The Climb

October 3, 2008
They told us it was going to be the most rewarding thing we would do the entire trip. On our last day in Israel, my camp friends and I were climbing the Israeli fortress, Masada, to watch the sunrise. At three o’clock in the morning, I cared less about the sunrise and more about how gross it was to sweat in the dark. My trademark perky attitude was gone, probably because I was climbing up a mountain on five hours of sleep and a cookie for breakfast. I wasn’t sure of the logic behind the climb; apparently anything would seem rewarding after large amounts of torture on your thigh and calf muscles. To make matters worse, the whole climb felt like a tease. It seemed as if the summit was constantly just right around the corner and I only had to climb, oh 100 more steps, to reach it.
I tried everything I could to appreciate the climb and the sunrise that followed. I took pictures; I gazed at the ancient architecture around me; I marveled at how high I had climbed. Still, it was beyond frustrating that something everyone was enjoying so much wasn’t even registering on my “Top 25 Things to See in Israel.” As my annoyance mounted, I irritably thought to myself that I had seen better sunrises. And then it hit me, I had seen better sunrises. It dawned on me that climbing Masada hadn’t changed my world because I had already challenged myself way beyond I thought I ever could.
Two weeks before climbing Masada, I had elected to do a four day trek through the Israeli desert. Unbeknownst to me, the desert was not some flat land filled with swirling sandstorms. Instead, I encountered mountains that I was expected to climb up with four liters of water on my back. For four, very long days I sweated through shirts, shorts, and even my hat. I drank more water than I thought possible, and gave my legs the workout of a lifetime. Every morning I woke up before dawn and got to eat breakfast while watching the sunrise—a brilliant orb of lemon, cherry, and strawberry colors. I pushed myself till I thought I would pass out, and then forgot all about the exhaustion once we rested at hidden springs and huge caves. In the afternoons I hiked through caverns, shimmying my way through tight spots and jumping over mini-chasms in the reddish-gold rock. I learned to navigate, to drink tea, and to recognize which plants were edible.
They told us it was going to be the most rewarding thing we would do the entire trip. On my last morning in Israel, I realized I had experienced the challenge of a lifetime. I had done more than climb Masada—I had conquered the desert. Suddenly, the sunrise seemed much brighter.

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