1 year, 100 books, and a love letter to literature

I swear I am normal. I have a full-time job. I go do things on weekends. I don’t decline social engagements for the sake of reading. And yet in January 2021, as I stared down year two of the pandemic, a repeat of last year’s 52 books in 52 weeks just didn’t seem to cut it. I dared myself to up the ante.

For 2021, the goal became 100 books.

Below, in brevity: how I managed to select 100 books that I actually liked enough to read in full, what I learned along the way, what I loved along the way, a few “superlatives” for my favorite reads.

How I Selected Books

1. I chose books that let me travel. With the pandemic still ranging, I turned to literature to appease my nagging travel bug. From Haiti to Israel to Spain to Russia to Burma and onwards, books both returned me to places I love and dropped me in landscapes and lands I doubt I’ll ever get to visit. No Covid testing, TSA, or lost luggage necessary.

2. I chose books aligned with my “Jewish Journey”. In March, I began the formal Jewish conversion process with an incredible rabbi and local community (I’m averse to the word conversion – because I’m not converting from anything, hence I’m using “journey” until I find a word I like better). The process is delightfully heavy on reading, which is reflected in the books I chose this year.

3. I chose books that I’d read before. Re-reads hold a sense of comfort that I desperately needed in this year’s wild world. I revisited a beloved WWII coming of age story set in Leningrad, recaptured the wisdom of a Stanford doctor turned patient and returned to an adventurous story about recovering an ancient, holy manuscript.

4. I chose books by author. Well, duh, you might say. But not so quick. A good chunk of my reading this year was dedicated to the works of a select group of authors I love (including Elie Wiesel, Matti Friedman, and Amos Oz). Reading these authors’ books back to back to back was deeply gratifying and left me with lots to ponder as a writer and thinker. Can you tell I’m gearing up for that some-day-book I’ll write? 😉

5. I chose books on topics I felt a duty to know more about. This year, I tried my best to shine a flashlight on topics that are just plain important. The history of Syria. The human mind on opioids. The science of burnout. The housing crisis in America. The perils of menstrual justice across the world. The war in Afghanistan. The list goes on and on. I am thankful to end the year knowing more.

What I Learned

  • 100 books is a lot.
  • Doing a little bit at a time, over a long time, can get me where I want to be.
  • Libraries are sacred treasures. (Like super duper sacred.)
  • Reading on screens is still not for me. Sorry Kindle.
  • The more I read, the more creative I feel.

What I Loved

  • Always having a story on hand.
  • Feeling superbly qualified to provide book suggestions when asked.
  • Reading well-worn library books and noticing which pages readers dogeared as their favorites.
  • Talking with people I love about books they love.
  • The focus and sense of accomplishment this challenge provided in a year that was so nutty.

SUPERLATIVES: Best Books I Read in 2021

The one I’ll read over and over again — When Breath Becomes Air (Paul Kalanithi)

The personal mindset changer — Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know (Adam Grant)

The best graphic novel — Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations (Mira Jacobs)

The one we all need to read — Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times (Jonathan Sacks)

The most memorable memoir — Between Two Kingdoms: Memoir of a Life Interrupted (Suleika Jaouad) 

The one I’ve always loved and will forever love — City of Thieves (David Benioff)

The heartiest adventure — Pumpkinflowers: A Soldier’s Story of a Forgotten War (Matti Friedman)

The one that was small but mighty — Period. End of Sentence.: A New Chapter in the Fight for Menstrual Justice (Anita Diamant)

The strongest multi-national story — Family Papers: A Sephardic Journey Through the Twentieth Century (Sarah Abrevaya Stein)

The funniest – A Very Punchable Face (Colin Jost)

The most moving historical account — The Jews of Silence (Elie Wiesel)

And What’s Next?

As for 2022, I think a more modest goal is in order — 50 books sounds quaint.

