Tuesday, September 30, 2014

At Trail's End

It's hard to believe that it's been over two months since the conclusion of Hike4Hope!  For me, Hike4Hope was a life-changing experience; one that will influence me for many years to come.  Thank you to everyone who helped to make the hike such a success.  May we continue to search for ways to fight for Nathan and Bennett's futures!  

Kevin was kind enough to put together a video to help me show you a little bit of what it was like, and also to say thank you.  Enjoy!




Hike4Hope- at trail's end from Kevin Ruhf on Vimeo.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Homecoming


One month ago today, I received the best greeting in the world; two big hugs from two amazing little guys!  Anne and I had just finished what for me, was a very emotional final descent.  We were walking through a beautiful section of pine forest, and it just hit me... this was it... the hike was over.  The mix of emotion was overwhelming.  In the same instant I was both overjoyed about all that Hike4Hope accomplished, and sad that the hike was over.  In the hike's ending I knew that I would be returning to a world of hustle and bustle, a world of egocentricity, a world of complexity.  Spending so much time living simply and walking with God in his creation changes you.  Yet as I was battling the mix of emotion that I was feeling, words from the morning's devotional struck me, and to be honest, they stung a bit as well.  "Self-pity is a slimy, bottomless pit.  Once you fall in, you tend to go deeper and deeper into the mire.  As you slide down those slippery walls, you are well on your way to depression, and the darkness is profound.  Your only hope is to look up and see the light of my presence shining down on you, reach up and grasp my hand."  Those words helped me to change my focus.  Yes, the amazing journey that I've been on for the better part of a year was coming to a close, but the experiences that I've had and the lessons that I've learned are there for me to share with others.  Further, this journey is over, but it is only the beginning of a much larger one.  There is still more to do if a cure is to be found for Nathan and Bennett, so a much better use of my energy would be to allow the momentum generated by Hike4Hope to be the catalyst for the next step.  The trail will always be there, and I do intend to return to it frequently.  For now, it is time for me to return to the rest of the world, to share the good news of God's glory and grace as I experienced it while on this journey.  As this time of retreat ends, I must now look to use what I've learned and experienced to continue God's kingdom work in the world.

As we reached route 30, Scott called us to tell us that they were starting out to meet us.  We reached Caledonia State Park, crossed a bridge and walked a couple hundred yards along the stream.  We came around a bend and saw Nathan and Bennett leading a group out to greet us.  Once they saw us, they took off and ran to meet us.
It was the most amazing welcome!  If there was any hint of self-pity remaining in my mind, it was quickly thwarted when I saw their two smiling faces.  Their joy was so contageous, the whole group was aglow with it.  Anne and I greeted my family and friends who had come out to meet me, and then Nathan and Bennett led all of us into the park where a picnic lunch was waiting.  
That last half mile was like walking on air.  There was so much love, so much joy, so much energy, that all feelings of tiredness and sadness had no foothold.  It was so wonderful to see so many people whom I love, there to support me and walk with me as I completed the final steps of the journey.

It is hard to believe that I have been home for a month.  It feels like yesterday that I was out on the trail.  In the time that has passed since the completion of the hike, I have had some difficulty readjusting to "normal" life.  There is definitely an element of culture shock associated with returning from trail life.  The first couple of weeks back, I woke each morning and took a long walk.  After a month of getting up and walking, it just didn't seem right not to.  I've also found that it's been a bit difficult for me to be surrounded by large groups of people.  I'd gone from seeing about 12 people in a day to seeing more than that in one hour.
I have found myself missing the simplicity and serenity of being on the trail, but also have learned how to find the same kind of peace being back home.  I have continued to seek out those quiet moments with my heavenly father, to continue to grow in relationship with him, and I am learning to accept each day just as it comes to me, not wasting time and energy wishing for different circumstances.  God is surely at work here and now, just as he was at work while I was walking with him on the trail.  I cherish the quiet moments that I spend listening for his still small voice.  In those low moments when I find myself overwhelmed I think back on the words from that last morning's devotion and remind myself that all I need to do is to reach up and grasp Christ's outstretched hand and he will lift me from the mire that I find myself in.

