Why a Thousand-Mile Hike Through the Mideast Ended After 160 Miles

Dave Cornthwaite hikes through Wadi Auja, south of Kufa Malek; Photograph by David Corthwaite
Dave Cornthwaite hikes through Wadi Auja, south of Kufa Malek; Photograph by David Corthwaite

Walking. Just putting one foot in front of the other. It seems like a simple task.

And Dave Cornthwaite, veteran of eleven expeditions of a thousand miles or more, figured a walking adventure through Israel, Jordan, Palestine, and Egypt would be like his other thousand-mile adventures: hard at times but otherwise a fun way to meet people, experience the world, and “say yes more,” as his motto goes.

But just 160 miles into the expedition, he ultimately had to say no. No to walking farther; no to buying a donkey to lighten his pack load; and, ultimately, no to continuing the expedition.

Leon McCarron (left) and Dave Cornthwaite make their way north through the rolling landscape of the West Bank; Photograph by David Corthwaite
Leon McCarron (left) and Dave Cornthwaite make their way north through the rolling landscape of the West Bank; Photograph by David Corthwaite

Cornthwaite and adventure partner Leon McCarron‘s planned “Walk the Masar” route had them hiking north from Jerusalem, through the West Bank, and into Jordan. From there, they aimed to walk around the Dead Sea, heading south into Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

Their adventure was an attempt to follow some of the Middle East’s most ancient paths, visiting centuries-old villages and being open to encounters that they found around each corner. They also hoped to find examples of human goodwill in a region known more for sectarian violence. Sure, Cornthwaite heard the odd bit of gunfire but nothing that he immediately felt threatened by. “Whatever gender you are, whatever region you’re in, it comes down to employing a decent amount of common sense,” he says.

But he grants that the West Bank isn’t exactly vacation material for most Westerners. “Not many hikers head to the region at the moment, for obvious and predictable reasons.”

Though the trails are rarely marked, there are GPS points the whole way through, according to Conrthwaite, and the paths avoid tarmac roads almost all of the time. “It was really rare that we saw anyone walking through the hills of the West Bank,” he says. “But almost every time we stopped, there was just an old man sitting on a donkey.”

But then the team’s plans were forced to change.

Cornthwaite describes the catalyst as a “mundane step” just after crossing into Jordan.

“My foot was fine one second, and then I put it down, and something was off,” he explains by phone from his home in Britain. “After two hours, I couldn’t put any weight on my foot. I was really struggling. And by the end of the day I felt like something was pretty crucial, but at the same time, because there had been no dramatic fall, I felt like the pain would pass just as quickly as it had arrived.”

They took it easy for a couple of days but ultimately decided “enough’s enough” and hitched a ride into the Jordanian capital of Amman, where they found a doctor. An MRI confirmed several stress fractures throughout Cornthwaite’s foot. The only solution for this type of injury: rest and time.

Among his adventures, Cornthwaite has skateboarded 3,600 miles from Perth to Brisbane, swum 1,001 miles of the Missouri River, and stand-up paddleboarded the length of the Mississippi River.

But the 36-year-old adventurer doesn’t buy the idea that the approximately 19,000 miles he’s put on his body over a decade are to blame.

“I’ve got a friend, Dale Sanders, who paddled the length of the Mississippi River last year, and he’s 80 years old,” he says. “It’s not our bodies that are the limit—it’s the decisions that we make with them sometimes that cause the issues.”

The decision he points to here? Doing too many miles too early in the adventure, before his body had adjusted to the rigors of hiking.

“A couple of days, we were joined by local hikers,” he says. “We were really glad to have company. They were guys who knew the region, but they were also walking without packs. So we walked a bit further and with fewer breaks than Leon and I ordinarily would. There were a couple of days when I was struggling, not being an experienced hiker with the large pack. And I was thinking, If I was by myself, I would have stopped maybe halfway through the day.”

He acknowledges that walking away from an expedition is hard, especially for a nontraumatic injury. It’s also expensive, “not just in terms of what it costs to do a trip like this, but in lost income because we’re not on the ground in the U.K., the U.S., and Australia giving talks and writing books, [which is] how our income is normally generated. But that’s our decision of how to live our lives.”

But Cornthwaite says there’s always a silver lining. “I’ve got two months ahead of me with nothing planned. That’s really rare. So how can I turn that into something really cool?”

McCarron continues Walk the Masar. Cornthwaite hopes his partner buys a donkey to help him along the walk. “If he does, I want him to name it Dave.”