / ~ 700mi
  • Sept 20 – Nov 10, 2019 (52 days: ~ 47 hiking, ~ 5 rest / weather)

My general gear / packing philosophy:

  • Start with less than you think you need. Add from there.
  • Go light, or go without.
  • Know your weak points and mitigate (e.g. mine: finicky ankle = ankle brace, distaste for long periods of sun exposure = “sunbrella”).
  • “Shiftzur” stuff – שפצור – Hebrew slang used to describe “makeshift or jury-rigged improvements to an existing component” (i.e. modify gear to make it better suit your needs – doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive).

Notes about this list:

  • This is a base weight list (no food / fuel / water included).
  • Some items I switched out midway through – noted in descriptions.
  • Some items I shared with Eran (hiking partner), thus divided weight / excluded weight from my pack – noted in descriptions.
  • For the most part, I LOVED the gear I took – so you’ll read lots of rave reviews here.
  • I recognize this is a higher-end gear list. I have slowly and strategically collected most of this gear over time, and I was also in the position to invest in some new gear pre-trail, too. I recognize this gear isn’t accessible to everyone. And that’s ok! Your hike will be just as fun with whatever gear you have access to. 
  • See bottom of post for spreadsheet with item weights.

More info on my summarized trail experience here, first 140 miles FAQs here, and “day in the life on the trail” here. And now onto the juicy reviews…!

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PACK + SHELTER

backpack [Gossamer Gear Gorilla 40L] – I will never (likely) use a different backpacking backpack ever again. Small yet spacious, this bag held all of my gear (very comfortably) and allowed me full mobility, comfort, and ease. Pros: large mesh outside pocket (where I stored all my food for easy access), breathable straps, convenient hip pockets, simplified design, pack’s size forced me to be diligent with gear choices. Cons: I pushed the pack’s weight limit a few desert mornings when I added 5-7L of water to my base weight, and after 700+ miles I did see some wear on the straps (to be expected) / mesh. 

pack liner [Gossamer Gear] – I lined my pack with this plastic sheet to protect the gear inside. A garbage bag will do fine also – but this one is virtually indestructible.

quilt [Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20] – Instead of a sleeping bag, I carried a 20 degree F backpacking quilt. I’ve always felt super constrained by mummy bags. The quilt, alternatively, lets me stretch out under it or cinch it up into a bag, which was perfect for fluctuating desert night time temps. I’ve also tested in California’s alpine weather, does great!

sleeping pad [Nemo Switchback] – Fully support using an egg carton sleeping pad versus a blow up pad. Pros: impossible to puncture, never need to repair, ready to throw out on the ground for any lunch break, can be folded into a seat, doesn’t deflate. Cons: depending on your backpack, can add extra bulk outside. Not as cushiony as a blow up (until the blow up pops!). 

pillow [Sea to Summit Aeros Premium– Could have gone without this, but so glad I chose to bring it along versus the old “stuff sack and clothes” route. Pro tip: only fill your pillow 3/4 to allow for a little give, more like a real pillow!

ground cloth [Gossamer Gear Polycryo] – I slept on top of this ground cloth (with my sleeping pad and quilt) while sleeping outside without a tent the first half of the trail. It protected my gear from wear big time

tent [Quechua QuickHiker 2] – Eran and I used this tent (nicknamed “spaceship”!) for the latter half of the desert section. Wind + moisture + bugs had all convinced us that a tent would improve our sleep quality and thus our trail experience. I’m glad he picked it up when he did, as it definitely was not necessary for the North section. I was fairly impressed with this tent style / brand (average compactability, weight, sturdiness), but I’ll probably go with Gossamer Gear, Zpacks, or Big Anges when I invest in a new tent myself.

COOKING

camp stove [Jetboil] – I despised this piece of gear. The Jetboil’s flame and heat were too powerful and difficult to control. Simmering rice (an essential Israel-hiking activity) was impossible. I did like the Jetboil eating container and cup, but I quickly started sharing Eran’s stove for cooking instead. Post-INT, I bought a stove like his for backpacking, plus a duplicate of his beloved cup

spork [Sea to Summit long handle] – I adored this piece of gear. The long handle was great for digging to the bottom of a cup of rice, it was durable and easy to clean, and super lightweight. However, personal opinion: the fork part of sporks are quite annoying for the relatively small amount of time you actually need to stab something. Since returning, I’ve converted to a spoon version instead for all backpacking needs. 

bandana – I carried one bandana exclusively as a surface for dry food prep / consumption.  This kept a lot of my other surfaces (e.g. sleeping pad, pant legs) clean and also didn’t weigh as much as a plastic plate / additional surface.

lighter – Also carried matches just in case. 

SHOES

hiking shoes [Altra Lone Peak 4.5 Trail Running Shoe] – For thru-hiking, I can’t rave about using trail runners enough. I’ll never go back to boots. Ever. Pros: trail runners are lighter, breath better (read: less moisture accumulation), save your feet from blisters, dry out easier (if they get soaked), don’t need breaking in, and are overall more comfortable. Cons: lacks ankle support (takes a few weeks to build up ankle muscle strength), tread wears down quicker than most boots. 

camp shoes [Xero Z-Trail sandals– For post-hike evenings, and around-town shoes, these are the best of the best. Pros: lightweight, adjustable (read: wear socks with them), and comfortable (in my opinion, they surpass Tevas, Chacos, Crocs, and SOURCE). Cons: less support than brands listed above, but that’s the point of them!

CLOTHING

hiking shirt [Patagonia Capilene Cool Sunshirt] – My gear item MVP. I wore this shirt every single day I hiked. Pros: thin yet durable, incredible sun protection, quick drying, thumb holes to keep sleeves down, anti-chafe, (mostly) odor resistant, easy to wash. This shirt also lasts forever, I’m still wearing it today! Note: some folks like hiking w/ button down shirts (dubbed “bar mitzvah shirts” by Eran) instead because you can unbutton them for air ventilation. 

hiking pants [Outdoor Research Ferrosi] – Long pants are essential for sun protection. I hiked in the tan version of these pants 90% of the time. Pros: kept my legs protected and cool, stretchy, soft, easy to wash. Cons: seams started fraying (between legs and on bottom) after ~400 miles, lighter color showed a lot of dirt (if you care about that!)

sun gloves [Outdoor Research ActiveIce Spectrum Sun Gloves] – Small and mighty, these sun gloves saved my hands from long days of exposure on the Negev plains. They’re nerdy and totally worth it. 

hiking socks [Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew– The only pair of hiking socks I’ll ever wear. I carried two pairs for the whole trail, rotating them out as needed. Pros: breathable, odor-resistant, can withstand infrequent washing, no blistering, the company will even send you a replacement pair when your current ones wear out – lifetime guarantee. Cons: NONE. 

gaiters [Dirty Girl] – I HIGHLY recommend adding gaiters to your set-up. Paired with my trail running shoes, these gaiters kept rocks out of my shoes and my shoe laces in check. While my hiking buddies had to stop frequently to remove Negev debris from their boots, I sailed along without discomfort. Plus, they look really dorky and fun. 

underwear [Patagonia Women’s Active Briefs– Thru-hiking underwear preferences varies person to person. I love this style, fabric, and fit. I carried two pairs (one dark pair, that could double as swim bottom) for the duration of the trail. 

sports bra [Patagonia Women’s Barely Bra– Another personal decision, but I’m going on five+ years of wearing this as my exclusive hiking sports bra. Supportive, wireless, chafe-resistant, quick-dry, and can double as a swim top. I started the trail with two of them (one for hiking, one for post-hiking), but I quickly ditched one of them.

t-shirt [Icebreaker Merino Cool-Lite Sphere Short Sleeve Low Crew] – The only shirt I brought (other than my hiking shirt) was this gem of a T. Comfortable, versatile, “dressy” enough not to look like total trash in town, thick enough to wear without a bra (I thought), odor resistant, and resilient as hell. I wore it every day after hiking and to sleep. Highly recommended.

