Getting away from it all in Hamasrek

Stuck in a traffic jam between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv? Try a different perspective on the matter.

Sometimes it just gets too much. The noise, the traffic, the people - especially the people (you know which ones I mean). It's enough to make you want to run away to some mountain somewhere. Ah, but which mountain? I have a good one, but I'm reluctant to tell. If too many people hear about my "magic mountain" getaway, they might decide to join me there in seeking a respite from their daily woes. And with thousands of peace-and-quiet seekers descending on my calm and quiet little corner of the world, it wouldn't be too calm or quiet for long, would it? No. So let's keep this between friends. If you're looking for beautiful mountain vistas and some of the freshest air anywhere - all within a 45-minute drive of the center of the country - the place to go is Road 3955, which you turn onto when you get off at the Shoresh interchange along the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway in the direction of Shoresh and Beit Meir. All along this 10-kilometer drive there is a fantastic view of the Ayalon Valley on one side of the road, while on the other side there are several entrances to Rabin Park - including the eastern side of the Burma Road, which Palmah fighters, led by "Mickey" (David) Marcus and Yitzhak Rabin, built in order to open up a passage to Jerusalem, bypassing the Arab chokehold at the Sha'ar Hagai area. Any one of these spots would be perfect for a getaway. But the best place to go on this road, the one I wander alone, or with the family, is the Jewish National Fund-sponsored Hamasrek Nature Reserve. Named by Palmah fighters during the War of Independence for the distinctive pine trees that looked - at least to them - like the teeth of a comb (frankly, I don't see the similarity, but I was never that creative), Hamasrek is actually the name given to a large swath of land south of Highway No. 1. A forest fire in 2001 means a lot of this was burned down, but enough of it was preserved, and the best way to see the reserve is to park your car at the official entrance to the spot on Road 3955, about 5 km. or so from the Shoresh exit on the highway. Hamasrek has several easy hiking trails, making it ideal for little kids - the trails that ascend the hill have stone steps carved into the hill at steep points, and there are places to sit on the side of the trail throughout. From the high point (630 meters above sea level) of the reserve you get a bird's-eye view of what the Palmah was up against at Sha'ar Hagai; it isn't clear when you drive it just how narrow the passageway into the hills is, and certainly it was even narrower back then before the highway expansions of 1948 and 1967. Among the sites at Hamasrek are a memorial to the fighters who built the Burma Road and pushed further on towards Jerusalem - the next major battle point being the Castel, near Mevaseret Zion. Also on the site of the reserve area is the grave of Sheikh Ahmed el-Adjami, revered by Muslims as a companion of Muhammad. Hamasrek is also noted as having the largest remaining groves of Jerusalem pines, native to Israel, as well as other unique trees, and of course a wild riot of flowers of all different shapes, sizes and colors, especially now, at the beginning of spring. The various trails can be done in under two hours (there's a shorter and longer one), and the gradual rise of the trail - i.e., you don't over-exert yourself climbing - makes it perfect for children or even adults who might otherwise think twice about hiking a more ambitious trail. At Hamasrek, you get to do the nature thing in the great outdoors, without risking the possibility that you will be stuck with a sore leg or worse in the "great indoors" during the week following the hike! Hamasrek certainly makes for a great family hike - but, between you and me, we working stiffs are the ones who will really benefit. Imagine this: You're on your way to work in the already bumper-to-bumper traffic on Highway 1 - when traffic all of a sudden just comes to a halt. Fiddling with your radio, you hear on one of the stations a report that police have closed the road into Jerusalem because of a major accident. You could be stuck there for an hour, for all you know. But, lucky you, you've got the inside track on Hamasrek. So you exit the highway at Shoresh and drive down the road until you get to the Hamasrek parking area. It's just eight o'clock on a nice spring morning, and no one else is in sight. There you are communing with nature, taking in the fresh air, beautiful scenery and fresh breezes as you take a stroll down one of the reserve's easy paths. Intersecting at one of the cross trails before you complete the full circuit, you double back down a half hour later, refreshed and renewed - and get back into the flow of traffic as the highway once again reopens. Like I said, what a way to start the day! But let's keep it between us - we don't want too many people getting in on our good thing! n