What could a 1,000-kilometer trek in the great outdoors teach me about handling lockdowns, mask-wearing and sudden loss of income? Interestingly, quite a lot.
When Covid hit, I was in the midst of the final intense edit of Angels & Tahina, a book about my family’s experience backpacking the entire Israel Trail, each of 18 chapters focused on a lesson our hike taught me.
I was stunned to discover how powerful and relevant those lessons were for coping with the challenges the pandemic was throwing at us.
My tour guide husband, Allan, saw his guiding schedule crumble within two days. My life coaching practice took a huge hit. Our married son and daughter-in-law, on a week’s vacation from their medical studies in Naples, unexpectedly found themselves quarantined in our home. Their studies shifted to online.
We all had to suddenly adjust our rhythms and routines—my husband to being out of work, our married couple to living with their parents, and me to an empty nest that was now packed tight.
Find your pace
At the beginning of the trail, I compared our progress as a middle-aged couple against young Israelis who’d just finished serving in elite combat units.
I’d foolishly pressured and pushed us to reach our daily destination, ignoring our bodies’ need to adjust to the terrain, the weight of our packs, and the unexpected hamsin or storm that slowed us down.
Fortunately, sore feet and moods forced me to realize the need for breaks to rest, heal and enjoy the scenery.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I took time to cook healthy food and we enjoyed leisurely meals together. Slowing down allowed my body and brain to adjust to the radical changes.
Step out of the daily race and honor your pace, even if it’s just noticing how the rate and depth of your breath is constantly changing as you do different activities.
Savor the moment
Over the 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) of hiking I experienced exhaustion, fear and boredom, as well as deep joy and awe. I discovered that dullness could morph into delight, that fatigue could show me how to really rest, and that fear could rapidly propel me into heightened presence and awareness.
So too, I learned to surf and surrender to corona’s waves.
When I found myself going stir-crazy, confined to a 100-meter radius of our home, I escaped to our roof to hula hoop, and to enjoy a cup of coffee or a glass of wine with Allan at what we called the Corona Café. Allan played a lot of guitar and began researching a new historical novel.
Take one thing you do regularly but mindlessly, like brushing your teeth or getting dressed, and notice as many sensations as you can.
Open your eyes
Walking 10 hours a day often led to overlooking lovely landscapes due to fatigue or my inner chatter. I had to work at seeing fossils within the desert rocks, olives leaves flickering gray-green in the wind, and undulating ant trails in front of our boots.
While we had to wear masks during the pandemic, at least our eyes were uncovered. Yes, at first I looked suspiciously at passersby checking if they were closer than two meters and struggled to identify friends.
But I got better at identifying someone’s unique walk or silhouette. I particularly noticed people’s eyes: how they crinkled in joy in unexpectedly meeting up, or a lonely look slightly brightening during a conversation.
Really look at one thing you normally ignore (it can be your own eyes!) and notice colors, textures, patterns.
Don’t go into the desert alone
While hiking, I most dreaded crossing the desert. Looking out at the stark, sun-baked landscapes, I worried about finding our food and water caches, about getting injured in the middle of nowhere, and whether I could handle the stifling heat.
We each experienced a breaking point which unsurprisingly happened in the desert. We survived by carrying extra weight for one another, or by simply offering an encouraging word.
A pandemic can also be terrifying; fears that a cough is the start of your lungs shutting down, that grocery shopping may expose you to someone with the disease, that you can’t bear one more day of being all alone. But dare to share your challenges and ask for support.
Showing vulnerability grows courage and connection.
Spread your wings
Israel has an incredible network of Trail Angels, between 450 and 500 people from Dan to Eilat, who offer hospitality to Israel Trail hikers. That may include comfortable beds, hot showers and meals, and, most importantly, moral support, all free of charge.
During the corona lockdowns, people brought home-cooked meals and delivered groceries and medicines to the frail and elderly. Inspired by their example, I called high-risk folks and friends who lived alone.
Reaching out and calling others you haven’t contacted in a while or sending a little gift will likely raise not only their spirits but yours as well.