May 04, 2011 - From climbing Mt. Kilmanjaro to scaling a 12,000-foot high Santa Fe mountain to studies of Michigan rattlesnakes, Brandon Township resident Jonathan Schechter is no stranger to outdoor challenges.
Recently, Schechter's explorations featured a hike across Israel, on the "Sea to Sea," a four-day trek from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Galilee.
"It's less than 40 miles across the country," said Schechter, an on-call paramedic/firefighter with the Brandon Fire Department and an emergency room paramedic for St. John Macomb-Oakland Hospital.
"The trail does not go in a straight line; rather, it follows narrow Roman cobblestone roads, traverses 800-year-old stone bridges and meanders on goat paths. The trail passes13th century crusader castles, 500-year-old flower mills and ancient trails that incorporate natural water springs. The trail also crosses a six-lane highway."
Schechter landed in Tel Aviv, Israel before traveling via train to Akko, an old seacoast town. He then traveled to Kafar Blum, a small village in the upper Galilee area near the banks of the Jordan River.
"Contrary to the images of the Middle East, these communities are not dangerous," Schechter. "There was really no sense of fear at anytime. Americans and Europeans are in the area to visit. Many ski on the snow-capped Mount Hermon at the western edge of the Syrian plateau. There's bed and breakfasts along the way, along with tourist spots. The other misconception is while you're in Israel you're close to Jordan, which recently had some tensions. Honestly, there are no land mines."
According to a report in the March 28 Jerusalem Post, Jordan is teetering on civil war.
"It's no big deal," said Schechter, who traveled with an Israeli guide. "There's nothing going on in Israel. It's not the Middle East of the news. I felt safer in northern Israel than in Flint or Pontiac. Conversely, I would not go to the Gaza Strip or the West Bank."
"The countryside of northern Israel is a beautiful, peaceful country with plenty of history and spectacular wild lands. The only thing I was fearful of was slipping off a trail, which were narrow and often about 500 feet above the ground. There were no handrails," he said. "The goat trails get you in trouble, they go where I can't. They kind of meander up and down mountains."
The springtime featured plenty of rain, prompting a multitude of flowers and lush green grasses.
"It was exceptional foliage," he said. "It's not the image you expected—rather, it included deep forests with large heavy pines. No camels either where I hiked. The Europeans go there to ski in the higher elevations. The most danger I encountered were goat stampedes and plenty of slippery rocks."
Schechter said there were no American hikers at the time.
"My cell phone worked perfectly, unlike the Ortonville area. I had five bars there—but not one here...There were many religious and historical sites including the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River along with a fair number of tourists. On the banks of the Sea of Galilee there's a sign where Jesus fed the masses with fish and bread."
"One night we slept in a goat barn. jackals were howling outside the door during heavy rain. We had an Akbash dog in there with us. It's a large livestock dog breed. That dog let out one long loud howl and all of a sudden the jackals just stopped—they must have determined that big dog was there to protect the goats. That morning we had a breakfast of hardboiled eggs, goat cheese, coffee and carrots."
Schechter returned to Brandon Township on April 19.