jacket [Patagonia Houdini] – This was the only jacket I carried from Kibbutz Dan to Philip’s Farm. Pros: lightweight, semi-wind-resistant, and a perfect summer evening layer. Cons: runs on the smaller side and doesn’t have pockets. 

jacket [Patagonia Hooded Nano-puff ] – I switched this jacket out for the Houdini at Philip’s Farm (beginning of the desert). Pros: compact-able, washable, resilient, and warm…it provided regulated warmth for desert mornings and evenings as we entered into November. I love the hood and pockets, too! Con: runs on smaller side. 

shorts [Nike Tempo– I only hiked in shorts a few times (not ideal for sun protection), but they were great to wear in town, on rest days, or on warmer evenings. Pros: washed easily, dried quickly (recommend to cut liner out shorts if you’re carrying underwear). Cons: chafing. 

leggings – I started the trail without leggings and purchased a random pair in Arad (beginning of desert section). They were my “camp pants” that I wore post-hike and often slept in. Pros: allowed perfect mobility for stretching out after a long day, good for keeping bugs off, and just warm enough for the autumn evening desert temps. Cons: some folks just don’t like leggings. (Side note: Eran wore leggings under his shorts most days and raved about their sun-protection and anti-chafe ability. A rec for dudes – and ladies!)

TOILETRIES

toothpaste + toothbrush – I started the trail with one of those fancy two-piece travel toothbrushes…which quickly broke. I replaced it with a kid’s toothbrush. Just as small and light!

hand sanitizer – Essential for when clean hands were essential (e.g. administering first aid). 

soap – Multi-use soap or shampoo, refilled in a reusable mini-bottle. Used for all washing needs.

sunscreen – Purchased along the way. Protect yourself!

hair comb – Lighter and more compact than a travel brush. Necessary for keeping the luscious locks under control. 🙂 

baby wipes – We carried a pack of these for removing sunscreen at the end of the day, and other needs.

tampons – Shoutout to all the period-blessed bad-ass hikers out there. I used tampons, but I wish I had used a menstrual cup like Lunette Cup. After the trail, I started using this cup in daily life, and it’s incredible. On the trail, it would have been much easier and more sanitary than tampons.

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ESSENTIALS

guidebook [“The Red Book”] – There are lots of options for navigation along the INT. Eran and I chose to go old-school and (mostly) only use this book and its paper maps (no apps). He had a Hebrew version, I had an English. Pros: accurate, easy to use, thorough…and humbling and humorous! We nicknamed it “Yaacov” after the book’s author. Cons: some folks feel it underestimates the difficulty of sections…I didn’t agree with this, but can see it (Side note: we also made a “Yaacov holder” for Eran’s backpack out of a water bottle, sock, and medical tape, allowing Yaacov to be easily accessible…this is a “shiftzur”!) 

poles / “sticks” [Black Diamond Ergo Cork] – Highly recommend. Pros: durable, adjustable, steady, comfortable cork grip. 

hat [Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap] – Wore this hat for the first half of the trail, until I lost the back flap part! Pros: maximum sun protection, convertible into ball cap, comfortable. Cons: dorky, limited ventilation, doesn’t allow for periphery vision. 

hat – Picked up a second random hat in Beer Sheva as a replacement (see picture). This one was less dorky (wide brim, flop back) and provided better ventilation, but not as great sun protection.

knife [No.6 Opinel Carbon Steel Pocket Knife] – Sexiest knife alive. It’s cheap, easy to clean, simple to use, and sufficient for everything short of filleting a fish (unheard of in the desert!). 

sunbrella [Gossamer Gear Liteflex Hiking (Chrome) Umbrella] – This wasn’t an essential piece of gear (fairly sure I was one of the first to use it on the INT), but it radically improved my experience / internal temperature when walking in exposed areas for hours on end. Pros: allowed for maximum ventilation (no hat needed), provided shade from waist up, could “shiftzur” to be tied to pack (hands free), helpful for when it rained. Cons: difficult to use in low / narrow clearance areas (e.g. trees, narrow canyons), holding it only leaves you with one hand for a pole, may solicit silly comments from fellow hikers (until they overheat and get jealous!). 

headlamp [Petzl– Simple and functional. Replaced batteries once.

trowel [TheTentLab The Deuce #2– Essential in North when hiking through semi-populated areas and softer ground. Unnecessary in South where feces dry up quickly and you can take care of business far off trail.

first aid [Adventure Medical Ultralight/Watertight 0.7– I heavily modified this first aid kit, but it’s a great starting point. Also removed extra zipper pouch around it to cut weight.

ankle brace [Bauerfeind MalleoTrain Plus] – I have a horrible tendency to twist my ankle. Hiking in trail runners was worth it, but definitely didn’t aid in supporting my ankles. Half way through the trail, Eran gave me his ridiculously high-end ankle brace from the army, which I proceeded to wear every day. Problem solved. 

bandana – I cut a bandana in half diagonally, one part was used as a pee rag, the other as a snot rag. Actually wish I had just carried two bandanas or cut the one I had in half to form two rectangles instead of triangles (triangle tails were annoying to deal with). 

sunglasses – Impossible to go without. 

 

WATER

bladder [Camelback 3L– I carried this bladder for the first half of the trail. It was annoying to fill up, began to leak, and wasn’t ideal for using to transfer water to cook with for meals. Thumbs down.

hydration bottle-top screw-on [Source Convertube] – I switched my bladder out for this contraption at the beginning of the desert. I wish I had used this all along. Pros: easily attached to plastic water bottles we received cached water in, easy to clean, made unscrewing and using water for cooking much easier.

ELECTRONICS

earbuds [Apple cord earbuds] – Opted for earbuds with cords. Wireless earbuds have to be recharge and fall out. 

sat beacon + charger [Garmin inReach Mini] – Pre trail, I thought I might be walking alone for long stretches, so the Garmin came along with me. This is definitely not needed for the the INT (tons of cell reception and people along the way) and more of a tech toy. That being said, if you’re looking for a sat beacon for other trips, I can’t recommend this one enough. Pros: lightweight, superb battery life, insane coverage. 

external battery [Mophie] – Helpful to have for long stretches of days in the desert without phone recharge ability. 

Israeli / Europe USB wall plug in – If you don’t already have one, buy a cheap Israeli / European wall plug (example). I have one with two USB inserts so I can simultaneously charge my phone and Garmin. (Carrying a converter, if you have a different country’s plug in, is extra weight, extra pieces, totally unnecessary.)

watch [Timex Ironman] – Nice to not have to pull out phone to check time. Good alarm. 

phone / camera [iPhone X, charging cables] – Highly recommend taking a phone with an excellent camera. The landscapes are too good not to have pictures of later on!

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PERSONAL

journal + pen [Moleskine Cahier Journals] – Super fun to journal throughout the trail to document experiences. I love these lightweight paper ones!

wallet [Ziplock bag] – Held drivers license, credit card, Rav Kav (Israeli transportation card), photo copy of passport, some cash. 

wrap / towel [sarong] – I carried a simple, thin, cotton fabric that acted as a towel, changing room, bug-shield, sun-protector, and so much more. 10x better than any expensive / special travel towel you can buy. 

book – I heavily utilized the trail book boxes (lending libraries) and Eran’s generous book loans for trail entertainment. I briefly tried carrying a Kindle and hated it (see “OTHER” section). 

sling-shot – Eran carried a hand-made slingshot for fun. We spent many lunch breaks shooting tiny rocks at other tiny rocks. It was fun to have a unique item on the trail…other hikers carried little stuffed animals, instruments, funky hats, frisbees, or shesh besh (backgammon)!