I am still astounded by how amazingly God blessed the hike.  9 months ago, I never would have imagined that so many people could be reached in raising awareness about Progeria.  The amount of funds raised for research, completely blows my mind. I am aware, perhaps more now than ever, how amazing things can happen when we step back and allow God to do his work.  The most amazing piece is that He desires to use us in the process when we allow him to do so.  I think that is the type of relationship that he originally intended for us to have with him.  One where we commune with him and participate in his work as stewards of the earth.  We have a huge freedom to respond to God and to be held accountable for that response.  I think the very nature of our relationship with God is expressed in how we respond to his call.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Surprises in Harrisburg

Today, Anne and I ventured into Harrisburg for our hike.  We looked at the weather reports last night, and with having no way off the trail if we ran into trouble, we decided to take the safer route and complete our mileage in Harrisburg.  We dropped Scott off at work, and headed for Front Street.  There is a very nice walking path there.  We began walking, and not long after, we realized that we both needed to use a restroom.  Unfortunately, we were no longer in the woods, but instead were in a residential area of the city.  Talk about an unexpected problem.
For the past month, all I've had to do when I needed to relieve myself was to dig a hole and make sure there was no poison ivy around.  As we looked around, we discovered a YMCA about half a block away and thought that might be our best shot.  Upon entering, we met a young woman named Savannah Faith.  After telling her about our mission to raise funds and awareness on behalf on Nathan and Bennett, and telling her our current plight, she allowed us to use the facilities of the Y and even gave us a brief tour, though both were against policy. We thanked her emphatically and returned to Front Street.  We walked about a mile and then decided to cross the Susquahanna on the pedestrian bridge and walk around City Island for a little while.  We then crossed back over into Harrisburg and continued on the path, which we learned was called the Greenbelt.  We soon discovered that the path encircled the city for a total distance of 20 miles, so rather than walking back and forth across the portion on Front Street, we decided to take the Greenbelt approximately half way, which meant that when we returned to our car, we would complete 15 miles that day.

The greenbelt was a very pleasant surprise indeed.  I never would have guessed that I could find such a peaceful atmosphere within Harrisburg, and as it was mid-week, we practically had it to ourselves.  We walked along the river for several miles, and then took a turn to the east, where we walked along a pleasant stream called Spring Creek that wound its way along the path for several miles.  We stopped on a bench for a bit of a break around 12:30, and found that we'd gone just over 6 miles in the two hours that we'd been walking.  Having light day packs and a level footpath certainly makes a big difference!  About an hour later, we came to this spectacular garden called the Five Senses Garden.  It was an oasis within the hustle and bustle of the city.  When we entered, we found ourselves surrounded by the beauty of God's creation.
There were six different areas of the garden, 5 engaging one of the senses, and in the center, a Labyrinth.

 Earlier that morning, Anne and I had talked briefly about how nice it would be to get away with our sisters in Christ sometime, where there was no agenda, no itinerary to follow; just time to be with one another in fellowship and worship.  I think that sometimes, we have a tendency to get so locked into programs, that we can lose sight of what is really important; the time we spend in relationship with God and one another as He had originally intended before the fall. Having a program, schedule, or itinerary in itself is not a bad thing, in fact those things are often necessary when planning any kind of event to keep things organized.  I wonder though, how often we stubbornly refuse to get out of the way when God has other things in mind.
Do we cling so tightly to the plans and schedules that we've made, that we miss opportunities to grow closer to God and each other?  Sadly, I know that I've done it many times.  I get so wrapped up in the details that I miss an opportunity that God had planned.  Being in the backcountry, I am learning to pay much closer attention.  Interactions matter. relationships matter. Slowing down and taking time to listen to what God is telling us matters! In fact, I would say that they are so essential to life, that when ignored, we are left with a gaping hole in our lives.  We try to fill the hole with other things, but it is the broken relationship that needs repairing, and only when it is repaired, even if not fully repaired, will the hole that was created begin to fill in.

