A hiking story

Nobody reminded me, but luckily for y’all I remembered on my own. If you don’t feel like clicking through to the AITA, here’s the gist: an avid, experienced hiker wants to take a bunch of his (athletic, hiker-adjacent) friends on a rather difficult 8-mile hike. He prepares these friends in advance for what they’re about to get into and makes sure everyone has proper footwear, water, snacks, hats, that sort of thing. And then one of them drags along a friend who in every available way is unprepared for the hike– and, after pointing out that the person is genuinely endangering herself if she tries this and getting nowhere, he bails on the hike entirely. Later in the day, one of his friends sends him pictures from the ER that two members of the group, including the girl, ended up in, because basically everything went wrong that dude said would go wrong.

This is a not-the-asshole situation for me, and it got me thinking about something that happened when I was in Israel just after graduating college. I was there for a dig at Tel Beth Shemesh, which is a Bronze Age site just west of Jerusalem. We were there for a month, and two of the weekends featured preprogrammed touristy stuff on a rented bus with a guide. The first weekend we were supposed to go to the northern part of the country, and for the second weekend we were supposed to head south. Now, if you know anything about Israel, you might be aware that there is a staggering climate difference between the lovely, temperate, Mediterranean northern half of the country and the fucking Negev desert that occupies most of the southern half. Staggering enough that you dress significantly differently depending on which way you’re going.

We were all rather surprised when we realized which direction the bus was headed, and where our tour guide took us. South. To the desert. To the hot.

Oh, and there was going to be a hike. A three-mile hike, roughly, at Ein Avdat, which is Hebrew for “one motherfucker.” Ein Avdat is beautiful! It looks like this:

I don’t know if the place has gotten more popular since 1998 or what, but I remember it being deserted (heh) when we were there. But it’s gorgeous! Seriously!

There are parts of the hike that are like this, though:

Those are steps carved into the side of the canyon. I don’t know for sure that we carved these specific ones, because I remember there being handholds, but you get the idea.

Going back, by the way, is not an option, because once they drop you off the other side of the hike is … well, three miles away, and your bus drops you off and heads tot he other side. So when we got to the very last part of the hike, I took one look at what they expected me to do to get out of this hot-ass canyon that I didn’t know I was going to be fucking hiking in (and I was not in much better shape in college than I am now) and declared that somebody was sending me a fucking helicopter. Because this is the last part of the hike. After three miles. With no water:

Yeah. That’s a metal ladder. Again, I’m not 100% sure that’s our actual ladder– I remember the rungs being more rebar-y, but again, you get the idea. Nah. Send me a damn helicopter. I ain’t doing it.

I did, eventually, make it out of the canyon. And I forced everyone on the trip with me to take a picture giving the canyon the finger. I didn’t go find that picture today, but when I checked my 22-year-old memories (Christ, literally half my life ago) with a friend of mine who was with me on the trip, she sent me this one. Look at our shoes:

That’s the Dead Sea behind us, so this wasn’t immediately after the hike, but it was the same weekend, and it was definitely the same fucking Birkenstocks. A three mile hike in a box canyon in the desert in Israel in June, with insufficient water and fucking Birks on my feet, because the trip organizers fucked up what weekend we were heading north.

The next day after the hike, we went to Masada, which by rights should have been one of the highlights of the fucking trip. Masada is a Jewish fortress on the top of a mountain. There are two ways to get to it: through what basically amounts to a ski lift, and by climbing the earthen ramp the Romans built while they were laying siege to the place so that they could kill everyone there. It’s called the Snake Path.

This is the fucking Snake Path:

Now, again, each of these two things is on different sides of the complex. There was a small riot on the bus when we pulled up to the Snake Path side of the mountain, and after some debate everyone got off the bus and got ready to hike some more.

Not me. Nope. I took one look at that entirely uphill climb, the day after an unscheduled three-mile desert canyon hell trek, and noped right the fuck out. There are certain things I simply cannot be manipulated into doing, and that bullshit was definitely on that list. I stayed on the bus, and as it ended up had a fascinating conversation with our Palestinian bus driver while everyone else nearly died trying to hike straight up. So I went to Israel and went to Masada, but I have never been inside Masada … but on the other hand, I’m still alive, and I can to this day recite this guy’s explanation of the Arab-Israeli conflict, complete with broken English and the map that he drew a bunch of lines on to indicate which parts of Israel should be given back.

