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Dirt Tracks 1: The Desert Trail

At the northern tip of the Red Sea, as the sun rose over the mountains of Jordan to the east, illuminating the vast sands of Egypt to the west, I stood at the apex of three countries and looked up at the mighty Negev.

Pete sets off into the Negev with Egypt in the background
Pete sets off into the Negev with Egypt in the background

I took my first step on a journey that would last for months, through hundreds of miles of dirt tracks and desert trails and felt an intense mix of wonder… and fear.

If I knew then, what I know now, I might never have set off. Days of being cooked in the inescapable desert sun and nights of lying awake in the freezing hours of the night lay before me. Wild dogs and wolves waited in my path and not a drop of water could be seen or tasted for miles. The wadis and ravines, like my throat, were dry as a bone.

Like any optimistic traveller, packing their bag a few hours before catching a flight, I threw in a ton of unnecessary tat, happily telling myself, "I’ll be needing this."

How wrong I was.

On that first anxious morning, I lugged an enormous back-pack up the first ridge which seemed to have been crinkled up into a cloudless sky by the vast and merciless deserts on every side. I suddenly regretted taking everything I owned, bar the kitchen sink, as I summited the first peak and discovered endless peaks beyond, stretching into the hazy horizon.

Dan pausing halfway up the first ridge into the Negev
Pausing halfway up the first ridge into the Negev

Why did I do this?

Just over 2000 years ago, a refugee child made a similar journey on the way home from exile in Egypt to his family home in the village of Nazareth in the region of Galilee. I wanted to know what that journey felt like, in the raw wilderness of the desert.

That boy was seemingly a nobody back then, Ye’shua was his name, common at the time, an innocent child in a cruel world, a refugee forced from his home by a paranoid puppet king, unknown for decades by the military superpower that would later nail him to a tree in his early thirties. Yet this Roman empire would later collapse, like all great superpowers before it, while the child would grow up to change history, more than anyone who has ever lived.

Has anyone so influential ever started life so vulnerable?

On that scorching Tuesday morning, I tasted a small drop of that vulnerability.

I had a few saving graces. For a start, there was a designated trail called the ‘Shvil Israel’ that ran from North to South so I knew people had walked these paths before me and as I later discovered, many gracious people along my route, stepped in at my hour of need. For the first week, I never walked alone for my good friend and fellow Cornish brother, Pete, had taken a week off work to join me on the first frontier of the desert.

Dan and Pete on Day 1 of the desert journey
Dan and Pete on Day 1 of the desert journey

We are both very aware that the trials of the road were nothing compared to the threats that Jesus and his young parents faced on their journey all those years ago. Nor could our journey compare to the dangers encountered by millions of refugee families forced from their homes over the last few years in the heat of war.

Neither of us have encountered anything like the suffering endured by real refugees and we don’t pretend to. But out of solidarity for those millions, and curiosity for that one child, I made this journey to raise money for the refugees who have been swept onto possibly the darkest path of all, at the hands of human traffickers.

If you want to support this journey, then 100% of your contributions will go to the anti-human trafficking organisation A21, who are working right now on the front lines of 12 countries to rescue men, women and children who have been caught by traffickers intent on making a profit from someone else's son or daughter.

My own expenses form no part of your donation. 100% of the funds raised will go directly to A21. Click here to donate.

I write this post from Jerusalem, 260 miles into the journey, reflecting on the epic challenges and surprising blessings that have crossed my path over the last 3 weeks…

Up next… Dirt Tracks 2: The Refugee Road

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