At 1200ft below sea level, there is nowhere to go but up. Into a stiff west wind, we depart from the gas station at Newe Zohar, at the south Dead Sea. The ascent out of this big hole, the Jordan Valley, comes in three distinct parts. The first thousand feet are a steep hike up a signed footpath. The second thousand feet are gained slowly up a wadi along a signed cycling route, which often rides above the drainage on a series of camel trails. Finally, a dirt road leads up to elevation and to the city of Arad.
Leaving in the afternoon from the sea, we top out by the end of the day. The wind clouds the sky with earthly particulates, concealing the sun. The wind slows us to a stubborn crawl. By the end of the day, we camp by the side of a dirt road, sheltered by a barren hillside near a Bedouin community.
Through Arad the next day, the wind intensifies. We consider out options and consider the forecast for rain and wind next week, when Christina arrives from Alaska.
We press on through slowly greening hills, past cherry trees, grasses, grazing sheep. Riding and pushing another couple hundred feet upwards, we reach the Yatir Forest and the border of Palestine. Israelis refer to is at the West Bank. Across that fence is Area C, which is described as being under “full Israeli civil and security control”. There are no trees on the other side of the fence, only rocky hills and grasses and two communities, each centered around the towering minaret of a mosque.
This is a dusty beautiful place.
A group of seniors are walking the entire INT, one day per week. They offer to take our bikes on their bus and to house us for the evening. We can restart in the morning. Aside from severe wind, I remind Lael that everything else is just fine. It isn’t raining, it isn’t cold. She glares at me. We continue.
A moment later large rain drops begin got fall. Pushing across a grassy field towards a number of unfinished structures, a pair of eyes and hand emerge from behind a tarp. A Bedouin shepherd invites us into his camp. We sit, and have lunch, offering an orange, which he accepts. He refuses our bread and hummus. He makes mint tea with sugar. Lael pulls our her sleeping bag and rests until the rain passes. We continue.
We camp in the Yatir Forest near a large tent which serves young IDF recruits who are staying for the week to utilize the nearby weapons range. They sit around the fire on the morning of their departure. We make coffee on their fire, they make coffee on a gas burner. They offer cigarettes and a kilo of apples. Several speak English; the feeling is much like being with a group of young men anywhere. It reminds me of the night spent in Egypt by the highway, mothered by a group of 22 your old boys. Other than Lael, there is one other girl around the fire.
The morning air is clear and the technicolor kaleidoscope of Israel presents itself, an exciting change after two weeks in the desert. Going to Jerusalem.