In the valley that runs west of the Omer ridge I wrestle with my angel. Noon is approaching and I’m munching a bagel-and-cheese sandwich under a tamarisk tree with my hiking buddies at our meeting point on the most boring section of the Israel National Trail. It’s a 21-kilometer stretch that is nearly all flat; the sky is cloudless and the sun blazes despite the mid-November date. Halfway through our hike, the five of us stink to high heaven from sweat and grit.
Since we have only one car, we’ve split up. Asher and I were dropped off at the northern end of the route, while Marc drove with Gary and Yitzhak to the southern end and started there. Here under the tamarisk Marc hands Asher the keys. When we get to the end, we’ll drive Marc’s car back to pick up the others. We estimate that we have three to four hours more to walk. It’s time to get up.
I shoulder my pack and rise slowly to my feet. I mutter a curse under my breath and take a step, then another. Each step sends pain shooting through my body. My right ankle is stiff and my foot twisted so that I can only walk on the distal, outward edge. This is no surprise—it happens every time I hike. At the age of 40, thirteen years ago, I contracted a serious illness that resulted, among other things, in the amputation of all my toes. Toelessness placed unnatural demands and pressures on muscles and joints, and one result was severe arthritis in my right ankle. The pain, which is most severe after a rest stop, is the price I know I will pay when I go on a hike. But, to add injury to insult, I’ve also developed a large blister on the ball of my left foot, so I can only walk on its outside edge as well.
I grit my teeth and hobble south like a cowboy with rickets.