(With Christmas season over, we return to the Jesus Trail. I find myself on the edge of the Lavi Forest, between Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee.)
I stand by the road in the wood and wave goodbye to a dear friend. He smiles weakly and waves back. I detect concern in his eyes, as if he thinks I shouldn’t be left alone. Hani is a trained pastor who knows how to read the signs. I am far from home, a babe in the woods. The car begins to roll away then stops suddenly. Hani cranks his head out the window. “Call me, ok?” he pleads.
“I will,” I holler back as cheerfully as I can, not knowing that the balance on my phone is nearly exhausted.
I am so appreciative of Hani. He is always so hospitable. Today we enjoyed lunch together at the sidewalk cafe in Kafr Cana and afterwards rested comfortably in his home. Well, he rested comfortably anyway. I was more miserable than a bull rider at the back end of a rodeo. The combination of the long hike, high heat, baggy pants, and sweaty unders has given me a serious case of Monkey Butt. I tried not to think about it as we sat in his living room. I rosily smiled (grimaced, really), shifted from side to side in my seat, and did my best to keep my misery private.
The ordinary schmo who gathers his/her life experience from YouTube may dare to laugh at such a condition. This is because he fails to understand the challenges of an Incredibly True Adventure. Monkey Butt is a malady of the extreme specialist; it is a hardship familiar to well-conditioned athletes, endurance cyclists, and truck drivers from the Oklahoma panhandle. Since I fall into none of these groups, I conclude that the occasional Jesus Trail hiker is also susceptible. This indisposition is nothing to sneeze at, I assure you.
Because I am unable to move without possibly bursting into flame, I remain immobile until Hani’s car is out of sight. Then, rotating carefully from the waist up, I survey my surroundings. I am relieved to discover that there is no one else in the vicinity. I bandyleg, port to starboard and back again, until I reach the public toilet. It is a slow process. Inside, I strip, dab, dry, and dress. What would be a precarious operation in any environment is extraordinarily hazardous here. Public toilets in Israel-Palestine are cleaned quite regularly, every Year of Jubilee.
Swathed in a fresh set of clothes I feel much better. I hang my wash on a line, pitch the tent and assess my surroundings. I am near the Golani Junction in a deserted picnic area under the shade of a pine forest. Above me rises the hill where a Arab village by the name of Lubya once stood. Travelers including Buckingham, Burkhardt, and Robinson passed this very spot and mention it in their notes. So did the “innocent abroad,” Mark Twain. Sadly, the village was depopulated and destroyed in 1948. The forest imperfectly hides the scars.
(Serious Note here: A film about Lubya entitled “The Village Under the Forest” was released in the fall of 2013. It is worth your time. See http://www.villageunderforest.com/.)
Eerily, there are no other travelers in the park. It is a beautiful place. Why am I alone? Is it the heat? Is there a holiday? What am I missing?
I break out my cookstove and make a pot of rice for dinner. At the last minute I remember a dry soup mix in my pack. I retrieve it and stir that in. It is a feast. I sit gingerly at my picnic table in the woods and dine.
As the evening falls, I enjoy the quiet. The silence is broken only by the cooing of doves. I crawl into my silk sleep sack (it is too hot for a sleeping bag) and lower my chafed self to the ground. All is well for a moment. Just a moment.
And then it erupts.
The tracks of the bulldozers rattle.
Beep! Beep! Beep! Ka-PLOW!
The dump trucks back in.
The jackhammer chips away at the limestone!
As night falls, the Golani Junction explodes in noise and dust. A line of scraggly trees are all that stand between me and the construction of the new overpass.
I grit my teeth and roll over. I sizzle like bacon.
It is the beginning of the longest night in my life.