Sliding down an iceberg… or not?

You probably know that feeling, when you push hard to achieve something you really want, and then something happens that pulls out the plug on your efforts? You are lost with zero energy, and your finger nails try to hang up to a dream but you are sliding down, as is you’re on the slope of an iceberg… That sums up pretty much my ongoing struggle get to the NamibRace during the pandemic. It started with setting this race as my goal for 2020, at the end of April 2020. Then came COVID and it was postponed to November 2020, and then to April 2021… And now, it is postponed yet another time – till October 2021. Each time, training schedule was reset, adjusting to new weather conditions, COVID limitations and what not.

So now to plan B.

There should always be a plan B.

Originally, I planned my final heavy-duty weekend of training to be on the weekend of March 26th. So we had to find an alternative iceberg to hang on to. Here comes my coach, Pano Koter. He came up with an idea to run the Sanhedrin trail, a 115 km trail with close to 3,000 vertical climb. The trail crosses the Lower Galilee from west to east, from Bet She’arim to Tiberias, passing through several ancient sites that are associated with the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Rabbinical Leadership and Court in Roman-period Galilee that was composed of 70 Rabbis. Part of this trail is merged with the main Jesus Trail hiking route that its 65km begins in Nazareth and goes all the way to Capernaum on the sea of Galilee. We decided to run the Sanhedrin trail from east to west, adding a few climbs… Going this way, our end point is Alexander Zaïd monument.

Alexander Zaïd was one of the founders of the Jewish defense organizations Bar Giora and Hashomer, and a prominent figure of the Second Aliyah. Zaïd survived two attacks by Arabs, but on the night of 10 July 1938, he was killed. He was ambushed by an Arab gang while on his way to meet members of kibbutz Alonim. The killer was Qassem Tabash, a Bedouin from the al-Hilaf tribe. In 1942, the Palmach killed Tabash in retaliation. On a hilltop overlooking the Jezreel Valley is a bronze statue of Alexander Zaïd on horseback sculpted by David Polus.

We started the trail at 08:00, morning of March 25th, in Tiberias, where Sanhedrin operated during the last period of being headed by Rabi Yehuda Ha’Nasi. The trail started with the major climb to Mt Arbel, going from -200m (sub sea level) to about +150. A beautiful climb overlooking the sea of Galilee. This climb was followed by a trail to Horns of Hattin, where on July 4th 1187, the Muslim army led by Saladin defeated the crusaders in a battle that marked the beginning of the Muslim takeover of the holy land. The road, not well marked, led us through spring blossom, and high bush. The hills carries us to finish the first 42km in Cana. This village is the traditional site of the wedding feast where Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine.

We then pushed towards Zippori, halfway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Galilee. The name ” Zippori” comes from the Hebrew word tsipor which means “bird,” presumably for the birds-eye view afforded from its hill. The historian Josephus described it as “the ornament of all Galilee” and it was the administrative capital of the Galilee in the 1st century. It features an impressive archeology site dating back to the Hasmoneans who settled there in the 2nd century BC, as well as subsequent Byzantine, Arab and Crusader ruins. A few km after Zippori, in the dark, we entered Netofa Valley marking the end the the first 60km.

Entering the valley also marked the beginning of the most muddy part of the trail… the valley, often flooded in winter kept its promise and our shoes accumulated significant sticky mud that tripled their weight and more… About 8km into that section we started our second significant climb to Yodfat. The place is also a symbol of the Great Revolt against the Roman empire during the 1st century. The Siege of Yodfat was a 47-day siege by Roman forces of the Jewish town of Yodfat which took place in 67 CE, during the Great Revolt. Led by Roman General Vespasian and his son Titus, both future emperors, the siege ended with the sacking of the town, the deaths of most of its inhabitants and the enslavement of the rest. It was the second bloodiest battle of the revolt, surpassed only by the Siege of Jerusalem, and the longest except for Jerusalem and Masada. The siege was chronicled by Josephus, who had personally commanded the Jewish forces at Yodfat and was subsequently captured by the Romans.

Luckily the climb to Yodfat was moderate slope, so we reached the decent towards the valley and Shfar’am (Arabic: شفاعمرو‎, Šafāʻamr, Hebrew: שְׁפַרְעָם‎, Šəfarʻam). Shfar’am is an Arab city  with a Sunni Muslim majority and large Christian Arab and Druze minorities. In Roman times – the place of the Sanhendrin, so there is also an ancient synagogue. The Crusaders built here a fort to protect the road from Acre to Nazareth. Later, a fort was built in the 18th century. We felt good on the way, personally I felt surprisingly fresh. My partner had a disturbing blister on the left foot, and we decided the take of it as we enter the town. Nothing prepared us to the drama to follow…

We entered Shfar’am at about 3AM after 90 km of the trail, looking for a place where we can sit to take care of my partners blister. We found a nice wall, 90cm or so high. He took off his left shoes to find an impressive blister at the bottom of his foot. Pulled out my blister kit and started to treat it. Before I knew it, he was down there, face down on the pavement… not believing it, I called his name, gently touched his face, making sure he is responsive. Got him sit down against the wall – now on the floor, not on top of it. he was all bloody, it was evident he broke his nose, and god’s knows what else… at this point I was relieved he was breathing and talking. Tried to support him with my right hand, and simultaneously call our support team to come over as fast as they can. My hypothermal fingers did not respond so well at first. As we wait, his face started to swell, and I was so so happy to see our support team that rushed him to the nearest ER. After numerous examinations it was concluded that it is only a broken nose… we got lucky this time.

As for me… my first thought was to finish the trail on my own. Only 21km left, I thought, but then came the adrenalin drop, and the hypothermia. Let alone our instructions, that were to proceed only in couples at nighttime. So… called my wife to pick me up, got a shower, an hour of sleep, and drove to the finish point to meet the other 3 who finished the whole trail and another 30 who ran parts of it that night… what an end, sliding down the iceberg again.

What’s next? Well now its time to focus on training for the NamibRace in Octeber (for the 4th time…).

Till then, see ya on the trails!

Israel Antiquities Authority Official Channel:

“Sanhedrin Trail crosses the Lower Galilee from west to east, from Bet She’arim to Tiberias, passing through several ancient sites that are associated with the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Rabbinical Leadership and Court in Roman-period Galilee that was composed of 70 Rabbis. The trail was formally dedicated to the State of Israel, in honor of the State’s 70th birthday, celebrated in May 2018. The trail links the trailers who hike it with the Galilean landscape and its rich cultural heritage, its environment, nature and archaeological and historical sites, and with the many varied cultures that have influenced the region down to the present day. The creation of the trail was carried out by the active participation of thousands of pupils, youth and volunteers from all backgrounds and from all fields of life, who took part in archaeological excavations, created, prepared and signposted the trail, and developed the archaeological sites along it. Jewish, Moslem, Christian, Bedouin, Druze and Circassian pupils, pre-army groups, students and youth on a pre-university ‘gap-year’ from abroad, worked alongside groups of pensioners, army-disabled volunteers and special needs groups, all experiencing the Sanhedrin Trail by hiking, learning and experiencing. The trail is undergoing continuous development by the exposure of the archaeological sites along the route, and by the significant educational activities carried out along the trail, and the developments will continue in the future.”

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