OTHER

*Gear I considered taking, but didn’t. Or, gear I had for a hot second and quickly ditched.*

long underwear top + bottom – Unnecessary (too hot).

warm hat / beanie – Unnecessary (too hot).

rain jacket – Umbrella served this function. It only rained a few times when I was hiking (most storms we anticipated and planned rest days for).

anti chafe [Squirrel Nut Butter] – I had zero chafing issues on the trail, but when I do have chafing this is the stuff I use. It’s magic and smells divine.

mosquito net – Used a few times in desert, then ditched in a book box. Flies were more of an issue than mosquitos, and our cotton fabric sarongs were enough to ward them off.

Kindle – Too annoying to have to charge, not much lighter than a regular book from a trail book box, fun to be constrained to the book box selection, plus I simply despise reading on screens unless necessary. That said, two considerations: 1) if you’re not excited about picking up books others have touched w/ current COVID, a Kindle is ideal; 2) if you prefer to read in a language other than Hebrew or English, bringing your own book / Kindle is a good idea.

A GENERAL NOTE ON FOOD

breakfast – Coffee, oatmeal, honey, chocolate, peanut butter, crackers, sugar, silan (date paste).

lunch – Bread / tortillas, tahini, tuna, cabanos (sausages), crackers, cucumbers, tomatoes, hummus.

snacks – Cookies, nut mixes, sahlab, halva, Lays, Bamba, Apropo, dried fruit, cereal, granola bars, dates, peanut butter, coffee, tea.

dinner – Rice, cabanos (sausages), olive oil, tahini, spices.

favorite town foods – Burgers, vegetables, pastries, popsicles, Krembo, ice cream, eggs, homemade trail angel meals. 

*Also, I’m gluten and dairy intolerant and had zero problems finding safe food to eat on the trail. If you are unfamiliar with Israel, the country is very friendly in this way, even at the gas stations and in small villages! (Also very easy to be vegan or vegetarian on the trail). 


Questions encouraged, and here’s the GEAR SPREADSHEET (w/ item weights)!

Happy hiking.

!!!בהצלחה

100 COVID / Quarantine Observations

I love lists. It’s something I both adore about myself and exhaust myself with.

This morning, I felt inspired by a list I read yesterday: Two Hundred Fifty Things an Architect Should Know (Michael Sorkin). So here’s an unedited, uncoordinated list of 100 things I’ve observed/learned/remembered in quarantine (Because 250 felt like…ugh. A lot for this morning).

  1. I despise reading books electronically.
  2. Less is usually enough.
  3. The same neighborhood walk-loop looks different each day.
  4. The dogs are the real winners here.
  5. I am still capable of throwing tantrums.
  6. The reason my last name has no “w” in it isn’t what I thought.
  7. Hugs are medicine.
  8. Given the choice of a dozen breakfast options, I’d still choose fried eggs.
  9. Cinnamon on fried eggs is REALLY good.
  10. A Gentleman in Moscow (Amor Towles) might be my favorite book. Ever.
  11. Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd), too.
  12. Untamed (Glennon Doyle) also changed my life. (Ok. That’s it for books.)
  13. I miss dinner parties.
  14. I miss wandering the supermarket for fun.
  15. I miss inviting people inside.
  16. I don’t miss the yoga studio as much as I first did.
  17. A home yoga practice isn’t as dreadful as I made it out to be for all of those yrs.
  18. FaceTime is a saving grace.
  19. FaceTime doesn’t replace face time.
  20. Chocolate solves most problems.
  21. Building new professional relationships over GVC is hard.
  22. WFH forever freaks the sh*t out of me. [the concept]
  23. Boundaries – worktime, space, relationships – are essential.
  24. Flowers brighten up the house.
  25. We all want to feel connected.
  26. Many of us are truly living in our homes for the first time.
  27. I don’t actually mind my toenails unpainted.
  28. I miss the desert.
  29. My grandparents are lonely.
  30. “Marie Kondo-ing” your digital life is…exhausting + liberating.
  31. No ability to plan into the future = forced presence.
  32. Many people are struggling.
  33. The impact of COVID will last…forever.
  34. The new normal won’t be the same as the old…requiring more grieving.
  35. Public space design will shift radically.
  36. We are experiencing the same “thing” but we are each experiencing different things.
  37. I love olive trees + white roses.
  38. “COVID” is enough of an excuse for anything.
  39. We can retell old stories and find more inner freedom.
  40. Moving our bodies is really important. Any way. Some way.
  41. California is [objectivly] the best place to SIP.
  42. No one is taking vacation from work (if they’re employed).
  43. Employed corporate America [+ here, tech] is going to face major burnout.
  44. “How are you?” is a f*cked question.
  45. “How are you (really)?” is better. Kind of.
  46. I need a haircut.
  47. I am sad about a lot of things.
  48. I am happy about a lot of things.
  49.  COVID is really making me look at all the things.
  50. I am grateful for employment.
  51. I wish bananas didn’t make me constipated.
  52. I don’t like the color orange.
  53. Linen is the world’s supreme fabric.
  54. I’m having nature withdrawals.
  55. English is a hard (so hard) language to learn/teach.
  56. Cleaning out stuff sometimes makes me want more stuff. Ugh.
  57. Grief is very stubborn.
  58. Some days are harder than others.
  59. We all need individual attention right now.
  60. Humans are ridiculously adaptable.
  61. Self care ≠ Self indulgence.
  62. Laying on the ground outside solves many problems.
  63. Pro sports / live music / college / dating / conferences / airports will never be the same again.
  64. I can usually benefit from taking my own advice.
  65.  We all benefit from valuing friendship + humor over most things.
  66. Anticipation of suffering is usually worse than suffering itself.
  67. Getting “dressed” for work in the AM can change the psychology of my day.
  68. Documenting is therapeutic for me.
  69. Living at my parents’ home is wonderful + exhausting.
  70. The Sunday Review is the best section of the New York Times.
  71. The animals of our world have no idea what’s going on.
  72. It’s weird to see my pictures from “before” – crowds in Jerusalem, Rome, NYC.
  73. The world screeched to a stop, but our lives ached as we slowed.
  74. We might miss things about this time…when this time becomes that time.
  75. I remember the “lasts” from before COVID quite clearly. Last yoga class. Last time at a store. Last hug from a stranger.
  76. I miss the ease of pre-COVID public spaces.
  77. When we have all the time in the world, the connections we keep / let slip can say volumes.
  78. My responses are my responsibility. Repeat.
  79. “How can I become more FREE today? How can I FREE others?” are good / helpful questions.
  80. Even w/ all my privileges / advantages, this is hard.
  81. No one but you is keeping score on your life.
  82. Eat the frog.
  83. Making plans is ok as long as you’re ok w/ changing them all.
  84.  Flexibility and indecision are not the same.
  85. I miss the hot food bar at Whole Foods.
  86. We don’t always need to explain ourselves.
  87. I miss the mountains.
  88. I miss hugging my friends.
  89. Social media can be whack.
  90. Sleep solves so many problems.
  91. I love wearing sundresses.
  92. Writing cards + letters is important. People love snail mail. (No, you can’t get COVID thru mail…right?)
  93. Our president is a buffoon.
  94. Underserved populations and people of color are disproportionately affected by this crisis.
  95. Old actions can be repeated w/ new meaning.
  96. We are not entitled to our lives.
  97. We never know. But the opposite is also true: We always know.
  98. “Should” is such an unhelpful word.
  99. I am scared the world will never look the same again.
  100. I am thankful the world will never look the same again.

 

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documenting strange times

Hi wonderful people— I hope you are safe and well out there.

Can I ask you a (maybe personal) question? I’m going to assume yes. I’ve been thinking about processing methods a lot lately (because let’s be honest, there’s a shit-ton to process right now), and I’m curious:

How are you processing this moment in time? 

At a foundational level, I think many humans process the world through documentation. We make sense of our conditions by taking stock. This comes in many forms. Some are artistic (writing, photography, sketching, video), while others are quantitative (data collection), social (relaying stories to friends, passing down family folk-lore), or the product of our technological age (Instagram-ming, Tick-tock-ing…is it a verb yet? idk). Sometimes we document to engage in later analysis or share our experiences with the world. Other times, documentation has no external purpose. It is simply a way for us to see ourselves, a silent nod of self-validation.

