thankful (a list)

I ❤ making lists. Sure, I love making long to-do lists to feel the joy of crossing things off (is this not a universal human satisfaction?!). But I also find comfort in making lists of things I’m anxious about, or what I’ve learned from xyz scenario, or moments I’m excited for, or topics I wish I knew more about. Perhaps someday I’ll make a list of why I love lists 😉 .

For now, though, I’ll just share an unedited, stream-of-consciousness list I wrote in honor of Thanksgiving. 2020 has been such a doozy. In the words of my wise mother, “Let’s not forget to count up the good things, too.”

In 2020, I’ve found myself thankful for…

  1. the humor that gets me thru the hard days
  2. clear, clean skies after wildfires
  3. COVID testing
  4. masks, gloves, PPE
  5. front-line workers
  6. books (Know My Name, A Gentleman in Moscow)
  7. FaceTime, GVC, technology to support us
  8. my health. really, more than ever before.
  9. the oldest, truest friends
  10. the colors pink and olive and blue
  11. access to healthcare
  12. clean, safe water
  13. a sturdy, reliable home
  14. employment 
  15. new coworkers
  16. women-of-waymo/x
  17. mentorship from wise folks
  18. mint tea
  19. toast and apricot jam 
  20. my strong body
  21. yoga, meditation, all of the things
  22. podcasts (On Being, Becoming Wise)
  23. the sound of wind in leaves
  24. the smell of laundry detergent (calming)
  25. people who believe in me
  26. grandparents 
  27. sisterhood 
  28. travel despite corona (OR, WA, IL, HI)
  29. brave voices + mvmts for equality
  30. simplified schedules (how did I ever do so much?)
  31. soft, forgiving clothes
  32. second chances
  33. opportunities to grow into being more me
  34. community…despite + in spite of COVID
  35. acts of remembrance
  36. fresh starts
  37. standing desk
  38. good ear plugs
  39. long hikes
  40. proximity to the ocean
  41. “thinking of you” texts
  42. liberal uses of “I love you”
  43. all the things that didn’t happen
  44. the kindness of strangers
  45. the things that fell thru
  46. financial stability
  47. more books (Four Agreements) + bookclubs
  48. long-distance friendship
  49. ice cream (tgod that exists) 
  50. a backyard
  51. a quiet space of my own to work
  52. Netflix 
  53. comedy shows (TY, Trevor Noah)
  54. JBiden and KHarris…big time
  55. and their families ^
  56. new neighborhood acquaintances
  57. dogs. dogs. dogs. 
  58. time in nature
  59. sky blue pink
  60. cameras + photos + videos
  61. journalists + freedom of the press
  62. tortilla chips (yum.)
  63. my relationships
  64. the shattering of perceived timelines
  65. people who are patient with me
  66. all my mental tools
  67. winter where it’s warm
  68. backpacking. alpine lakes.
  69. new cities. old friends. a new tattoo.
  70. holiday at the lake. forever friends.
  71. cousin time. road trips. PNW.
  72. time, resources, privilege to keep learning
  73. activism, freedom of speech + demonstration
  74. the places we return to that don’t change
  75. and those that do
  76. linen 
  77. no shoes while working (since March!)
  78. pesto. ya. so yum.
  79. siblings + siblings-of-circumstance
  80. working with brilliant, kind people
  81. Instagram (love/hate. but love.)
  82. people who tell me when I’m wrong
  83. my height (weird. but true.)
  84. Anthony FLIPPIN Fauci 
  85. dinners outside with friends
  86. strong local gvt 
  87. serendipity
  88. chances to change my mind
  89. journaling + writing
  90. big, fun earrings
  91. my parents’ generosity + love
  92. social services (the mail, garbage)
  93. libraries
  94. Amazon Prime (JBezos, I don’t like u, but…)
  95. models of vulnerability
  96. music
  97. friends that are family
  98. the growth that sprouts from grief
  99. opportunities to share + receive
  100. the twisted blessing of experiencing this year. history. this moment in time.

Of course, after I wrote this list in my journal, additions came to mind. Namely: our military and veterans, planes and cars and bridges (can you imagine a world without them?), museums, [mostly] reliable WiFi, firefighters, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, National Parks and State Parks and ALL the outdoor spaces.

west for the winter

If you told me last November that right now I’d be living in Hawaii, with my grandma as my sole roommate, working remotely for a tech company, in the middle of a global pandemic…well, I wouldn’t have believed you.

But, by April of this year, if you told me the same thing…well, I probably would have believed you. Allow me to explain.

