Climbing from the Old City of Nazareth, out over muddy paths, onto Zippori, a group of Jesus Trail hikers straddled rushing water in the path, knocked mud off shoes, stopped for lunch under rain clouds, and kept hiking. But this was no ordinary group of hikers. Among the hikers, Merrill Ohlson walked along at a steady clip. Ninety one years old and hailing from California, USA, Merrill came to walk where Jesus once traveled. Although Jesus was about a third of Merrill’s age when he traveled these dirt paths between villages, Merrill did not keep this fact from deterring him. When encouraged by surprise and admiration from his fellow hikers, Merrill just said, “Praise the Lord!”
As he paced along (in the lead many times when on level ground), I asked Merrill why he came to hike the trail. He simply said that he was interested in Israel; he had good vibes about this place that he believes Jesus had lived in and will return to. Extensive reading on the area led him to the Jesus Trail blog. Because he had come to travel the land in a traditional tour several years ago, he wanted to try something different this time. So, he began hiking around his university town weekly in preparation. While tramping over stones and mud outside of Cana, Merrill explained his weekly regiment: 3-5 miles every Saturday. Of course, he said, this walk took him on paved sidewalks around campus and town, but he didn’t let this training keep him from hitting the backcountry paths of the Galilee, or from completing the 60+ kilometer Jesus Trail from Nazareth to the Sea!
All those who shared the path with Merrill were encouraged by his steady pace, his positive attitude, his fortitude and imagination to live life as it comes. On one occasion, another hiker was wondering about the day to come. Merrill said, “One day at a time.” With a hiking pole in one hand and a water bottle in the other this 91-year-old hiker mentioned that his four-day hike on the Jesus Trail might be the last time he does this, but his positive attitude left even that up for debate.