I’ll close with a poem written by a high school classmate of mine named Katherine Liu. I first read this piece while peer-editing poetry in an AP English (10 years ago now!). I remember thinking “this expresses what reading is to me.” Katherine gave me permission to keep a copy of it. I revisit it often. It is magic.

me & the family of things

On one particularly warm morning early this year, I drove north along Queen Ka’ahumanu highway towards Kiholo Bay, a seasonal Hawaiian home for humpback whales. I arrived at Kiholo before the sun rose over Mauna Kea, but signs of the world waking were already multiplying by the minute: birds squawking in the trees; mongeese anxiously darting in and out of the brush; sleepy, tanned people emerging from tents at the beachside campground; and whales surfacing at the edge of the bay.

Whales. Whales were the reason I was there, and three of them seemed to greet me from a distance – perhaps a mile offshore – with tiny pinpricks of breath and spray popping above the gentle line where sea met sky. I smiled, excited that I spotted the whales so quickly, and turned my attention to finding Jeffory (who would be my whale guide for the morning) in the campground.

A few weeks earlier, while at Two Step (a Big Island snorkel / dive spot), my grandma and I had met Jeffory, a local who splits his time between Europe and Hawaii. Jeffory had a long career in environmental work and now runs a small nature excursions company with his partner Elisabeth. They lead all sorts of trips – perhaps the most special among them being whale adventures. When we met Jeffory at Two Step, he had mentioned that the seasonal humpbacks would be arriving soon, and if I was interested, he would be willing to take me out in a kayak to spend a morning with them above (and potentially below) the water. Jeffory said that the whales’ behavior patterns were difficult to predict, and their presence in any specific location was impossible to guarantee, but asked me to give him a call in early January and we’d give it a shot at the best place he knew – Kiholo Bay. 

And so I did, and here I was: at Kiholo Bay on an early January morning. I found Jeffory at a picnic table along the bay. He and I spent a few minutes organizing gear – snorkels, fins, kayak pedal drives, water, snacks, hats, GoPro, etc, before walking down to the water to load the double-kayak in the water.

Once in the kayak and past the shore break, we paused for a moment. Jeffory said a short blessing: for our safety on the water, for the openness of whales to come towards us, and for the gift of the ocean and Earth (it was beautiful and really just amazing). Then we were off, paddling away, away, away from shore and towards the whales lingering outside the wide mouth of the bay (2 miles wide, Kiholo is the second largest bay on the Big Island).

My sense of time was entirely distorted on the water, but it must have taken 45 minutes to reach near where we had seen the whales from shore. Once outside the bay, I felt especially small compared to the ocean swells – calm but substantial – that raised the kayak up and down. We paddled quietly, beholden to the rhythm of the swells, waiting for a glimpse of the whales surfacing. 

One of the strangest aspects of the experience – which I noticed immediately – was that from above the ocean surface, it’s nearly impossible to tell if a whale is twenty feet or two hundred meters away from you. Their only give-away is breaking the surface (the whoosh of a breath or the splash of a breech) or the eerie calm, stagnant top layer of water left after they dive (somewhat of a vacuum effect). They are silent, elegant, and simply surprising.

We paused paddling to sit and wait to relocate them. I searched the water at incremental distances, radiating outward from the kayak: 20 meters, 50 meters, 100 meters. The minutes ticked by. But no sooner had I given up and anxiously decided that the whales must be right below us, did I hear a faint whoosh in the distance. About 100 meters south one, two, three whales surfaced, headed back towards the mouth of the bay. 

My initial instinct was to pedal toward them, but Jeffory quickly explained why that was a lost cause: 1) the whales are far faster than the kayak, and they would go and do as they please – in effect, they had to want to come near the humans for them to be near the humans; 2) if we aimed for where the whales “were” we wouldn’t be able to meet them where they were “going to be” (duh, I realized later: physics, interception points, and such). So what did we do? We paddled slightly southwest in the direction they were headed, towards the mouth of the bay and then waited again, patiently, as the sun rose over Mauna Kea.

Only a few minutes later the whales reappeared, much closer this time: a momma, a few-day-old baby, and an “escort” (sort of a protector whale that keeps an eye on the pair). Their smooth backs glided along the surface, the heave of their breath cracking the still air, tiny barnacles scattered like stars along their school-bus-sized bodies. I sat in awe. Jeffory queued me to put on my snorkel, mask, and fins. If the whales decided to come closer, we’d be able to slip into the water and swim with them from a safe (but remarkably intimate) distance.