My default processing (documentation) method has always been writing: journaling, blogging, brain-dumping thoughts on tiny folded up pieces of paper, opening a million one-sentence “Notes” in my iPhone app. And since March, when COVID hoop-la surfaced in California, I’ve been writing like a madwoman. But I’ve also begun to crave creative new ways to document this strange and uncertain time.

One medium I’ve discovered? iPhone screenshots. Without even realizing it, I’ve been “journaling” my COVID shelter-in-place experience through screenshots since early March. Funny, random, heartbreaking, comforting, and poignant. Looking at them as a set now, these screenshots (and their corresponding timestamps) are the mind’s modern-day polaroid: instant snapshots of what I was thinking about, resonating with, or responding to. A record of fleeting moments I wanted to save to see again.

Here they are, below.

Also, if you’re so inclined, please let me know how you’re processing or documenting. (Or, if you’re like one of my best friends, who said “I’ll tell you how I’m processing— I’m NOT”, well, then please tell me how you’re not processing and what you feel. That counts too!) I can’t wait to hear from you!

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[March 7] I was monitoring travel restrictions to Israel in anticipation of a spring trip I had planned. A few days later Israel closed its borders to nearly everyone (not just NY, WA, CA). At the time, reading this article was bizarre. I remember thinking “What? How the hell can they even operationalize that?” Now, obviously, the concept of international travel in itself feels bizarre.

 

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[March 9] Still monitoring travel restrictions, I came across this timely PSA from February. I remember laughing and thinking to myself “There’s no way this won’t all be over by Passover [April].” How wrong I was.

 

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[March 10] This note notification popped up randomly on my screen. I was having a rough day. The reminder that we “never know” what good or bad may come our way felt serendipitous. I can tell you confidently that on March 10, I really had no idea.

 

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[March 11] The world felt like it was screeching to a halt this week. Everything was changing so quickly. I spent a lot of time thinking about how COVID might be a dress rehearsal for the end of the world. This quote resonated.

 

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[March 13] FaceTiming took on a whole new meaning this week. I added the term “social-distancing” to my vocabulary. On this call, we were guessing how long the world would be in this state. Even the least optimistic of us (me) guessed we’d be back to normal by summer.

 

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[March 18] My cousin moved from NYC to Portland and bought a Tesla. My grandma emailed us a dual picture of her father at a young age with his car. Things felt connected through time.

 

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[March 27] On Instagram, masses of bored people were posting #rough pictures of themselves, captioned “Until Tomorrow” (they would take down the photo the next day). I joined in with not one, but 15 photos. Why not.

 

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[March 30] FaceTiming with my original Israel gals (minus @Hannah). Earlier this year we were scheming a 2020 reunion for the five of us in NYC. Now it looks like we’ll have to stick to virtual.

 

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[April 3] G-bless my Grandma’s humor. I also love the email subject line. I hope you are all very OK too.

 

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[April 5] There’s been a lot of endless scrolling on social media. This is a post from 2018 I liked on a Costa Rican farm’s page. LESS seems like a good lesson for now.

 

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[April 9] I like looking at the mosaics of photos I’ve saved from other people’s accounts on Instagram. It’s like a living collage. Here there’re photos of yoga, child Holocaust survivors, Bar Rafeli pregnant (future pregnancy fashion goalz), fluffy dogs, and an important reminder: “You don’t have to use this time to ‘improve’ yourself.” Noted.

 

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[April 14] Another good reminder. I believe, at our core, this is what most of us really want.

 

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[April 14] A lot of old emotional baggage bubbles up when you’re stuck at home for weeks on end. Working on self-compassion is not some fluffy-flower-girl thing. It’s tough shit. Here are some resources.

 

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[April 24] This is from a NYT piece titled “When Life Felt Normal: Your Pre-Pandemic Moments.” I must have screenshotted it just because the room looks so peaceful. I miss being in beautiful spaces with other people. Especially yoga studios.

 

 

 

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[April 25] I remember seeing this headline and thinking “This is certainly a situation I never thought we’d find ourselves in.” Also, is it just me, or has no one heard anything about the election for like…months?

 

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[April 25] These photos, from a NYT piece titled “Denuded of Tourists, Paris Reveals Its Old Beating Heart”, made me feel quiet, still, hopeful, and peaceful. Some of the world’s most trafficked places are returning to their stewards: their residents.

 

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[April 28] FaceTime fatigue is a real thing. Which is why you need to keep it light and funny sometimes, too.

 

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[April 28] “The virus has collapsed distances.” This quote made me cry. How true, in so many ways.

 

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[May 2] This title made me think about all the accomplishments and celebrations (e.g. graduations) that people are experiencing alone right now. They are “Blooming Lonely” like the trees.

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[May 3] From a NYT piece, titled “My Restaurant Was My Life for 20 Years. Does the World Need It Anymore?”. Heartbreaking words that made me think about the overturn of our economy and precious small businesses. What will the world look like when “she wakes up”?

 

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[May 6] I sent a copy of this print (from the Oakland artist People I’ve Loved) to my best friend for her birthday. It’s titled “Lift Each Other Up.” We all need it right now.

 

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[May 9] As most of the country begins to face optional trade-offs, Silicon Valley is still mostly locked-down…I oscillate between jealousy and gratitude.

 

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[May 9] I needed this validation the other day. I’m a firm believer in sometimes Losing It.

 

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[May 9] Our beloved friend and neighborhood school secretary Anna started this GoFundMe to raise money for children whose parents are unable to provide food for their households. If you are able to, please contribute. All together now.

To be continued…stay tuned…love you all.

 

2020 updates in our new, wild world

Hi wonderful people— I hope you are healthy and safe.

It’s been a minute (or a few months!). My last post from November— written on the tail end of my most recent Israel stint— simply seems so long ago. You might empathize: 2019 feels like it was a different era.

Like so many of us, I predicted that 2020 would be bright and light, with its aesthetically aligned numbers and decade of fresh promise. I thought things would go one way. But then, for better and for worse, they went another. (Is that not the story of everything, always?). In the midst of COVID-19, I relay the following updates not to garner pity or congratulations, but rather as a reminder that beneath the hysteria of the pandemic, there are other sorrows and joys that 2020 has brought each of us. The world, indeed, remains spinning.

So here we go…

🌟 The first week of 2020, my best friend’s mom had emergency open-heart surgery. The operation was surprising and stressful, but successful. Instantaneously, I recognized the fragility of life, more intimately than I ever had before. After she made it through, I clapped my hands and hugged people tighter. With relief, I closed my eyes and thought, “This will be the biggest thing of our 2020”.

🌟 The second week of 2020, I turned 24. I reflected on my 23rd year with pride and gratitude. Following tradition, I brainstormed 24 happy things to do in my 24th year and started down the list. I celebrated with friends and family, hikes, art projects, Pakistani food, dog walks, and coconut ice cream Sundays.

🌟 The third week of 2020, our life-long neighbor (who was more like my cousin-brother, a “sibling of circumstance”) died tragically and unexpectedly at 19. I closed my eyes and knew definitively, “This will be the biggest thing of our 2020. Of my entire young adult life.” The mourning was (is) profound. I grieved and grieve for him, for his family, for us, for our family, for me. For the loss of innocence. For the lack of second chances. For the realization that none of us are necessarily entitled to a long life.

🌟 The seventh week of 2020, I dove into the job search. After a few months of working as the assistant manager of a (beloved) Palo Alto yoga studio, I was ready to find a full-time role. I wanted back into the fascinating world of transportation and sustainable environmental design. Coached by wise parents and brilliant family friends, I started having my “50 cups of coffee.” The networking and interviewing process was relentlessly exciting and exhausting. Within weeks, I found myself with the very privileged choice between a few incredible companies. And on the day before the COVID-19 forced Silicon Valley tech to 100% work from home, I signed an awesome offer from Waymo (formerly the Google[x] self-driving car project). The timing couldn’t have been better. I closed my eyes with excitement and relief, and said, “Yet another big thing for 2020.”

