20 Elul 5776 Hanoch Ne’eman, Scottsdale, AZ

I saw it from the window of the Southwest Airlines jet when I arrived the day before. Now, as I lie in bed shortly before sunrise, I knew it was out there, beyond the shutters and windowpanes. As if Hashem might be calling me: Chanoch, come worship me on the mountain…

Camelback Mountain. I opened the slats of the shutters and saw it towering there in the distance, beyond the fifty foot palm trees and twenty foot saguaro cacti. At seven a.m. I get up, get dressed in shorts, two pairs of socks, running shoes, short sleeve polo shirt, neckerchief, visor cap and sunglasses. Put my driver’s license in my shirt pocket and secured it with a paper clip. Fill water bottle to leave in car. Out the door. Into the Honda Element.

Park on Invergordon Road at 7:45 am. Jog to start of Cholla Trail. Set off. Instantly you are hiking over big square rocks. You rise above the golf course below. Before long you see the Phoenician Hotel sprawled out at the base of the mountain. In the distance, at eye-level, I see planes landing at Phoenix airport.

It is hard to keep to the trail in places, it is all brown rock and dirt and the vegetation is sparse. I hop like a mountain goat from dirt to rock. After twenty minutes I start to lose my breath and have to slow down. Up and down goes the trail, following the Camel’s back. Now it’s up up up for the final ascent. Hawks soar to the left, and a helicopter flies past too, some 200 feet below you. Finally, forty -seven minutes after leaving the car, I reach the summit. A dozen hikers sit or stand there, clad in spandex and water packs, admiring the 360 degree view of maybe a hundred miles in each direction. Downtown Phoenix looks like a Lego set. Two chipmunks are there too, working the crowd. It is past 8:30, so I say the three paragraphs of Shema, as I have not davened yet.

I tarry for two to three minutes and then start my descent, retracing my steps. Going down is the fun part. Gravity pulls you back, is your co-pilot. I wear gloves in case I fall, as well as for gripping rocks. Instinct reigns. It is a skill we probably all have but most don’t use it. It is used in rock climbing too. Your brain calculates things you do not have time to think fully about. You are flying down a mountain, a rock-strewn trail, often sheer rock face, and your feet are like two sensors; tapping, hovering, braking, slipping and recovering, carrying you down in what is better called a controlled fall than a run. It feels like a space shuttle re-entering the atmosphere and hurtling toward the desert floor.

I again get out of breath and have to slow down. My legs are wobbly. I don’t have a water bottle as the run is short and holding it will mess up my balance. I need to be light like a bird.

After thirty one minutes of descent, I am back at the car. No falls, Baruch Hashem. Now I drive home, take a dip in the pool, and daven shacharis with exceptional kavana. Camelback smiles in the distance.




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