We kept moving, and settled into a rhythm in the kayak: paddle, wait, observe, paddle, wait, observe. Intermittently, Jeffory would gently slip off the kayak, under the water, to hear if the whales were singing. The whales continued to come closer and closer to us. I wondered: are they curious and trusting, or simply oblivious? (I highly doubted the latter, but it did cross my mind). Soon they were among us. Or, more accurately: we were among them. 

From the water, Jeffory signaled me to quietly slide off the kayak. The water was deep – we were far off the edge of the reef – and impeccably clear. I adjusted my mask and looked straight ahead. In front of me, headed directly towards me, were the whales: the momma positioned with the baby above her back, closer to the surface; the escort far below the momma, just a shadow in the depths. They moved towards us, dead on, so close I could have reached them in a few strokes, then cut a turn alongside us as if to nod us hello. 

It’s taken me months to process that first moment in the water with them: their power, their wonder, their sacredness. Mostly I remember how time froze, how in awe I was, and how deeply humbled I was by their scale and movement. I have always loved Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese,” which closes with the lines “the world offers itself to your imagination / calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting / over and over announcing your place / in the family of things.” But it wasn’t until meeting the eye gaze of the momma whale – for real! – that I understood in my body what being part of the family of things meant.

No sooner did the moment come than did it pass. Within a few minutes we could no longer see the whales below the surface. We pulled ourselves back into the kayak and returned to our rhythm of paddle, wait, observe. We did slip in the water a few more times with them, each different experiences at different distances, but nothing quite compared to that initial encounter. 

Once the water got siltier and visibility dropped, we stuck to our vantage point in the kayak, and followed them (or they followed us) across the length of the bay’s opening. We tag teamed with them for hours as they cruised past us, dove under us, and doubled back on us. For Jeffory, who would spend the rest of the winter season visiting this group of whales, these hours were (quite literally) a foundational relationship exercise with the highly intelligent creatures.

Late in the morning, we neared the north end of the bay’s opening. The whales surfaced a few times more and then, as if as content with the extent of the experience as we were, deliberately turned due west and charted out towards sea. 

In the moment, I was left with the raw emotion of the experience and a calm paddle back to shore. In the weeks and months to come, though, I found myself left with so much more: an experience with nature that was so serene and powerful it had imprinted on my consciousness…a memory that I return to frequently in the hustle and bustle of everyday life…and a reminder that as much as we humans have pulled away from the animal kingdom, there are still moments we can find ourselves fully enveloped in the family of things.

memories of island life

At the end of January, I wrapped up my three-month winter work-from-Hawaii (WFH?) adventure, and I headed back to the mainland. Since then, my tan has faded, my sun-bleached hair has darkened, my carefree island mindset has shifted, and my wardrobe has taken a drastic 180 degree turn from swimsuits to sweaters. I’ve regressed to winter-in-California-Cassidy. And while this has its own advantages, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t daydream about the endless goodness of island life.

Below, some moments, routines, and beauties of the experience that, with deep appreciation, will burn bright in my memory…

Returning to the “old” places I’d grown up visiting: Magic Sands, the Coffee Shack, Ho’okena, Turtle Beach.

Lots and lots of time with Grandma…and so much never-before-heard family lore.

Chocolate chip cookies, scones, cinnamon rolls and everything else from Kaya’s Bakery. Plus a shit ton of other good food. Like pumpkin pancakes and sliced turkey for Thanksgiving!

Swimming with humpback whales at Kiholo Bay (yes, this is a real photo!), and pods of dolphins at Two Step.

All the “new” places I hadn’t been to before: Waipio Valley, Mau’umae Beach, Kua Bay.

Momma visiting for a few weeks over the holidays.

Routine after-work solo hikes down to Kealakekua Bay.

Weekend snorkels at the Refuge followed by shmoozing with regulars and consuming ample amounts of coconut water, papaya, sardines, and chips.

Wearing t-shirts or tanks or swimsuits all day. Also a renewed love of wearing bright colors.

Visits (and adventures!) with family friends from home.

Stellar used bookstores. And ample time to read, write, be quiet, and channel my inner zen (seriously).