🌟 The eleventh week of 2020, as COVID-19 hit the Bay Area full-force, and the yoga studio closed its doors, our management team scrambled to transition to Zoom live-streamed classes. In a matter of days, the 25-year-old small business resembled a fully remote tech start-up. We reinvented how we operated, staffed, monetized, communicated, and taught. It was scrappy, fast-paced, and remarkably rewarding: 300 people tuned in for our first live-streamed class. Thousands more people— mosaics of little smiling faces on the Zoom window— have joined in since (join us, HERE!). And while I’m wrapping up my work with them to go to Waymo, it gives me great pride to know that at such a critical time I helped provide our community the movement and meditation they needed. In the past days, I’ve frequently closed my eyes, smiled, and thought, “What a big, positive thing for 2020.”

🌟 It is now the fourteenth week of 2020. I had planned to be in Israel right now, spending five weeks with friends and family— namely with my sister who was living in Jerusalem. But now she’s back in California. And I’m not going anywhere— never mind leaving the country. Instead, very soon, I’ll start my job with Waymo (HUGE silver linings!). Until then, I am in the privileged position of taking things slow— walking, reading, cooking, sleeping, tackling a long list of over-due to-dos, and taking extra time to focus on the personal positives, lessons, and “ah-ha” moments of our world gone awry.

In 2050, I imagine people will look back and exclaim, “Oh, 2020, what a year!” And I know (or at least I hope) I’ll be there too, nodding in agreement, for all my own reasons— COVID-19 related and not. You can likely empathize that even now, I nod. I know it’s only April. I know it’s only the fourteenth week. But I already feel like I can say with confidence, sadness, grief, excitement, hope, and happiness, “What a year. What a world.”

52 days, 700+ miles, 10 lessons

If you somehow evaded my daily Instagram & Facebook posts from the Israel National Trail, allow me to start by informing you that I finished the whole darn thing. Done! Finito. I’m still kinda pinching myself it’s over.

It took me 52 days to hike 700+ miles from Kibbutz Dan (northern Lebanese-Israeli border) to Eilat (southern tip of Israel). These metrics include a few rest/weather days and exclude an incalculable number of additional miles (the result of getting lost three times a day…minimum). They also exclude the unquantifiable and more memorable aspects of the trail: the boundless generosity of strangers, the vastness of changing landscapes, the challenges of terrain, the joys of friendship, and the lessons learned along the way. I feel so privileged.

I’ve spent the days since I finished the trail playing mental catch-up, slowly digesting an experience that was both radically simple and entirely overwhelming. In an effort to quantify the unquantifiable, I’ve managed to mold what feels like an ocean of thought into 10 semi-succinct takeaways. By sharing these lessons with you, I hope that you’ll more easily recognize them in your own lives (or perhaps re-recognize them, as you’re likely either more aware or more seasoned than I). After all, if the trail taught me anything, it is that when we watch closely, the world unfolds its wisdom around us.

Below, in a classic mix of vulnerability and astute self-deprecation, are 10 takeaways from the trail.

1 🌟 Humor and friendship make everything easier.

“How did you hike 15-20 miles day after day? How did you not get bored? How did you figure things out? How did you keep going?”

My first answer to nearly every “how” question I have been asked about the trail (or, quite honestly, any “how” question I asked myself while on the trail) has been humor and friendship.

Humor softened situations that were objectively sucky (wet shoes), sketchy (getting caught in flood zones past dark), confusing (trail markers pointing the wrong direction), painful (climbing steep sh*t), and disappointing (gas stations without my favorite popsicle!). Humor also softened my perception of myself and my own capabilities. Laughing at my ego and shortcomings kept my typical, semi-serious soul light, motivated, and consistently humbled.

On the trail, the power of humor went hand in hand with that of friendship. I could rave endlessly about the incredible people I met on this Israel go-around, but one friendship undoubtedly rises to the top: Eran, the 23-year-old Israeli who, with the exception of my first five days, I spent the entire trail with. Hiking, problem-solving, planning, cooking, eating, reading, resting, getting sick…day after day, 24/7, it was all done together. The result? Unmatched friendship. A respectful, playful, brilliant, platonically intimate friendship that truly made the hundreds of miles possible and absolutely everything easier.

So my first takeaway? We should laugh often (especially at ourselves) and value friendship above most other things.

2 🌟 Make plans and change plans.

For an avid planner like me, the first half of this lesson was easy to accept. Oh, we need to plan a food resupply? A water cache? Sleeping locations? Routes and reroutes? Transportation? Holiday schedules? Got it. Covered. Lemme make a list, look at a map, read a review, hop on WhatsApp and message a few people. Logistics are my jammmm.

The second half of this lesson was harder to accept, yet it became crystalline so quickly: the most memorable sections of the trail were those for which the plans we had made were changed. Examples? The night we planned on sleeping in a kibbutz field and instead were pulled *literally* off the trail into a family’s home for Shabbat dinner, showers, and a night’s rest. Or the day we planned on making it thru Nahal Tze’elim (a flash-flood prone riverbed) by dark but were slowed by unanticipated water crossings…and ended up sleeping on the side of the riverbed under an unparalleled sky of stars. Or the afternoon we planned on hiking through multiple canyons, only to find the waterholes too deep…requiring us to backtrack, reroute, filter muddy water to drink, and pitch camp early under a moon so magical and bright that headlamps were practically unnecessary. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Would the trail have been so epic without any planning? Nope, and planning did save our butts many times. But, would the trail have been so epic if each of our plans had actually gone according to plan? *Definitely* not. Good things came from changing plans.

3 🌟 We assign meaning.

The trail was awesome. The experience was transformative. (yes, I’m rolling my eyes at me too). I can’t rave enough about it. And yet, I know that this positivity is simply the meaning that I’m choosing to assign to an experience that many other people would find miserable.

The trail had its shitty moments. My body hurt often. Hiking could be grueling and technical. Malfunctioning gear was disappointing. Being on my period sucked. Flies were annoying. Waking up to a dew-soaked sleeping bag was #hell. Logistics could be difficult. Plus, some days just felt plain poopy

And, while humor and friendship indeed made everything easier, consciously choosing to be undramatic about shittier moments became a true superpower (dare I say meditative practice). Sternly facing myself and assigning positive meaning to the way things were was damn effective. We even became accustomed to repeating “it’s fine, we’re fineeeee…!” semi-sarcastically and yet entirely seriously in response to the challenges of the trail. Because, yes, most of the time if we chose to be “fine” about a situation, then we were fine. Life is how you say it.

4 🌟 Everyone hikes their own trail.

Hitchhike boring sections or hike every single trail-mile, skip hard sections or add on detours, go fast or go slow, take breaks or hike straight through, walk with others or walk alone— everyone I met hiked the trail their own way. And, for the most part, there was the utmost respect between hikers that did things differently (of course, I still shook my head at people carrying only two liters of water per day in the desert or lugging packs weighing upwards of 50 lbs).

Some choices I (or we) decided to make specific to our trail experience: each day we took an ~2-hour midday break in the shade to beat the heat, eat lunch, nap, read, recaffinate, and mess around (tie knots, play with slingshot, look at maps); we opted to use the guide book and paper maps over phone apps (most of the time); we didn’t plan in rest days, instead we paused hiking when we needed something (new shoes) or weather prevented continuing (storms); and we chose to hike the sections of the trail that others often hitchhike (4X4 roads along highways).

Did our choices make our experience “better” or “worse” than anyone else’s experience? Nope. Everyone did their own thing, and that was what made it cool.

5 🌟 They give, you take. They kick, you run.