And that’s why I’m not about to get angry with somebody for telling someone he doesn’t think it’s a good idea for her to go on a hike.

Daily Prompt: Walking on the Moon

dome-rock-interior-500I may start doing these more often; forcing myself to write to a prompt every now and again seems like a good thing.  Here’s today’s:

What giant step did you take where you hoped your leg wouldn’t break? Was it worth it, were you successful in walking on the moon, or did your leg break?

The summer after graduating from college, I went to Israel for a month.  It was a program sponsored by the university; we were on a dig at Tel Beth Shemesh.  (This was 1998, so it fascinates me that the girl next to the pile of pots on that page, the third picture down, was on my dig.  That’s an old picture.  I remember everybody going nuts when we found that refuse pile.)

Here’s how the dig worked: we worked five days a week, and weekends were programmed trips around the country with a tour guide.  One afternoon– Tuesdays, I think?– we were on our own on the afternoons, and most of us took the time to go into Jerusalem and shop or sightsee or whatever.  The problem was, by the time the digging was over and we’d had time to go home and clean up and grab some food and catch the bus, it was impossible to get to the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount before it closed for the day, seeing as how it’s an active religious site and not actually a 24/7 tourist site.

The thought of being able to tour the Dome of the Rock was a sizable portion of the reason I’d wanted to go on the trip in the first place.  I was thousands and thousands of miles from home with no real reason to believe I’d ever be in Israel again.  Missing out was not acceptable.  So on the night before our last Tuesday half day, I dropped in on one of the dig directors in his office and let him know I was taking a sick day the next day.  And I got up early in the morning, got on the bus, and went into Jerusalem.  By myself.  I was 21 and spoke no Hebrew (I could read it, which wasn’t terribly useful) and had never been overseas before.  Also: 1998, so no cell phone or means to get ahold of anyone.  But there was no way in hell I was leaving Israel without a tour of that building, and if that meant I had to do it by myself that was what was going to happen.

You have very likely never been to the Old City.  It’s a maze.  And, worse, it’s a maze that shuts down around prayer times and a few other times as well, meaning that all the shops close and you can lose your bearings very easily when all of your landmarks suddenly go away.  You remembered the jewelry shop on the corner was where you turned right?  Good luck when the face of the jewelry store suddenly turns into a piece of plywood.  I hired a guide.  Agreed on a reasonable price.  He took me on a little tour, where I did my best to make sure to memorize my route because I was alone and half-convinced I was about to be robbed, and then brought me to the Temple Mount.

Where he attempted to double his price.  There was shouting.  He switched to Arabic.  I switched to Spanish.  This was clearly a performance on his part, figuring the American was going to back down quickly rather than attract the notice of the local authorities– and we were certainly starting to attract notice.  I, on the other hand, was firmly in “getting arrested on the Temple Mount makes the story better” mode, and wasn’t about to back down to the dude, figuring that the blue passport around my neck and my connection to Hebrew University through the dig was going to sort everything out sooner or later.  (Yay, privilege!)  He backed down and left.   And I took my shoes off, got in line and got my tour of one of the most beautiful, spiritual places on the planet.  I met my friends a couple of hours later without any real incident, managing to get to the spot where we’d agreed to join up without getting lost or anything else stupid happening.

Secondary funny Israel story:  On the first trip into Jerusalem, we went to the Holy Sepulchre.  The history of the Sepulchre is fascinating and well worth a read if you’re unfamiliar with it, but suffice it to say that there’s a shrine in there that is believed to be the actual location of Jesus’ tomb.   You have to crawl, or at least squat, to get in there:

JesusEmptyTombThis is, in case it’s not clear, a really small room, with space for no more than a few people, and those shoved tightly together.  And that little entryway is several feet long, so it’s possible to stand up too early as you’re walking in.  And hit your head.  On a stone arch.

If you do that, shouting “OW!  JESUS!” at the top of your lungs is frowned upon.

(It wasn’t me.  Thank God.  But I was right behind her and oh lord keeping a straight face in a situation like that is incredibly difficult.  Also, I can safely report that it is in fact impossible to literally die of embarrassment or Betsy surely would have done so on the spot.)

Under the jump, other answers to this prompt:

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