August 6, 2013
Mileage today: 18 miles (29 km)
Total mileage since the start at Tel Dan: 198 miles (319 km)
Day 16 on the Israel Trail started at 7am, when I hopped on my “might motorcycle,” the 125cc Kymco “Dink,” a.k.a. “Rinky” and rushed to the Jerusalem train station. As usual, I spent time farting around on the computer and getting my stuff organized so left the house a little late, which means I was glad I was on a motorcycle and could zip around the traffic. I was still scrambling and fumbling with the lock when I got to the train station, rushing to make sure I didn’t miss the train. I have learned that hard way that while I can get away with being a few minutes late to a meeting, it doesn’t work so well with trains.
I made it in time and got on the train, picking a seat on the right side—the views between Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh are much better on that side of the train. As I settled in among the very mixed crowd – soldiers, religious, secular, Arabs – I saw several people who looked like commuters, heading to offices in Tel Aviv, dressed in standard Israeli “business casual,” tapping on their smartphones. And I was thinking, yup, I’m commuting to a day in the “office” – my office in this case being the Israel Trail. I felt grateful again for the flexibility in my schedule to do this, and for the fact that I could also get some work done sitting on the train, tapping on my iPad.
Changed trains in Tel Aviv and got to the train station in Ceasarea about 9:45. Hopped in a taxi and 15 minutes and 45 shekels later I was at the entrance to Ceasarea National Park. Since we have the annual card for the National Park, I was able to enter for free. And realized last week I entered for free from the north without having to show my card, by coming in on the trail. Had to find just the right spot for the obligatory “start of the trail” picture. That mission accomplished, I was ready to head out on the trail.
If I had not been there many times before, I would have spent a few hours looking around the site. Ceasarea is one of the most impressive archaeological sites in the entire country. Originally built by Herod the Great around 20 BCE, it has the most extensive and well preserved Roman-era ruins in Israel. The harbor features an impressive breakwater that used innovative technology including pouring cement underwater. The Romans used it as their regional capital for the province of Judea. The only archaeological item mentioning Pontius Pilate, who the New Testament says ordered the crucifixion of Jesus, was found in Ceasarea in 1961.
But I’ve seen the place before and was eager to get out on the trail, so I jogged past the 2,000-year-old ruins and hit the trail, which initially ran along the side of a road for a mile or so past Kibbutz Sdot Yam, which was founded in 1936…its business was supposed to be fishing, but its real purpose was smuggling in then illegal immigrants to pre-state Palestine.
After Sdot Yam the trail follows a sand road. Much of the day was actually spent on sand roads, which, combined with the heat (over 90F) made the day much tougher than it looked from the maps. Funny how it often seems to turn out that way.
The skyline in the area is dominated by the Orot Rabin power plant in Hadera with its 3 huge smokestacks. It’s a huge landmark that every Israeli knows from traveling the coast from Tel Aviv to Haifa – whether in a car, bus, or train, the smokestacks are there. It’s Israel’s largest power plant, currently generating 23% of Israel’s capacity. The tallest smokestack is 300m (980 ft) high. The plant burns 18,000 tons of coal every day.
The trail briefly parallels Highway 2, one of the busiest in Israel, as it passes the plant. A little further on by the south side of the plant and about 3.5 miles into the hike the trail crosses Nahal Hadera, Hadera Stream, which made a good spot to sit in the shade for a few minutes. As I was sitting in the shade I noticed that my back felt really wet. OK, I was sweating, but I don’t sweat like that. I took the backpack off and discovered my 3-liter water bag had sprung a leak. Great. Running/hiking in 90 degree heat and I’m going to run out of water. Fortunately I did have a couple of bottles of Gatorade as well, and the trail is in a “civilized” part of Israel so I should be able to buy more water. Could be a bit more of a problem if something like that happens to me out in the middle of the Negev somewhere. Think I’ll spring for the better grade of “shluker” when I buy a replacement.
Good thing I took advantage of the shared, because it was the last shade for a while. Coming out of Nahal Hadera park, the trail spends a pretty boring and very exposed mile on the road that leads to the park. At the 5.5 mile point the trail goes through a residential neighborhood at Kidmat Yam, where there was a makolet (convenience store) where I stocked up on bottles of water.
After Kidmat Yam, the trail has a particularly ugly half mile wedged between apartment buildings and Highway 2, strewn with trash. Definitely not the image that comes to mind for the magnificent Israel Trail.
Just before crossing the highway at roughly the 6 mile point there’s a gas station and an ice cream. I had a chocolate milkshake and chips for “lunch,” and bought some more water.