This nugget of wisdom comes across a bit harsher than it’s meant to (#lostintranslation). But the point is: if someone offers you something (unless they’re trying to “kick you”), you should take it…be it a bed to sleep in, a homecooked meal, a ride to the supermarket, a cup of coffee, an ice cream delivery via plane midway through the trail…say YES!

As an American, I often found this hard. In American culture, we are fairly good at giving (although we suck at being genuine– how many times have you said you’d love to catch up over coffee but never called? offered to do a favor out of politeness and never followed up? I’m guilty, too.) But we suck at taking. In our culture, it’s seen as polite to refuse favors, offers, and help. It’s polite to not “be a bother” or “take advantage of someone’s kindness.” In essence, we perpetuate a sort of one-sided disingenuine generosity (ironic, right?).

I’ve always noticed a stark difference with Israeli culture. Israelis don’t offer something unless they meant it. And if someone “gives” an Israeli something, they’ll usually take it. The result in the context of the trail? Giving and taking bred so much human connection. Without exception, every time we “took” something we were offered we got to know a fascinating person, had an incredible conversation, or learned something new.

Least we like to admit, we are transactional beings. So, note to self: while giving is important, we also must take for connection to occur.

6 🌟 Most strangers are mostly good.

Along with the whole give-and-take thing, my experience on the trail reminded me that most strangers who appear kind, trustworthy, and well-intentioned really are. People on the trail (trail angles, bus drivers, other hikers, etc.) were unbelievable, and yet it still took me some time to trust that most strangers were mostly good.

Why? Probably my own pessimism and America’s “stranger danger” paranoia. In America, we’re taught that strangers don’t want to help. Strangers are unpredictable. Strangers are weird and dangerous. Strangers are, well, strange?! And yet, every friend I made or person who helped me along the way was at first a stranger. One after the next, most people ended up being mostly good, if not downright fabulous. It made me think about how different America (and the world) would be if we assumed the best of everybody.

The takeaway? Be a good stranger. And assume everyone else is being a good stranger, too.

🌟 Simplicity is queen.

Anything in life that requires you to carry all your possessions on your back will make you a minimalist. And, I’m not talking about today’s trendy and privileged millennial “minimalism” movement (although I’m admittedly part of that, too).

The result of legit minimalism? An intimate and nerdy knowledge of my gear and possessions…beyond that of any trek I had done before. An odd sense of pride and protection over my favorite things. An ironic realization that some of the “gear MVPs” were simple and mundane: extra socks used for cooking cozies, plastic bottles fashioned into map holders, etc. And, above all, a dramatic reduction in the number of choices I had to make each day (only one outfit to hike in, one spoon to use, one hat to wear…might write a gear list blog post…y/n? idk!).

I used to roll my eyes at Mark Zuckerberg and his grey t-shirts, but he has a point…minimalism frees up a lot of mental energy. On the trail, it provided me with the time and space to think about big life questions, to learn from other people, and to absorb the all-enveloping experience. Once again, I was taught that less really is enough.

8 🌟 Sometimes we just need someone to remind us to be brave.

I had some odd anxiety pop up on the trail. I was *petrified* of falling (residual PTSD from a severe 2015 ski fall/accident), even if the surface I was walking on was flat. This fear might sound normal…after all, who likes falling?! But the amount of emotional energy and focus required to navigate unstable surfaces (e.g., mud, shale, slippery rocks) was definitely not normal.

Admittedly, I was surprised by the extent of the whole thing and felt stupid at first. Weren’t there other things I should be (rationally) more worried about? Never the less, I couldn’t shake the anxiety. Eran’s patience with this (whether it was conscious or unconscious) was incredible. I never felt rushed, demeaned, or judged. He was usually silent, yet present and supportive. It was a quiet reminder that I was capable and I could be brave.

I thought a lot about this after I finished the trail… How 1) we have opportunities every day, all the time, to remind people that they can do things that might be scaring the shit out of them, and how 2) we must respect ourselves enough to surround ourselves with people who are emotionally safe. People who won’t coddle us or minimize us, but who will witness our vulnerabilities and anxieties without judgment. People who will gently remind us that we can be brave.

9 🌟 Take time to make time. 

While I covered a lot of ground in 52 days, one of the best lessons I learned was to slow down. I credit the Israelis for this, because it’s sure not part of the American hiking culture I’m used to (which is so go-go-go and mile/summit oriented). But on the trail, I quickly shed my American-ness and came to love the frequent coffee breaks, midday hour-long naps, delays at natural springs, and long stops at gorgeous views. It made everything, just better.

While Israel/Israelis can be intense (!!!), this relaxed philosophy (especially for the 20-30-year-old age group) extends beyond the trail and deep into Israeli culture. Spending so much time with young Israelis on the trail reminded me that the early 20s hysteria my friends and I have over career, prestige, and upward growth is so American (also, so tied to privilege). The real bummer? Our preoccupation with these things often means we miss the horizontal growth— the experiences and opportunities (like this one) that might not help us “climb the ladder,” but can make us kinder and wiser humans *before* we rise.

10 🌟 The trail provides.

It sounds cliche, and yet it rings so true.

The trail provided us with what we needed when we needed it— extra water when we were low, a cave when we were desperate for shade, a stranger with directions when we were lost, a lending library when we needed a new book, a hitch when we needed a ride, etc. Time after time, with a little patience, a little privilege, and a lot of luck, the dots always connected. 

The trail also provided us with things that we could have done without, but we’re so glad we didn’t have to— peaceful sunrises and sunsets, clear night skies freckled with stars, strangers that became friends, water in the desert, gas stations with popsicles, fresh fruit on trees, good weather on challenging days, visits from friends and family…this list is endless and cherished.

Finally, of course, the trail provided many lessons. And as I sit here processing it all, I must insist that normal life isn’t much unlike life on the trail (despite the obvious differences). It sounds woo-woo, but the world really does provide us what we need, when we need it. The things that are meant for us in life don’t pass us by. The world unfolds its wisdom around us. And, if we pay attention, what it provides might just make us a bit better than we were before.

a day on the trail

Hi wonderful people!

You might already know that I’m hiking a lot these days…like A LOT! Many of you have asked questions about the logistics of the trail & what I do each day.

While every day is so staggeringly different, here’s a glimpse into an average day on the trail thus far (though this all will change this week as I enter the desert!).

5:30 AM Phone alarm rings. I wake up (if I’m not already awake— sleeping in a new place every night doesn’t exactly equal great sleep) & wake up anyone around me who I’m hiking with for the day. One of us heats water for coffee & we all go about our morning routines in the dark. I take down clothes I hung up to dry the night before, gather my phone & Garmin (GPS/SOS device) chargers, fill my water bladder & bottles, & respond to texts I received while asleep. I put on my hiking clothes (a white sun shirt & either shorts or pants depending on the day) & someone heats another round of water for oatmeal. While we eat, we “consult Ya’acov” (review the trail maps & plan for the day— Ya’acov is the author of the trail’s guidebook).

6:45 am — If we’re staying with a family or trail angel & they’re awake, we say thank you. If we’re camping, then we pick up any trash & double check we didn’t forget anything. Then the shoes go on & off we go. Sometimes it takes us a few kilometers to get back to the trail from where we slept. Usually this first hour or so is silent, & the two or three or four of us (the hiking squad is constantly growing & shrinking) have our own little meditative moments as the sun rises. It’s awesome.

8:00 am — The sun is UP! We pull out sunscreen & pass it around. Hats, sunglasses, & sun gloves go on. Sometimes my trendy & functional sun umbrella goes up, too. We check back in with Ya’acov to make sure we’re on track (we usually have gotten lost at least once by now— eek).

