Israel Trail Days 47 and 48: Tzihor to Shaharut

Shizafon Armor Corps BaseOctober 19 and 24, 2014
Wikiloc Map: Tsihor to Shaharut
Distance: 49.3km

Total distance since Tel Dan: 1032km (640 miles)

These two days included my longest day on the trail, 42km (the distance of a full marathon) and my shortest day on the trail, 7km. Most people don’t divide this section up that way. I wanted to push myself to “do a marathon,” I’ve never run that far before, and I ended up with the short day as a result of some logistical considerations I’ll share further on in the story of this segment.

I had been wanting to “run a marathon” for some time, just to prove I could do it, and this seemed like a good opportunity – a long, flat, boring stretch of the trail. Jacob Saar’s guidebook to the Israel Trail says a lot of people choose to skip most of this section, and just take a bus for about 40km. I would never have considered that: for me part of the point is to be able to say that I covered the entire length of the country on my feet.

Day 47: Sunday, October 19
I got down to Tzihor Junction about 10:30pm Saturday night. The section of the trail I’m doing now is getting close to Eilat and it’s in the middle of nowhere – a 3+ hour drive from home. As I’ve done before, I just folded down the seats in the back of the car and slept in the car. I was awake before dawn, and was having breakfast as the sun was rising.

This area of the desert is used heavily by the IDF Armored Corps for training. I’ve often encountered warning signs about firing zones in the desert, warning against entry. The sign at my breakfast spot seemed more serious than most. It says “Entry to IDF Forces forbidden.” If even the IDF isn’t supposed to go in there, I guess they’re serious!

Breakfast was cleaned up and put away and I was on the trail at about 6:45am. The first 3km cut a corner from one section of Hwy 40 to another. Was a very pleasant morning, moderate temperature, clear sky.

After that came 20km or so of trundling along right next to the highway with a gentle but steady climb (about 400’ elevation change in 12 miles). About 20km from the start I came to the Shizafon Army Base. Shizafon is an Armor Corps training base, according to globalsecurity.org, “built to American standards.” When I posted a status update from there several friends commented they had kids who either were there right then, or who had served there before.

I decided I’d take the opportunity to top up my water supply – one of the rules for running in the desert is you really can’t have too much water, and the day was heating up. I got to the gate and was chatting with the guards as they gave me some water. They asked about where I’d come from, etc., so I explained that I was running the Israel Trail, had started in Tel Dan about a year and a half ago. He asked how old I was, and when I told him (58 at the time) he said, “we should all be running the Israel Trail at such an age!” I guess when you’re 18 or 19, 58 sounds ancient.

As soon as I got started again I came across a bunch of derelict tanks and APCs, parked under a water tower adorned with graffiti quoting Ceasar: Veni, Vidi, Vici. “I came, I saw, I conquered.” Nothing like literate military graffiti!

It was only another 5km to Neot Smadar, which is a beautiful little oasis at the junction of Highways 40 and 12. There is a kibbutz there and they run an inn/restaurant where I decided to stop for a snack. Sounds like an interesting kibbutz:

The Kibbutz was established in 1989 by a group of friends interested in creating a learning community that focuses on cooperation and creativity in daily life. As individuals in a dynamic community, we explore what it means to live together as co-learners, observing ourselves in everyday activities and relationships. Our interest in relationship extends to the environment through organic farming, desert architecture, water recycling, The Art Center and more.

I did debate whether I could still say “I ran a marathon” if I stopped for a long break, but I wasn’t going pass up coffee. Also had an excellent brownie and some fresh organic fruit juice. Keeping fueled up in a challenge when running long distances, so the concentrated calories were needed. I’d also brought a couple of bottle of Gatorade and some energy bars.

Back on the road it was another 5km along Highway 12 and then, about 33km in, the trail crossed under the highway and instead started paralleling the road to Uvda Air Force Base. Right after crossing under the highway the trail markers were hard to spot – I had to use my GPS a couple of times to keep me on the right track, although for the most part it wouldn’t have made much difference if I was on the track or not as the trail was roughly paralleling the road, and for significant stretches it just went straight across the typical flinty rock plain with no noticeable trail at all.

Another 4km brought me to the turnoff for the Kasui Sand Dune, which other than Neot Smadar was the only interesting thing on the trail. This section was too steep and too rugged for running so I had to slow down to a hiking pace. I didn’t have the energy go running up and down the dune once I got there, I settled for taking a break at the edge of it.

I also discovered that sand dunes, high winds, and contact lenses are not a good combination so I decided to take my lenses out. I managed very carefully, and put the lens case in my backpack. I mention this little detail because after I got home, I discovered my contacts were missing.

Another 5km or so brought me to the turn off for the road to Shaharut – 42km from the start, and where I was stopping for the day. It was 4pm – roughly nine hours from when I started. I took the turnoff toward Uvda and hiked another kilometer or two to a bus stop by the gate to base.

I tried hitching at first, but no luck – very few cars. I was worried that I missed the bus that could take me back to Tsihor and would have to wait two hours for the next one, but I was in luck: exactly as I made it to the bus stop my bus arrived – it was running half an hour late. Half an hour later I was back at my car and on my way home after a LONG day.

Day 48
Friday, October 24
When I got home I discovered my contact lenses were missing. After giving it some thought, I remembered exactly where I sat when I took the lenses out, and decided I’d go back down and see if somehow the case just didn’t make it into my backpack. I would also do a short section to get to Shaharut. That way I wouldn’t have to add that 7km to the next day’s 28km.

I left early, around 6am, and with a stop for coffee enroute I was at the turnoff for the sand dune at 9:30. I was able to see my footprints in the sand from earlier in the week. I did manage to find the spot where I sat and took the contacts out, but no luck – they must have fallen out of my backpack at some other point along the way. After searching in vain for about half an hour (plus an hour getting there and back) I was back at the car and heading for where I was planning to finish the day’s outing.

Since it was only 7km, and there were no other transportation alternatives, I brought my bike to get back and forth. Using my GPS I found that it was slightly uphill getting to where I was finishing. So I decided I’d leave the car at the finish so I could ride the bike downhill back to the start. Right near the finish I saw a couple of large trail signs – one for the Israel Trail, and one for the Israel Bike Trail. Hmmm….maybe that will be my next project after I finish the Israel Trail!

The small road was deserted, I think one car passed me during the ride back to the start. I locked the bike to a street sign and started running back on the trail. Was a pretty easy 7km. One significant hill near the start as the trail climbed over a ridge and took a wadi away from the road. Was “just another wadi,” nothing special.

When I got back to the car I decided to drive up to Shaharut. Shaharut, population 120, gets the prize for the most remote “village” I’ve seen anywhere in Israel. It’s definitely in the “middle of nowhere.” I guess it’s a place for people who like “remote.”

From Israel Trail Days 47 and 48 Zihor to Shaharut, posted by Barry Leff on 10/25/2014 (57 items)

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(Israel Trail Days 47 and 48 Zihor to Shaharut; 57 photos)

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