This spring, my traditional “plan ahead” mentality came up rough against the unpredictability of COVID and our rearranged world. At first I thought I could still plan six months in advance. But soon the gravity of this thing set in. I readjusted my planning-perspective to two months out. Next time I looked up, the world was flat on its back. My timeline became one month out. Then, three weeks. By August, I couldn’t think more than a few days ahead. While not totally dissipated, my “plan ahead” mentality had been beaten into the Earth by reality. And my willingness (dare I say enjoyment) for continued spontaneity had shot through the roof.

So when, in early October, Grandma and I were sitting by the ocean in Santa Cruz and she threw out the idea of “going to Hawaii for the winter,” it didn’t sound as unreasonable or impossible to me as it would have a year ago. Nor did it sound too last minute to me, as it may have at the beginning of this whole pandemic-hoopla. In fact, it sounded totally reasonable, possible, and right-on-time.

(Literally the day/time/place we cooked up this plan, sitting on West Cliff in Santa Cruz.)

Within the span of a few weeks, we’d purchased out-bound flights for the first week of November and found a condo on the Big Island to rent through the end of January. My sister and Grandma coerced a way for her to take care of Grandma’s dog Sugar while we were gone. And I subtly informed my bosses that I’d still be working PDT hours – but from the Hawaii time zone for a few months. (Conversations which I navigated with the utmost humility. After all, “I’m going to live with my grandma in Hawaii for a few months” comes-off differently than “I’m going to live with my grandma in Boston/Denver/Minneapolis for a few months”)

After sorting out the logistics of dogs and work (two of the most important things in life, I’ll note), there was little additional coordination required for our westward migration. Part, in thanks to COVID’s radical simplification of our lives, and part as a result of the life stages that Grandma and I are both at. Me: without a dog, spouse, children, lease or mortgage…and with a currently-remote job. Grandma: without a spouse or children relying on her (if anything, she’s relying on the grandchild, a’hem, *me* here 😉 )…and with the forced-flexibility of all her social engagements already moved to Zoom (Mahjong, chair yoga, women’s group, *multiple* book clubs, film club…the list continues).

The only real logistical hassle to navigate was getting onto Hawaii itself. The islands opened to visitors in mid-October, requiring double-testing and proof of negative results to bypass the previous 14 day quarantine that had kept non-residents out since the spring. This involved us scrambling to get a rapid-test from an approved provider (and receive proof of negative results) within 72 hours before departing the mainland. Then, we were rapidly re-tested when we arrived at the airport in Kona before being “released” onto the island. I’ll spare the additional details, but it was an interesting experience to go through. I’m especially curious if it’s a model for how travel could begin to safely open up in certain areas pre-vaccine (e.g. other islands, or countries with tightly controlled borders, like Israel).

(Waiting for rapid re-testing at the Kona Airport.)

Anyways, we arrived November 4th, mid-election (as we all know, we couldn’t say we were “post-election” at that point) and settled right back in. “Back in” because my aunt and uncle lived in Kona in the early 2000s, and so my grandparents spent the good portion of many winters here with them. And, to my good fortune, when Hannah and I were little, my parents would pull us out of school for weeks at a time to join in the fun.

Thus, being in Kona now as a “temporary-resident” really does feel like revisiting an old home. Grandma and I swim at the same beaches after work that I played at as a child, wander the aisles of the same Walmart looking for snacks, smell the same aromas (read: dead fish) at the local harbor…there is comfort in this full circle.

(Surf check at one of our favorite local spots – Turtle Beach.)

As we’ve settled in, Grandma and I have quickly developed the most wonderful, basic weekday routine.

  • 530am – I get up an hour before work to read (yes, I wake up at an absurd hour to read!) and journal. Grandma is usually still sleeping (precious!).
  • 7am – I starts work and desperately try to hide I’m in Hawaii so that coworkers don’t feel jealous (tank tops and the reflection of palm trees in the windows behind me on video calls make this challenging). Grandma makes coffee, checks her email, announces to me the news of the day (“more COVID here, more COVID there, Trump is an idiot”).
  • 10am – I take a break (it’s 12pm in California) and walk down to the harbor and back up to the condo, which is followed by sweating, which is followed by a cold shower, which is followed by returning to work. Grandma has usually had at least one Zoom call already.
  • 3pm – I wrap up work. Grandma and I decide which local beach to go to, depending on if we want to 1) snorkel, or 2) “bob” (in the waves). We drive down to the beach of choice, get in the water, and forget the world at large. Bliss.
  • 430pm – I rinse off the salt water, swap my swimsuit for my workout clothes, and walk home. Grandma drives.
  • 6pm – Dinner. It usually looks like a “dorm-room” dinner (eggs, veggies, rice, random left overs). We sit out on the lanai in the dark (lights exist, but neither of us like light…good partnership there!) and look at the stars. Grandma casually drops treasure troves of never-before-heard family lore onto me, and I concentrate really hard to remember it all so I can write it down later.
  • 7pm – We turn on Gilmore Girls. We’re rewatching it together. It’s basically the best thing ever. Just as cute a scenario as you could imagine.
  • 845pm – I’m zonked. I journal, read, and go to sleep. Grandma stays awake, listens to her radio, makes a midnight snack, and semi-sleeps (the way, apparently, all old people seem to do!).