9:00 am — The rest of Israel is awake. We start to figure out where we’re going to sleep that night, or plan ahead for a few nights ahead. Does one of us have friends or family near where we plan to stop? Do we want to find a trail angel (someone who opens up their home to hikers & often provides showers, laundry, & meals)? Is there a communal room at a kibbutz or pre-army academy that is open to hikers? Or, are we socially exhausted & craving more outdoor time & want to cowboy camp? We make calls, send texts, exchange voice memos, & tap into the extensive Israeli network as we hike. It never takes too long to find a friend of a friend, a generous stranger, or word of an epic campsite.

11:00 am — If we’re passing by a village or kibbutz, we stop quick to restock food. Tuna, coffee, tea, chocolate, tahini, sausage, rice, chips, oatmeal, cucumbers, gf crackers/bread & honey are my go-tos. Usually I throw in a popsicle (current favorite is pineapple coconut— like a mid morning piña colada!) to eat before we keep walking. If we’re not stopping for food, we at least try to refill water for the rest of the day.

1:00 pm — It’s Israel, it’s the Middle East, it’s effffinggggg boiling outside. By this point, sweat is in full force. I have practiced hot yoga for over a decade & this heat still puts me to shame— especially when it’s coupled with walking on concrete or sand (two surfaces that always seem to find us mid-day). We stop for two hours to recoup. I take off my shoes & socks & sweaty shirt to dry. Then lunch— the Israelis have trained me well over the past three years & I feel a strange sense of pride knowing I am fully satisfied by a lunch of canned tuna mixed with tahini on gf crackers/bread & sliced cucumber. So that’s what I do! Yum. Afterwards, I open up my sleeping pad & pass out for an hour. An hour nap mid-day is GOLD.

2:30 pm — My barista/navigator/hiking amigo (three-in-one) makes coffee (best part of hiking in Israel is the Israeli hikers are OBSESSED with their little coffee set thingys). I eat some chocolate (&/or honey), put on my shoes & my (hopefully dry) smelly shirt, reapply sunscreen (are you proud, Mom?), & we consult Ya’acov again.

3:00 pm — It’s cooled off a bit by now. We hike for another four or five hours. Sometimes new hikers join for a mile or two, & other hikers leave to catch public transport home or stop somewhere else for the day. We talk about all the big & little things— family, politics, religion, the army, travel, education, philosophy, etc. It’s unbelievable how well you can get to know people when you spend 24/7 with them— especially without screen time or the distraction of the outside world. It happens quick & it’s so exceptionally special.

6:00 pm — If we’re lucky there’s an evening breeze. No matter where we are, the sunset & the sky are reliably INCREDIBLE. I take off my hat, put up my hair, & roll up my sleeves. I’m usually exhausted by this point— especially if we’ve walked on any sand or asphalt during the day (the worst). It’s been six to nine hours of hot, exhausting movement w/ my pack on— so I tend to enter my “silly stage”, where everything is funny & goofy. This leads to singing & twisting hiking polls around like batons & making fun of each others’ accents & all sorts of random sh*t.

7:00 pm — Most nights we arrive to where we’ll sleep by dark…though sometimes we walk for a bit after sunset (not ideal), often along a highway (also not ideal & definitely the most dangerous part of the trail thus far). If we’re staying at a trail angel’s home, we all shower quickly (heaven!) & join the angel for a home cooked meal. If we’re staying at a pre-army academy, we are often served a meal from the dining hall & socialize with the kids. And, if we’re camping out, or sleeping in a kibbutz community building, then we fire up a caloric & mushy combination of rice, sausage, & tahini while talking with other hikers.

9:00 pm — I lay down to edit my photos from the day, check the day’s mileage, & write a short post. I am always shocked by all that happens in one day— so much life can be lived in 12 hrs on foot. It’s a fun challenge to condense the day to a few words. Then I decompress by writing in my personal journal (a faithful habit) & if I’m being responsible I stretch my legs, hips, & back (*if*).

9:30 pm — We consult Ya’acov on the next day’s miles. Do we need to plan ahead for water or food? Am I meeting someone somewhere along the way? Where will we find shade mid-day? I read Ya’acov in English & the Israelis read it in Hebrew & then we compare. Usually Ya’acov is more detailed & fun in the Hebrew version— c’mon Ya’acov!

10:30 pm — On a good night, I put in my ear plugs, set my alarm, & fall asleep around now. Does that mean I’m only sleeping 7ish hrs a night & walking 15-20 miles a day? Why yes. Somehow, yes. Usually a donkey or a cat or a centipede or a human or a text or a light infringes on these sacred 7 hrs, but it doesn’t really bother me…I still revel in the glory of laying horizontal— muscles relaxed, feet throbbing, & heart happy— ready to do it all again the next morning.

INT: the first 140-ish miles

Hi wonderful people! I get bored of formatting my blog posts the same way over & over, so for this first iteration of my Israel National Trail adventure, I’m going with a FAQ-style post. It feels self-promotional & a little ridiculous, but if the trail has taught me anything so far it’s that efficiency is QUEEN & repeating your story (& your steps, if you get lost!) can be exhausting. So there you have it. FAQ it is.

What the heck are you doing? Attempting to walk 600+ miles (1000+ km) north to south from the Lebanese-Israeli border to the Egyptian/Jordanian-Israeli border along the Israel National Trail (INT). I started in the north @ Kibbutz Dan & will end in the south in Eilat.

How long is this crazy thing going to take? Probably 45-60 days depending on how many rest days I take & how much I walk each day. Right now I’m averaging 15-20 miles per day, but not all those are “trail miles,” some are extra miles because I got lost, had to walk to & from town, or was tourista-ing at a stop along the way.

Won’t that be, like, really hard? The trail is no cakewalk & walking nearly a marathon each day is not easy, but it’s pretty remarkable what the human body can do. Ten days in & my “trail legs” are starting to come through for me, carrying me up & down valleys, ridges, mountains, etc. far more smoothly than they were a week ago. (Though not gonna lie, I’m taking a rest day today & it feels like I got hit by a truck).

Are you doing it alone? Kind of, but not really. I started the trail with Michelle, a 22-year-old American that reached out to me thru the INT online forum. We didn’t know each other before we began, but went up to Kibbutz Dan together & started the trail together. She only had time to hike for a week, so, unfortunately, our time together was short. Impossible to know who I’ll be hiking within a week (or month!) but there are so many good people on the trail & friends are made quickly. I feel so far from alone.

Where do you sleep? Most nights we stay at the home of a trail angel “מלאך” (a person who lives along the trail & opens up their homes to hikers “shvilistim”). Sometimes this means sleeping in their guest room, other times it means sleeping on the dead grass outside a kibbutz pub…but it seems to ALWAYS mean meeting incredible people. The generosity of strangers continues to awe & humble me.

What do you eat? Tuna, tahini, halva, dried fruit, nuts of every kind, rice crackers, (melted) chocolate, rice, oats, cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, peaches, SO much coffee & tea, & everything else we can find along the way (popsicles, pomegranates, mangos, wine, burgers, homemade meals from trail angels). Hiking 15-20 miles a day turns you into a food-consuming machine. I’m probably eating 3000-5000 calories a day & am still hungry. All. The. Time.

What does it look like? Check out photos on FB or Instagram. The north looks a lot like Napa/Sonoma/Los Altos Hills. Rolling vineyards, winding rivers, epic vistas, & small forests.

Are you safe? Contrary to the media’s portrayal of Israel, the state is as safe as can be. I always feel exponentially safer here than I ever do at home.

Best moments so far? Meeting & getting to know so many people (mostly Israelis), especially Michelle & Eran. Cruizing along the Lebanese border at sunset in a Jeep. Swimming in the Kinneret & ancient Roman springs after long days of hiking. Drinking coffee & watching the sunrise over the Kinneret. Taking an afternoon break at a winery on the trail. Experiencing the serendipitous, wonderful way that the problems I encounter on the trail work themselves out if I give them time & patience.

Not-so-great moments so far? Losing the trail in orchards. Reading the map wrong & having to back-track up steep sh*t we just climbed down. Sleeping in areas w/ tons of noise & light. Trash on the trail in urban areas.