Celebrating turning a year older (mid-20s here I am!!!!) and Grandma turning a year older (80!).

Good weather: clean air, blue skies, tropical rainstorms, warm water, and stellar sunsets. Glorious background to everything.

(Contrary to what it seems, I was, in fact, working my butt off full time in between all this beauty.)

documenting strange times, pt. 2

Hi wonderful people— I hope you are safe and (sorta) sane out there.

Back in May of the year-that-shall-not-be-named, I noticed that I was subconsciously documenting the pandemic through iPhone screenshots. You may remember that post. A few months later, I recognized an additional form of my documentation: taking photos of signs. Signs of the pandemic (no pun intended).

During the year-that-shall-not-be-named (fine, this hyphenated thing is annoying, I give in: 2020), our world radically changed. And, naturally, the signs posted in store windows, on street corners, in airports, etc. all changed with it…providing us direction, information, and sometimes even comfort or humor as we navigated our new world.

Below, are some of my favorites.

January 4, 2020 | Months before the world fell apart, we spent the day as a family in San Francisco. I snapped this pic. Little did we know.
March 3, 2020 | Somewhere between the world beginning to fall apart and totally falling apart, the yoga studio I was helping to manage was still open. The staff was going crazy with the label-maker and sticking these suckers on every surface of the studio. Fastest path to enlightenment? Washing your hands for 20 seconds.
April 27, 2020 | On my neighborhood walk, I noticed the local elementary school’s marque: “4/13 RETURN TO SCHOOL”. It was 4/27 already and not a soul was to be found.
June 7, 2020 | All over the neighborhood, people started scattering painted rocks. Most of them were cheery or funny and made me smile. Moments of joy.
August 2, 2020 | Look closely at that sign. It says “Please deliver ALL packages to the front door.” This, friends, is not the front door. Not even close. Hope this resident had a crane to get these suckers closer to the door.
August 3, 2020 | Mom and Dad left me in charge of their house for a week while they went camping. Dad’s words in red, Mom’s in black. Pandemic priorities are clear.
August 29, 2020 | A documentation hybrid for me: I screen shotted a friend’s photo of this sign on Instagram. Could it have been more direct or accurate?
September 19, 2020 | At the beginning of the pandemic, this restaurant just had the word “OPEN” in large letters outside. Evidently, some people had their doubts. So in September they added a few additional signs, allowing them to *assure you* they were open! (In November, they added a large blown-up armadillo outside to further emphasize their openness.) Open. Open. Open.
October 10, 2020 | A table at a taqueria in Chicago I visited. It’s the little signs, sometimes, that draw my attention the most. The fact that the pandemic has seeped so deep into every interaction we have and move we make…still shocks me.
October 12, 2020 | University of Chicago was truly deserted when I putzed around its grounds. But you know, safety first. 6 feet, people. 6 feet.
October 17, 2020 | I’m a sucker for handmade cards. Also a sucker for handmade signs. This one, posted in a florist shop in Chicago, really made me smile.
October 17, 2020 | Six months into the pandemic, United was getting witty with its signage. Have to admit, I kinda loved it.
October 29, 2020 | I walk past this sign every day, but for some reason it really hit me that day. In the midst of an autumn surge in cases, my mind interjected an additional word as I walked past: Please [COVID], slow down.
November 14, 2020 | Another small sign and brilliant indicator of sanitization, at the Hertz rental car office in Kona, Hawaii. Who would have thought a little dot could make me feel so much safer.
November 9, 2020 | A few days after the US election, I came across this sign and interpreted it politically. Yes, politically. I took a picture of it and posted it on Instagram, labelling the straight line as four more years of Trump and the right curve as a shift to Biden. “It was a close one,” I wrote, “Thank god we didn’t miss that turn.”
December 11, 2020 | Special points go to the sign-makers who add local flare. Spread Aloha, not germs. All the way.
December 12, 2020 | C’mon, would a pandemic sign collection be complete without some anti-vaxxers? They’re out there every Saturday morning on the local highway, maskless and proud.
December 23, 2020 | Good news is, the rest of Hawaii (besides those two dozen silly-brains above) are PRO-MASK. And they often have a cute way of showing it. Creative kudos to the local supermarket and their emojis.
December 24, 2020 | The local post office in Kona has a few signs. Take your pick. You can’t go wrong!
January 12, 2021 | A handmade new years card from a friend. Not a sign, per say, but I’m going to hang it in my room as if it was one. Happy not-2020 to all!