Just yesterday, Anne shared with me her favorite quote from Gandhi.  He says, "I know the path.  It is straight and narrow.  It is like the edge of a sword.  I rejoice to walk on it.  I weep when I slip.  God's word is: 'He who strives never perishes.' I have implicit faith in that promise.  Though, therefore, from my weakness I fail a thousand times, I will not lose faith, but hope that I shall see the light when the flesh has been brought under perfect subjection, as some day it must."
As I stood on the edge of the Labyrinth, I thought about all the paths that we travel in this life.  I thought about the path that I've been traveling for the past month and the lessons that I've learned along that path.  I thought about all of the blessings that I've experienced while on it and all of the hardships that I've endured.  I thought about the places where I've slipped and the places where I've soared.  At the center of it all, stands the promise that God will never leave us nor forsake us.  As Augustine observed, we are made for God, and our hearts are restless until we find our rest in him.  He waits for us with open arms, and longs for us to enter into deeper relationship with him.  That is our path, and no matter how many times we fall off of it, he will always welcome us back.

Just before we left the garden, Anne and I came across a placard that faced a clearing.  Through the clearing we could see atop a hill, the Dauphin County prison.  the placard read, "When we have done all the work we were sent to earth to do, we are allowed to shed our body, which imprisons our soul like a cocoon encloses the future butterfly.  And when the time is right, we can let go of it and we will be free of pain,
 free of fears and worries - free as a very beautiful butterfly, returning home to God."  Both of us were brought to tears as we thought of the many things that can imprison us; addiction, mental & physical illness, wealth, pride, fear, poverty, grief.  It grieves me to think of all of the people who live as prisoners, living in darkness, unable to turn on the light bulb that hangs just above their heads.  To shine a light in a dark place; that's what we strive to do when we share the love of Christ with those around us.   Christ's light has the power to bind up the brokenhearted and set the captives free, but his light can't permeate the darkness until someone flips the switch.  May we strive to be that light to all whom we encounter, that they may be freed from the prisons that bind them through the power of our risen Lord.  May we seek to build relationships with God and one another that capture God's original intent, and to not allow the effects of sin to drive us apart from one-another or from God.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Keep on Walking

"Keep walking with Me along the path I have chosen for you.  Your desire to live close to me is a delight to My heart.  I could instantly grant you the spiritual riches you desire, but that is not My way for you.  Together we will forge a pathway up the high mountain.  The journey is arduous at times, and you are weak.  Someday you will dance light-footed on the high peaks; bur for now, your walk is often plodding and heavy.  All I require of you is to take the next step, clinging to My hand for strength and direction.  Though the path is difficult and the scenery dull at the moment, there are sparkling surprises just around the bend.  Stay on the path I have selected for you.  It is truly the path of Life." -Sarah Young, Jesus Calling

What an amazing thought to start the day with.  This was my morning devotional today.  As Anne and I prepared to begin our day on South Mountain, I thought about the encouragement that this devotion provided.  I have only a few days left on this amazing journey.  At times I feel run down and tired, but here is this incredible affirmation that all I need to do is take the next step and God will take care of the rest.  There have been quite a few days that this has been what has kept me going.

Last Friday was a day alone on the trail, and it was a difficult day.  Before setting out that morning, I prayed that when the going got tough, God would give me the strength to carry on.  That day was an amazing day; one where I leaned entirely on God's provision and grace.  I spent the entire day meditating on the scriptures, taking in the beauty of God's creation and singing.  Though I had no human companions that day, my best friend walked along beside me whispering encouragements and giving me the strength to keep on going.  It was one of the best days that I had had on the trail; one where I really was able to quiet my mind and just listen.