What’s next? Right now I’m taking 24 hours to recuperate, sleep in my “own” bed at our family friend’s house in Ra’anana, get some psudo-parent time from Dorothy & Nim, celebrate Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) tonight with their family, swap out gear, do laundry (I smell like an elderly sheep or something disgusting), & put on a face mask (#bougie). Tomorrow I’ll head north to where I left the trail yesterday & continue hiking towards Haifa & the Mediterranean.

Anything else? Nope. Trail life is simple & wonderful & consists of endless days of being fully present, exhausted, frustrated, joyful, hungry, & fulfilled. Onward to the next 100 miles!

XO Cass

P.S. Photos can be found on FB & Instagram. I’m available via my Israeli # on iMessage & my American # on WhatsApp. If you’d like my Garmin link to track my hiking each day, reach out & send you it.

 

 

top 10 moments: a SUMMER-y

The days are long, but the months are short! Somehow I survived 2.5 months in the Davis heat (thanks to the pool, ice packs, & an absurd amount of coconut water) & snuck in a few extra special summer moments. Here are the top 10:

  1. Fourth of July: This year was the 40th annual Ray Avenue block party! Wow. It was a reliably good time celebrating w/ games, dogs, ALL the food, and the best family and friends. We’re so dang lucky.
  2. Darla: Two weeks of house sitting & dog sitting Darla in Alameda. Lots of fur, cuddling, walking along the waterfront, and bonding time with Darla, who I affectionately came to call “Honeybee.”
  3. Angel Island: FINALLY checked this Bay Area classic off the bucket list in July with friends. A quick ride from Tiburon on a Sunday afternoon + a few hours of walking around abandoned buildings & island bluffs = a HIGHLY recommended adventure. Next time we’re backpacking overnight!
  4. Minnesota: After 5 years, Maggie, Jack, Katie, Christian, & I all managed to coordinate a Minnesota weekend at Christian’s grandparents’ lake house in Pequot Lakes. We ate like kings & queens, flipped thru old yearbooks, squished into one bed to watch Insta stories together, and bickered like kindergarteners. The best.
  5. Montecito Sequoia Family Camp: We visited my art-director sister, Hannah (or “Mae” if you’re in NYC, or “River” if you’re at Camp…we just call her “HMR” these days) for a week in Sequoia National Park. I hiked a sh*t ton of miles, swam in lots of lakes, ate my weight in delicious camp food, and enjoyed the always glorious mountain air.
  6. Everything Davis: My love letter to Davis would be a mile long. Needless to say, summer was hot but SO darn fun. Weekdays were spent working for the UC Davis Policy Institute. Evenings were spent cooling off at the pool, walking around the grocery store, slacklining in the park, picnicking at the Farmers’ Markets, and sitting in the unairconditioned apartment in our underwear w/ a rotating circuit of ice packs from the freezer. It took strong doses of humor & friendship to get thru the heat. Luckily I’m blessed with a surplus of both.
  7. Fam Bam: A surprise visit from cousin David (from London/NYC) & a months-long stay from Tham & my Uncle Stephen (from Vietnam) were the perfect accents to family meals & outings.
  8. SF w/ Emma & Clara: Managed to get a little “BFF-triangle” (new favorite term) time in last weekend in SF. Five years after meeting on freshman move-in day, we’re still a goofy, witty, best-of-friends trio.
  9. Hiking: ALL the flippin’ hiking…more Berryessa & Windy Hill trips than I can count, interspersed adventures in Jenner, Point Reyes, Folsom & the Sequoias. I’m repeatedly enamored with the beauty of our home.
  10. Nasvhille: Rounded out the summer w/ a trip to see my Israel friend Mimi (1/2 way thru her Jewish Studies Masters at Vanderbilt) in Nashville. We ate a lot, yoga-ed a lot, & laid on the floor talking A LOT. Time w/ her is so good for the soul (especially good prep for my return to the holy land!).

What now? 72 hrs of recouping at home before heading to Israel (!!!) for a few months. I’ll spend the first 2 weeks bopping around (my friend Kia is visiting for 10 days) before throwing on a backpack & some sturdy shoes in an attempt to walk 1000km, north to south along the Israel National Trail (Lebanese/Syrian border to Egyptian/Jordanian border).

I’ll be posting spontaneous, infrequent blog updates on all the trail hoopla. If you want to follow along, click “Follow” in the bottom right-hand corner of this window.

Sending love to all you fabulous humans & best wishes for a fruitful, fun, fabulous fall season. XO Cass

…and she’s done!

After five years and hundreds of hours of work (and fun!), it’s over. Done. Finito. נעשה.

Yesterday, I graduated from UC Davis with a BS in Sustainable Environmental Design and minors in Jewish Studies and Professional Writing. And while I have gained a degree, the diploma itself pales in comparison to everything else I’ve experienced: the challenges that have changed me, the people who have supported me, the big ideas and little moments that have made me more “me.”

Here I am, on the other side, feeling privileged, relieved, excited, confused, and damn NOSTALGIC! Below, in brevity, are the best moments: the things and people that make my heart sing.

YEAR 1: Moved into the Tercero “cow” dorms. Met Emma and Clara who lived next door and let me sleep on their floor after my roommate drama. Met Kia serendipitously in an elevator. Immediately decided to be besties. Studied bio, slept 12 hrs a night (not a normal freshman), and ate A LOT of chocolate chip cookies and rice. Experienced the famous “butt cut” (sliced my butt open while skiing) and eff-d up my hip joint. Dropped out of school for the rest of the year and raised two ducks (April and May)!

YEAR 2: Lived on Brown Drive in a janky house with five girls and two boys (Maggie + the flippin’ BEST squad). Took random classes that were awesome (like the one where we milked cows for our lab final). Briefly did triathlon team. Worked for the Graduate School of Education. Hiked a lot. Yoga-ed a lot. Applied to go abroad. Took a leap and switched my major to Sustainable Environmental Design the final week of spring quarter.

YEAR 3: Spent 11.5 months studying and living in the middle of the Israeli desert. Met more best friends (Mimi, Maya, Hannah, Felice!). Suffered thru learning Hebrew. Ate an obscene amount of tahini. Got yelled at (and loved) by a lot by Israelis. Yelled at some Israelis myself. Studied transboundary water conflicts and Jewish stuff. Added a Jewish Studies minor. Traveled to 10 other countries (ridiculously privileged). Survived four months abroad without a phone (sorry, Mom). Came home wittier, blunter, more loving, more humble, and more Jew-ish than ever.

YEAR 4: Lived downtown with Danna in the best apartment ever. Worked as a peer advisor at UC Davis Study Abroad with fantastic humans. Wrote a lot. Added a Professional Writing minor. Fell in love with copy editing. Took a boatload of sustainable design classes. Formed a fantastic community in Hunt Hall during the exhaustive hours of design projects. Missed Israel every. single. day. (So I went back for a hot sec).

YEAR 5: Lived downtown with Kia (finally!) in the same apartment. Worked for the UC Davis Policy Institute (read a lot, wrote a lot). Mentored students in my major. Completed a Wilderness First Responder course and a 200 hr Yoga Teacher Training. Did design projects up-the-wazooooo: Portland beaver habitat restoration, UC Davis Student Farm Production & Learning Facility, tiny homes community, etc. Met the greatest friends and designers who put up with me thru all the work (shout out to my three-quarter-long best-project-partner-ever, Abraham). Was supported by incredible staff, faculty, and family. Graduated!

FUTURE: Working for the UC Davis Policy Institute thru the summer. Praying I survive the heat with help from an office with A/C and friends with pools (SOS). Moving out in September and headed to Israel to hike the Israeli National Trail for two months (stay tuned for blog posts, or just come hike with me!). Will be back in November…and then???!

Looking back on college with the biggest smile. Looking forward to the future with the same. I love you all. Onwards and upwards!