On weekends we sleep in (so like 7am?) and read a shit-ton (right now I’m reading To the End of the Land, The Great Believers, and Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History…classic Cass combo). We go to beaches outside of Kona, and grocery shop for the week (some epic farmers markets), and Grandma shares more family lore. We are also taking a weekly online course together, from a professor I had while I was studying in Israel about non-Jewish communities in Israel. “Inter-generational learning” the professor calls it. Pretty rad.

This is all to say that going west for the winter (turns out you can even say that coming from California and have it mean something) has been splendid so far. Of course, it is a privilege beyond measure to be safe and healthy AND in paradise while the world-at-large aches in so many ways. This situation has left me oscillating between complex emotions of guilt and gratitude, but I am trying to seat myself in the latter rather than the former state of mind.

Each day here feels like another deep, soothing exhale after such a tragic last 11 months (personally and globally). And for that I am deeply grateful. Recently, I’ve felt as though I’ve aged a decade just since January. I haven’t asked Grandma, but I think she feels the same. So, here’s to the next few months of winter, “west of the West” – may this time add back a few years of youth for the both of us.

the trail provides

This time last year, I was backpacking the Israel National Trail, a ~ 700 mile hiking trail that stretches from Israel’s northern border with Lebanon to its southern border with the Red Sea (it’s like the Pacific Crest Trail of the Middle East…with a few more camels and a lot more hummus).

It took me 52 days to complete the trail from tip to tail. Each day, I’d hike 15 to 25 miles in the autumn heat, sweat a sh*t ton, drink > 6L of water, consume an unbelievable number of calories, and try my very best not to get sunburned.

Along the way, I made incredible friends, traipsed through stunning landscapes, and marveled at the strength of my human body. Hiking the trail was fun, and a huge privilege…it was also just as grimy, exhausting, and hard (like, really hard) as it sounds.

I’ve thought a lot about “the trail” in the year since completing it. Like most of life’s intense and impactful experiences, I’m still metaphorically “unpacking my backpack” from it all these months later. Especially mid-pandemic, I’ve found myself recalling specific days from the trail more frequently and with a new clarity. Many of these memories parallel, metaphorically, the challenges we face mid-pandemic. And so I draw from them a sense of strength and wisdom that supports me in our new reality.

There’s one specific, taxing, beautiful “trail” day I think about most frequently: Day 46. We (my Israeli hiking partner, Eran, and I) were deep in Israel’s Negev desert. We hadn’t had hit a village rest stop in days, which meant we were exceptionally stinky, down to our final food rations (crushed up chips for breakfast, anyone?), thoroughly depleted of energy after six weeks non-stop on the trail, and hadn’t seen any other humans for…a while. (The great expanse of the desert was certainly not quarantine, but we were isolated with each other. And, this far into 2020, we all know how that can be! 😉

On the morning of Day 46, we packed up camp before dawn to beat the heat and hiked south through a wide canyon. These morning hours were always my favorite…the desert breeze felt cool and dry, the little birdies were chirping in acacia trees, my morning coffee was hitting my system, and a full day of adventure was ahead. As we hiked, I pulled out my phone to document the moment, and flipped the camera to selfie mode…ouch, I thought, I look exceptionally exhausted.

As the sun continued to rise, hundreds of flies began to swarm around us. I’m not sure if it was the pungent smell of our stinkiness or food, or just genuine interest, but they would. not. let. up. We hiked for miles on end with hoards of them in our faces and on our backpacks — not dangerous, but relentlessly annoying. I took lots of deep breaths, channelled all my yoga-namaste-breath-thru-it mindfulness, and “accepted the suck.” This is minor, I reminded myself, and I am fine.

Eventually the canyon narrowed. As we climbed up it, we discovered deep, seasonal water pools. “Let’s just boulder up along the canyon walls and climb around them,” Eran suggested. Uh…couldn’t we just wade through them? I felt a bolt of anxiety – intensified by my exhaustion – shoot through me. Falling in would be inconvenient at best and dangerous at worst.