I drank in these words, shared them with Anne, and together we ascended Second Mountain.  It was overcast and threatened rain at any moment.  We had endured a couple of storms on Sunday night and were hoping that the weather would hold until we finished our ten mile journey.  We came to Chimney Rocks around mid-morning and drank in the views and awesome rock formations.  After an extended break we continued southward descending to the Old Forge picnic grounds, where we stopped for lunch before continuing on.  While we were stopped, we had a message from Scott that there were heavy storms heading our way.  It did indeed begin to rain while we were stopped, but there wasn't any indication of thunder or lightning yet.  We decided to make
haste and press on to try and finish the day before the storms got to where we were.  We walked for about 10 minutes and then the rain began in earnest.  Thunder was rumbling and we were walking on rocky ground up the mountain once more.  After about half an hour of walking in the storm, the rain continued but the sun began to shine.  We walked on in awe of how the sunlight and rain danced in the forest making the surfaces of leaves rocks and trees glisten.  It was beautiful.  One of those sparkling surprises waiting around the corner!  After a while, the rain stopped and we removed our rain gear.  We took extra care as not to slip on the now wet rocks.  As we began our final descent for the day, we began to hear thunder once more.  We were so close to our goal, we didn't bother to stop and don our rain gear this time but tried instead to outrun it.  This time we were successful.  We reached the road just as Scott was pulling up (he'd been tracking us via GPS most of the afternoon), and then the heavens opened.  Talking about timing!
As I've continued to think on the words from this devotional, I realize that often times life can seem mundane and dull.  We wonder if this is all there really is to life.  We wonder if there is any real purpose to this seemingly dull existance.  Then, seemingly out of nowhere, we're caught by surprise and find that we're on a mountain top.  These spiritual highs are often far and few betwen, but may be less so when we pay closer attention to the details; for God is surely in the details!

Something I've learned a lot about over this past month is how dreary the climb up to the mountaintop can be.  Often times, it seems as though you'll never make it to the top.  The hill stretched before you seems to go on forever.  You turn a corner and think "I've finally made it!" only to find that that turn just led you to another series of switchbacks that need to be traversed before you will reach the top.  Often times, I've found that in these moments when I'm most discouraged and tired, I stop and take a break just before reaching the incredible vista that God had waiting for me.  In fact, almost like clockwork, I will give in less than 200 yards before reaching that point. In realizing this, I told Anne prior to starting out today, "if I say we can't be too far from point x, y, or z but I'm ready for a break, make me walk 200 yards more!"  The final moments before reaching the mountaintop experiences are often times the most emotionally and spiritually taxing.  You're exhausted, tired of carrying the load, tired of the monatony of the task, but God asks us to just take one more step; then another; and another; allowing him to lead you by the hand.

At last, when we think we've given all we've got, and we've got nothing left, we take just one more step and find ourselves on top of a mountain, looking into a valley that we've never seen before.  It's beauty is beyond anything that we could imagine.  The weight of our load, the burden of the journey is eclipsed by the awesome beauty of God's creation.  The mundane task is forgotten and the sparkling surprise embraced.


It saddens me to think, though, how many times people, like I often do, give in just before they reach the mountain top.  Each time that it's happened along the trail, I've still taken time to observe the beauty before me; taken a second break to drink it in, but I often wonder how many times we turn back discouraged and never see the sparkling surprises that God had waiting for us just around the corner.  This is where the body of Christ is so important, because it is through the encouragement of our brothers and sisters in Christ that we can find the strength to finish the race that has been set before us.  It is the body of Christ who can help to give us that extra shove to go that last 200 yards along the path so that we don't miss the sparkling surprise that God has in store for us.

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
1 Thessalonians 5:9-11

Friday, July 11, 2014

"Come and See"

There's something special about being invited to something, isn't there? I mean, I don't know about you but when I receive an invitation in the mail - particularly - there's a sense of excitement that comes over me. Now, that could be largely due to the fact that hey, snail mail is going the way of the dodo, buffalo, and various other sadly extinct creatures. It's exciting not just to get a letter, but to be invited to be part of something.