Have you come across any fun / interesting / poignant pandemic signs? Email me them, I wanna see. And stay tuned for documenting strange times, pt. 3. I have some phenomenal screenshots of pandemic text messages (names removed!) to share.

In the meantime, stay safe out there. Sending love. XO

52 books, 52 weeks

I’m not one for New Years resolutions, but I do love a good New Years intention. And at the beginning of 2020, I decided I wanted to read more. So, I set myself a goal: 52 books for the 52 weeks of the year.

Spoiler alert: I finished my 52nd book last week…and my 53rd yesterday. You can see my entire reading list for this year here on my Goodreads account (the 52+ books I finished, plus the many others I started and abandoned).

Below, in brevity, are thoughts on how I managed to hit the mark, what I learned along the way, and “superlatives” for a few of my favorite reads.

How I did it

  1. I read multiple books at once. I used to only read one book at a time, but Gretchen Rubin recommended this strategy. Just like watching a few TV shows at once…when you’re not interested in West Wing you can watch Trevor Noah, or if both don’t fit your vibe you can always default to The Office. Same thing with books: reading more than one book meant that there was always one I felt in the mood to read.
  2. I read books that I liked. (I know, revolutionary!). I ended up reading lots of non-fiction, Israeli history/authors, self development, and *a bit* of fiction (but only fiction that came highly recommended by readers I trust 🙂 ). No forcing myself to read genres or authors I didn’t like.
  3. I “stacked” my new reading routine on top of another current, successful routine. I journal every morning religiously. I tacked on 30 minutes – 1 hour of reading to this existing habit. It worked like charm. Did that mean I woke up an hour earlier to read most mornings? Yep.
  4. I watched less TV. This one wasn’t really intentional, I just got into such a reading-groove that very few TV shows captivated me this year.
  5. I had some extra time on my hands with COVID. But, I was also working 40 hours a week and doing a million other things…so while COVID gave me a bit more time to read, it wasn’t much.

What I learned

  1. “I don’t have time” is not a good excuse for not reading. And it’s not even true. I can build time in for the things I love.
  2. Reading is a mediation: the more I read, the more creative, thoughtful, and inquisitive I feel in daily life.
  3. Returning as an adult to something (reading) that I loved doing as a child felt self-nurturing and soothing.
  4. Reading helps me develop my voice as a writer (like A LOT).
  5. I despise reading on the Kindle and screens of any kind (not a new realization…but definitely a reinforced one). Only real-deal books for me.


The most important (for me, for you, for society, for everyone) — Know My Name (Chanel Miller)

The one I’ll read over and over again — A Gentleman in Moscow (Amor Towles)

The most thought-provoking story — The Book of Longings (Sue Monk Kidd)

The biggest adventure — Undaunted Courage: The Pioneering First Mission to Explore America’s Wild Frontier (Stephen E. Ambrose)

The best sorta-autobiography — A Tale of Love and Darkness (Amoz Oz) *only b/c Know My Name was the most important book

The one that was small but mighty — Talking to My Daughter About Capitalism (Yanis Varoufakis)

The favorite modern-history of Israel — My Promised Land (Ari Shavit)

The one that made me confront my white-privilege the most — Hood Feminism (Mikki Kendall)

The personal mindset changer — Untamed (Glennon Doyle)

The random thrift-store purchase that became a page-turner — In the Company of the Courtesan (Sarah Dunant)

The one I didn’t want to like, but really, really did — Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations (Ronen Bergman)

Thoughts or questions on these books, the reading challenge, or what I learned? Give me a holler. I’ll be over here chipping away at a few more hundred pages before the end of the year, and I’ll start fresh with my next 52 on January 1, 2021 (hopefully…as long as the below doesn’t happen!)

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…!



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.


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. 


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!


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!)


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.



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. 



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.


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!



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)!


*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.


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.