The trail crosses the highway on a pedestrian overpass. Another mile and a half to go to Hadera Forest, which is the point that very roughly breaks todays jaunt into two. I should have learned by now, but somehow haven’t, not to try and take shortcuts. I could the woods for where I wanted to go, and didn’t see why the trail was doing a long loop to get there. So I boldly started taking a shortcut through the sand dunes. And then saw a train whiz by, and saw fences on the other side of train – there was no way to get to where I wanted to go with my “shortcut.” Chastised, I rejoined the “official” trail. The trail just barely enters the town of Hadera and turns right to the end of the first chunk of the trail, right at the Hadera West train station.
If I’d known the trail went right past a train station, I probably would have tried to organize it so that I would start/finish one of my days at that spot. But it was too early in the day to quit – I wanted to make Netanya – so I kept going.
I had finished the 7.7 miles in two and a half hours. It was 1pm. Ten miles to go.
This first section of the trail from Ceasarea to Hadera is definitely my LEAST favorite section of the Israel Trail to date. Much of it is ugly, almost all of it is completely exposed (well, I better get used to that, not much shade in the desert either), miles of it are along roads, including a very busy highway, some sections are covered with trash. Definitely one of those sections you do to get from point “A” to point “B.” No one in their right mind would do that section as a day hike.
I posted something to FB about my disappointment with this part of the hike, and someone posted:
Everyone I know who is familiar with the Hadera area complains about it — housing, schools, trails, climate…you name it. Everything after this will be an improvement.
Fortunately, she was right – it did get a LOT better after Hadera.
For the first two miles or so past Hadera the trail goes through and at the edge of Hadera Forest, 370 acres of Australian Eucalyptus that the first settlers in Hadera planted in an attempt (unsuccessful) to drain the large swamp. The swamp was later drained with some other technique, but the eucalyptus trees have remained.
After the eucalyptus, a sign informs you that you’re in “HaSharon Park.” The four miles or so are pretty interesting – the trail goes through an area where they have a swamp that was NOT dried out, so you can get a feel for what the central coastal region of Israel was like before they drained the swamps and developed the land for agriculture. Beautiful birds, water views – and no doubt millions of mosquitors.
Passing the swamp the trail goes under the Tel Aviv – Haifa train tracks. There was a sign warning hikers to use the water tunnel, not to cross the tracks. One problem: I would have had to be on my hands and knees to make it through the water tunnel. Mustering my courage, I instead walked up to the tracks, looked both ways, and made a daring dash across the tracks. It was another 15 minutes before an actual train went by, but no point in taking chances.
The next three miles were the toughest of the day. Sand, not much shade, heat. I was tired and really wanted to get back to the beach and jump in the water. I found a bush to sit under for a break, sympathizing with the biblical Jonah sitting under his bush, appreciating the bush. At least God didn’t destroy my bush.
At about 4.5 miles past the train station, 12 miles from Ceasarea, a mile detour from the path could bring you to “Turtle Bridge” where they say you can see 100 pound soft shell turtles. Not being in the mood for any detours, just wanting to get to the beach and jump in, I skipped the turtles, but made a note that it might be a fun thing to come and do with the kids sometime.
The trail comes into Nahal Alexander park, which was quite scenic. Once heavily polluted, the stream has benefited from a major restoration effort, one of the benefits being that it saved the turtles.
There’s an interesting ruin in the park, Khirbet Samara, built in the 19th century on Roman-era ruins, it was a stopover point for camel caravans, later used by the Ottoman authorities as a customs house.
Finally – after about 14 miles on the trail – I got back out to the beach at Beit Yannai. The water felt great.
Another four miles on the beach to the northern edge of Netanya. As you can see from the pictures below, there are long stretches of pristine Mediterranean beach that are devoid of people. You just have to be willing to walk a little if you want a private beach. Of course, walking with a beach umbrella, chair, ice chest, etc., might not be so much fun. I suppose that explains why there are crowds at places where there is parking.
When I got to Netanya I was in a rush because I wanted to catch a train that would get me back to Jerusalem by 730, so I hiked up to the road and when a cab appeared I jumped in so quickly I didn’t even take my usual end of trail picture. Oh well, it’s the same as the “start of trail” picture for next time.
The second half of the trail was definitely worth a repeat – lots of interesting things to see.
I have now completed about 1/3 of my journey on foot from the Lebanese border to the Egyptian border.
“Ceasarea to Netanya
Ceasarea to Hadera Forest: http://www.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=4976014
Hadera Forest to Netanya: http://www.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=4977688”
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