I tossed a rock in the water to judge depth and struggled to hear it land. Fine, bouldering it is. I followed Eran’s lead, my palms sweaty on the rocks, gravity pulling my heavy backpack and me away from the wall as I clung towards it. Mind over matter.

An hour later, we had made our way out of the canyon and up to the exposed desert plain above. I took out my phone to take a picture of the plain and it was on selfie mode still…I look both relieved and pissed.

By this time it was midday. Normally, at lunch, we would find shade to stop, eat, and nap. But getting through the canyon took longer than expected, and we needed to get to our endpoint by darkness that evening. So we overrode our bodies’ request for rest, and hiked on in the oppressive heat. It felt like Mars.

I ate what was left of my mushy trail mix, and tried to move a little faster in front of Eran to create some space. I was feeling expended, and thus beginning to be overwhelmed by the small things. And as we all know by now, a preventative buffer on hard days = a good idea.

After a few hours, the trail began to slope downwards. We reached a second canyon. I hadn’t noticed this on the map, and my chest tightened. Really, again? There’s better not be water.

Of course, there was water. This time with a series of ladders and ropes previous hikers had attached to the rock to “ease” the scrambling.

Eran went first. I peered over the edge. “Wait,” I called down to him, “but I won’t be able to see the rest of the ladder until I climb over the ledge! I’m not sure how to feel about this…”

He called back up at me, “Well, you don’t have to know how to feel about it. But you do have to come down here for us to get out of the canyon.”

I stalled to take a picture, “ugghhhh…this is really uncomfortable. I want to know what it’s all going to look like before I do it.”

With all the tough love in the world he responded, “Unfortunately, that’s not an option, Cass.”

I stood there at the top, fully depleted. From sun, from miles, from sub-par-nourishment, and from the past 45 days of hiking. Every day of the trail had held enormous challenge of one kind or another – physical, mental, logistical, emotional…but for some reason, the six weeks of hiking prior felt like it crescendoed there. On Day 46. In that moment.

At my wits end, I silently protested: I know discomfort breeds growth. But can’t I be done growing for today? Like, isn’t this enough growth for now?

Eran called up to me again. I sighed, what’s one more thing at this point? I overrode my thoughts, and got my butt down the ladder.

The “best” part, of course, was that after a few more of these ladders, we came to a truly impassable pool. We actually tried to send our packs across it on a rope, which snapped. Then we attempted to swim across it with the packs over our heads, but it was too wide. We realized we’d have to retrace our way up the ladders, of the canyon, and find a different route.

I looked at our water bottles. Near empty. I looked at the sky. Near sunset. We wouldn’t get to our endpoint (where we had bottles of water cached for us) before dark. We’d need to stop for the night miles before that, which meant we’d need to filter this water. I shook my head, realizing the irony of the situation: this water had slowed us down and challenged us all day, and now it was going to provide us sustenance through the night. We filled our bottles with the murky, silty green water, dropped in chlorine tablets, climbed back up the ladders, and returned to the desert plain.

As we navigated the alternative route, the sun sunk behind the Jordanian mountains in the distance. We played with the acoustics of the canyon – calling back and forth to each other to hear our voices echo. And as the sky became lavender, I felt a wave of relief wash over me. Suddenly, I was crying and beaming. Sunscreen and sweat ran down my cheeks.

“Wait, I gotta stop and snap-shot this moment,” I said to Eran. I paused, pulled out my phone, and took a selfie. My face, tanned by weeks in the desert sun. My hair, oily and matted in a bun atop my head. My backpack, grimy and heavy on my shoulders.

I snapped the photo, and we continued down the trail as I cried silently. At the time, I couldn’t fully process why those tears kept coming. Was it relief? Exhaustion? A mix of everything?

It wasn’t until many months later, in fact, as I was sitting at home mid-way into the pandemic, that I realized those tears were signs of growing pains. They were tears of expansion and adaptation and stretching beyond limits day after day after day. They were the break after the crescendo. They were evidence that I had leveled up, that I could tolerate and process more than I used to be able to.

Sitting here now, a year later and eight months into the pandemic, I see all the parallels and metaphors Day 46 and our present. I try to remind myself that these current moments ache so much and so often because I’m being forced to grow at a rapid rate. Moment after moment. Day after day. Without a break. Even (especially) when I don’t want to, even (especially) when I feel like there. can’t. possibly. be. more.

I remind myself that I’m in it. That the epiphanies and connections and silver linings and hindsight will not come until much later. But for now, here I am.

So I’m begging you, gently and persistently, to join me in reminding yourself, too, that this feeling? This is what growing feels like.

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…!

IMG_2346

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.