Strong winds in the night woke me up. We had constructed the tent with only the inner but, worried that it wasn’t strong enough to cope with the gales, we got up to add the outer as well. It was cold. The wind cut straight through me and aggravated my sore neck where I took the impact of hitting my head when I fell the other day. I got back into my warm sleeping bag and was glad I still had the effects of the whisky to numb the pain so I could sleep easily.
We set off on our final day around 7am. The boys were all going to hike together. Today though, we wanted to go it alone. This was a big moment for me and it felt right that I share it with no one but Gil.
The boys had kindly given us some snacks, which meant that we didn’t have to go hungry as we had nothing left. It was hugely appreciated. The walk started with a long climb down with lots of scrambling and ladders. I was enjoying absorbing my surroundings, until we had an epic fly attack. I guess they just wanted to give us a proper sending off. Annoying burgers.
We had a strenuous climb up and a gentle hike down. A couple from Finland stopped to ask us for directions and, when I looked at the map, I realised we were 2km from finishing. I couldn’t believe it. This was it!
We started up the final steep climb. I went fast, making my legs and heart work. I felt the weight of 1000km pushing down on me. The thousands of metres climbed, the dozens of sleepless nights. All those tough moments from supermarket dramas, to taking a bad fall. Missing home and basic luxuries. Challenging myself physically and mentally for 51 days non-stop. All these memories sat on my shoulders and, when I reached the top and saw the crystal clear blue waters of the Red Sea just in front of me, they all came together in this one moment. It was overwhelming. Such an amazing sense of achievement.
The trail came off the mountain and came to an end in a scruffy car park, next to a dumping ground, with just a simple sign to mark that this was the end. In true Israeli fashion. It wouldn’t of felt right if this trek, with all its rough edges, had finished any other way.
This wasn’t the end really though. There was still one more thing left to do. Fully clothed and surrounded by sunbathing holiday makers staring at our weirdness.
The adventure was over. Surreal.
We changed, called our families and then walked into town to get food and to check into the hostel, the Shelter, where we were staying for the night. It was an odd hostel, run by Jews who believe that Jesus was the messiah (confusing). We got handed a bible to read for our stay, something that would normally really annoy me, but, I couldn’t complain as they were very friendly and offer a free nights’ stay for everyone who completes the trail. I washed our clothes and caught up with emails.
That night we met up with the boys to have a well deserved burger.
Back at the hostel I was suddenly struck by tiredness. I lay on my bed and don’t even remember falling asleep. I didn’t even wake when the others got ready for bed.
The next day
We had a really special morning lined up. Dolphin Reef is an incredible organisation in Eilat that work with a pod of 5 dolphins who live in the bay. I have wanted to visit since the day I heard about this place. I woke up so excited and ready to have, what must be, one of the most amazing experiences out there – diving with dolphins.
I’m hugely passionate about animal rights so, naturally, am usually really against any tourist activity that involves animals. Dolphin Reef is not like other places though. The dolphins here are free to roam the ocean, the gates are kept open and they can leave anytime they like. They choose to stay in the area and to come interact with divers and trainers because they have built a relationship with them. Dolphin Reef don’t believe that animals should be controlled, but rather that relationships should be built on trust and respect. For that reason, they never use food as a reward. The dolphins don’t jump, nudge people or flap their flippers because they get a fish.
They do it because they want to. This is key. There are no shows or demonstrations or even guarantees that you will see them. The dolphins are the ones making the decisions in this place, just how it should be.
The second I entered Dolphin Reef, I felt like I was somewhere special. The place is tranquil and full of character. I instantly fell in love from the peacocks, the bright coloured flowers and the hidden cosy chill out areas.
My diving instructor, Eyal, made me feel at ease straight away. He showed me the basics that I needed to know and took me straight into the water.
Within seconds, the Dolphins were coming up to see him. You can see they love the interaction and touch. Listening to their sounds and watching them playfully swim around us was an unbelievable experience. It’s impossible to explain it in words, so I won’t even try. There’s something different about dolphins and, until you’ve had a chance to properly meet one, I don’t think you can fully understand.
We met with the operations manager, Omer, who told me a bit about the place. He said that they have worked hard to make Dolphin Reef a home for visitors and the dolphins. I think they’ve achieved it. I spent the rest of the afternoon soaking up the unique vibe of the place and wishing I lived nearby so I could visit every week. Dolphin Reef is now, officially, one of my favourite places on the planet.
What a perfect way to mark the end of a life-changing journey.
As the sun was close to setting, we headed back into town and found our villa that we were staying in for the rest of the week. I had some diving planned and, other than that, was looking forward to spending time near the beach and doing not much at all. It had been an incredible day and, for the first time, I had some space to really think about the last 2 months and completing Walking Israel. Now the initial excitement of finishing the walk had worn off, I felt, in truth, a bit strange. My simplified life was over and I was now going to have to abolish habits and decide what to do next. I’m not sure what yet, but, one things for sure, there will be adventure in there somewhere.
One day, I had a thought that I wanted to walk the full length of Israel and to cross the Negev desert. I had never done anything like this before. I was unfit, unsure and in an environment that was completely alien to me. But, I made it happen. It was tough, challenging, but also amazing. An experience that will stay with me for a lifetime. For anyone reading this who has their own adventure in mind, just go for it. If ordinary me can do it, then so can you. The biggest step is just committing to making it happen, the rest kind of all just falls in to place.
Thanks to all the countless people who hosted us and gave us food on the trail, that includes my in-law support team. To Yanir for keeping us hydrated in the desert and Yankale for donating a Red book. Thank you Abraham Hostel Tel Aviv, Dead Sea Adventure Hostel and Dolphin Reef, all incredible organisations. A special thanks to Source for sponsoring our adventure and making the best sandals in the world. Thanks also to all the people who have followed, commented and sent me emails AND to the amazing people who made a donation to ACE. I can’t tell you how much love I have for you all!
I’ve had lots of people ask about my advice for walking the Israel National Trail, so have put together the following information which I hope you will find useful: