Alameda resident trains for hike in South Africa to help AIDS research

Carol Robinson never thought she'd establish a correspondence with the Board of Rabbis of South Africa. And yet, she has.

The Alameda resident and congregant at Berkeley's Netivot Shalom was looking to do "something big" for her 50th birthday, yet, simultaneously seeking to "do something that wasn't about me." Hiking across the South African wilderness to raise money for AIDS research, she thought, was the perfect activity.

But since this year's AIDSTrek kicks off April 1 — the third day of Pesach — Robinson got in touch with South African rabbis to make certain that a kosher meal would be available for her at the end of a long day's hike.

Whether homemade chicken soup is on the menu remains to be seen, but the rabbis assured her she would receive Jewish hospitality.

"I keep a kosher home and keep Shabbat. I'm Jewish in my daily life. This [trip] really is driven by tikkun olam," said Robinson, an environmental health and safety consultant whose accent reveals her Chicago upbringing.

"I have nothing to do with AIDS. I have not lost any family, friends or acquaintances. But I think so many people don't think this has to do with them: 'It's over there; it's a Third World problem.' And I don't think that's true at all. AIDS impacts all of us whether we're in high-risk groups or not."

Robinson, who moved to the Bay Area four years ago, hopes to raise as much as $10,000 for AIDS charities. In addition to money heading to smaller health organizations in rural, sub-Saharan Africa, funds raised by Robinson will aid the UCLA AIDS Institute, the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center and the Emory Vaccine Center.

Robinson used to be an avid runner, but she "became more mature," she says with a laugh, and to appease her aching joints, took up walking.

She first hit the pavement for a cause last year, when she hiked the 60-odd miles from San Jose to San Francisco to raise more than $3,000 for breast cancer research. The experience whetted her walking appetite and left her with a desire to do more.

And the AIDSTrek is definitely more. The 80-mile hike through South Africa's Cedarburg wilderness is most certainly no walk in the park.

"I have to note, I'm not a camper — again, I'm a little more mature — and this is real camping. You're carrying the biodegradable toilet paper!" she said with a chuckle. "I'm used to a little cushier walk. On the breast cancer walk, we had shower trucks and a mobile kitchen. Here, there are no showers."

But, assure the South African rabbis, at least there will be kosher food. And, thanks to her move to the Bay Area, the former Chicago resident has been able to train all winter without fear of frostbite.

"It makes a huge difference being in California; it makes it much easier to live an outdoor lifestyle," said Robinson, whose 50th birthday actually doesn't come until June

"Though my mother keeps calling me about how wonderful the weather has been [in Chicago] this winter."

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.