Tonight I am tired. So tired that all I can think about is lying down and closing my eyes. It's all self-inflicted, of course- I choose my schedule, and I choose how to approach it. And this week I've chosen overload.
(Alongside the stories I'm finding on the masar, I'd also like to share some of the other aspects of this journey. This is a trip that moves at 3mph and relies only on the contents of a backpack to continue, and these are some of the ups, downs and thoughts that come from walking alone through unfamiliar places...)
I've never been very good at pacing myself. Mentally now I'm drained from trying to process everything that's going on around me every minute of every day. I try and capture it all - remember it, write it down in my notepad, take a picture of the scene, film it extensively. My synapses work overtime in the background trying to decide, if all of these actions are not possible simultaneously, which is the most appropriate or useful way to record the experience? How do I accurately represent what's happening without adversely affecting it by documenting it? This is meta-storytelling at its most brain-aching.
Physically too, it's grinding. It's been some time since I last hiked this hard, through terrain this tough. Part of me still enjoys the visceral nature of the challenge- I like to know that I can do it. And I can do it. 35+ kilos in my pack, powering up and down slopes from sun rise to set, resting only minutes at a time and rationing water in military fashion. There's satisfaction there, and a flicker of encouragement to push even more. But it definitely interests me less than it did 5 years ago. It used to be such a thrill to go further and faster and higher, again and again and again until I reached a limit where my body could simply not withstand any more. I did quite a bit of that- it was daft, of course, but I learned a lot about myself by finding out where my limits were (or are.)
These days, I can mostly get the same physical satisfaction from an intense 10k run around a London park. Perhaps I've finally put myself in enough ludicrous situations that I no longer feel the need to prove myself to anyone (even myself.) This journey, by nature, will include some sweating up hills and hobbling down the other side, but it shouldn't be about trying to show how tough I am or am not. Conceptually, at least, it's much more than that.
My day ends as the sun drops down over the Dead Sea- the salt adds a dense clarity to the reflection (or so I think.) Either way, it makes me pause to breathe it in. (I take one picture too, and jot down a quick note in my diary, lest I forget the feeling.)
It's a beautiful spot, out here in this most ancient of landscapes with only the fading light for company. It can also be a lonely place. The fine line between solitude and loneliness is territory constantly requiring re-navigation by the solo traveller. It's been a few days since I had a proper, solid human interaction. Waving wildly at a far off shepherd doesn't really count.
It's important to be comfortable with one's own company- it's a good test of sanity and self-assurance. I find that, alone, there is no escape from the depths of human emotion. Whatever is in there, lodged in dark recesses of memory or thought, it all eventually gets dragged out. Walking solo is the most intense, unremitting, all-encompassing form of self-therapy that I've ever found.
All mental processes here come with a more extreme, manic edge to them. They can spiral rapidly. If one starts the day feeling positive, it can often end high as a kite on life. Good thoughts breed more of the same. Start low though, and it's downhill from there. I first realised this when I was hiking for 7 months in China and had a lot of time to let life rattle round in my head. I discovered that it was not only possible but essential to actively try and direct emotional wellbeing through positive thinking. If you don't get a handle on it, it can be crushing.
So tonight I will put up my tent and tell myself how lucky I am to be here. That's true. I can sit down, make coffee and rest aching muscles. I'm likely to sleep for 10 hours, then wake to natural light piecing through my tent at sunrise. I even have two flavours of instant noodles. All of these things keep me in the positive spiral for now.
Tomorrow looks like it'll be similarly remote, so I'll have more time alone with my thoughts. I expect to pass through some more vast, spectacular landscapes and eventually, in a couple of days, I'll reach a town where I can collapse into a cheap hotel room and treat myself to a shower and a kebab.
That too is good news, for as much as I love the wilderness, I also like the occasional luxury of civilisation. Hot water and a greasy sandwich are the stuff of dreams right now.