Guest blogger Michael Bleier shares with us the details of his life-changing hike this fall.
Despite my 75 years (and 35 years residing in Mt. Lebanon), I undertook a 40-mile challenge, in the form of a charity trek over five days in the Negev Desert. The October trek was for the Norwood Organization, a UK charity that dates back to 1795 and has Queen Elizabeth II as a patron, and services over 5000 children and young adults with an array of learning disabilities and needs. This was my second charity trek for Norwood, the first being a 30-mile trek into and out of the Grand Canyon in 2012, when I was 70. I undertook these challenge treks for a dear Reed Smith corporate London partner, who is the organizer of two challenge charity treks a year, at locations all around the world. My friend has an adult son who was born with disabilities. A number of years ago, with friends, my friend organized a school for children with disabilities and it operated within the larger Norwood organization.
The Negev Trek Challenge was in southern Israel. The desert accounts for 55 percent of Israel’s land mass and is in an inverted triangle shape whose western side is contiguous with the desert of the Sinai peninsula and Egypt, whose eastern border is the Arabah Valley and the Red Sea, and whose northern border is Beersheba, Masada and the Dead Sea. The 40-year wanderings of the Jews after fleeing Egypt described in the Old Testament took them into parts of the southern Negev desert covered by the Trek.
The Negev trekking contingent numbered 49, 47 of whom were British, and four Israeli guides. The Negev is predominately a rocky desert and the route the trek took was quite mountainous, starting with a climb above Ein Gedi waterfalls, through and over two canyons, through the Zin Valley with a steep descent to Ein Aqua spring, onto a plateau, crossing the Ramon Crater floor, climbing Mount Shlomo and continuing and concluding with a trek to Nahal Gishron through a steep gorge and canyon, and concluding at Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city on the Red Sea, across from Jordan and the city of Aqaba. The trek on the floor of the Ramon Crater, which scientists believe was formed about five million years ago and is the world’s largest erosion crater, was part of the Nabatean caravan route between the Mediterranean Sea and Petra. The trek included overnight stays in youth hostels and a Bedouin camp. We also visited a 6th century synagogue.
I can truthfully say the 40-mile trek was the most physically demanding effort I had ever undertaken. It was harder for me at 75 than doing a bivouac and live fire training at Fort Polk, Louisiana, in 1967. At times it was somewhat scary being on the edge of Mount Shlomo and coming down over rocks and boulders, particularly since I am scared of heights. Even while walking across Pittsburgh’s bridges, I won’t go near the railing, preferring to walk as far toward the center as possible. I wouldn’t have made it down the mountain without the help of a number of my British co-trekkers and guides. They were all so helpful, especially the young trekkers. They all kept their good humor and were supportive despite the obstacles. Their attitudes exhibited to me why the British were so critical to World War II’s favorable outcome. Bob Diamond, a Reed Smith DC real estate partner, and I were the only Americans on the trek.
At three-quarters up Mount Shlomo, Eitan, the leader of our trek told me I didn’t need to go any higher, since it was going to be an even more difficult climb up to the summit and very hard coming down. I asked him, “What would I tell my grandchildren if I didn’t go to the summit?” He said OK, but he told me I could stop whenever I wanted to. I made it to the top.
There was also a biking component to Norwood’s fund-raising effort, which included more than 150 bikers, mainly from the UK.
To date, I have raised slightly more than $8,000 toward my $10,000 goal. I have personally covered all the costs for my trip, so all the funds I have raised go directly to Norwood. If you would like to donate, you may send a check payable to American Friends of Norwood, to Amanda Gordon, c/o Reed Smith, 20 Stanwix Street, Suite 1200, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. Contributions are tax deductible. If you want information on Norwood, go to these links: http://norwood.org.uk/Services or https://wn.com/norwood_film.