It's not just letters, though. In the middle of summer, I get excited also by invitations to come and see the latest blockbuster. Weeks after the movie, if you came and asked me not about the plot of the movie and what I thought about it, but about the last movie I had seen in theaters, I would probably say I saw _________________ with ____________.

Seeing the movie becomes memorable because  of who I saw it with. The movie could have totally stunk, but I'll remember that I saw it with my friends, family, or wife.

And what I think this shows us is that, to a large degree, there's a communal element to inviting. At the start of His earthly ministry, Jesus went around calling each of His disciples, who in turn - according to the Gospel of John - encouraged one another to "come and see" the Christ, the Messiah. And one by one, as they encountered Jesus, they began to seek to understand what He was all about. But that wouldn't have happened if they weren't willing to drop their nets and whatever they were doing, and follow Jesus.

to come and see.

In those few words, one can understand that there is a communal element to inviting - to becoming a part of something and doing something greater as a result. It means doing or going somewhere different from where one is now (the word 'come') and accomplishing something ("see"). That can even be something as small as seeing a movie together.



This past week, I was privileged enough to get a chance to "go and see" what my sister, Amy, has been up to these past weeks as she begins to conclude her trek along the Pennsylvania stretch of the Appalachian trail to raise funds and awareness for Progeria research. Amy had hoped that this would be something others would get a taste for - to come and see - so she might pass the baton or share the flame (which-ever metaphor you like) of this cause. As it's nearing the end of her time, it's been a real privilege to see how many people have come out in support of Nathan and Bennett, this cause, and  Amy's Hike.

Amy's hope in a sense is both an invitation, and a challenge:
Specifically, Will we give wings of hope to these two boys? To all the children diagnosed with this disease?

Generally,
What would we put down our nets for, or cross mountains for?

Will we invite others along the journey, even if it were to become rocky or dangerous?

Will we carry the torch, even when there are no more mountains to cross?



As Amy's hike comes to a close, what a privilege it was to be able to go and see what she is doing on a daily basis and to be a part of her calling. But what a greater privilege to each of us to have an open invitation on the table: to follow our Lord's call and to do something greater even after her miles have reached their end.



-----------------------------------------------
Feel free to check out video from the day hike here:

Hike4Hope: A Day Hike from Kevin Ruhf on Vimeo.

Please note, if you're using some kind of mobile device (i.e., phone/tablet, etc.) and are having trouble viewing the above video on this site, click or tap the link "Hike4Hope: a day hike" which should take you directly to the video on Vimeo. There's been a few folks saying they weren't able to watch on their phones, but the link appears to be working on the computer. :)

Grace&Peace,
-Kevin J. Ruhf
(Amy's Brother...and don't worry, I got permission to write!)

Friday, July 4, 2014

A War-zone in St. Anthony's Wilderness

So far I have encountered many surprises along my journey, but nothing has surprised me more than the war-zone that Fal and I entered on Wednesday afternoon.  We began our ascent of Second Mountain by crossing a lovely stream, and a colorful meadow.  We met some hikers from New Hampshire as we climbed Second Mountain.  Clearly they had not done much backpacking before.  They looked as if they were carrying everything but the kitchen sink in their packs (the teakettle was really a surprise to see).  We overlapped a couple of times as we climbed the rocky mountain in the hot and humid conditions, exchanged stories, and left them with a postcard of Nathan and Bennett before wishing them luck on the rest of their journey.  They in turn gave us a donation for Hike4Hope!


We continued on our way and came to the ruins of Rausch gap.  We ate lunch on a steel bridge that crossed over a creek in St. Anthony's Wilderness.  While we were eating, we thought we heard some distant thunder, but decided that either the storm wasn't coming near us, or that we were just hearing things.  After eating, and changing our socks, we continued about half a mile to the Rausch gap shelter where we signed-in in the log book.  We were in a total dead zone.  There was no signal to be found and even the GPS tracker was having some issues.  At the shelter, we met "Overturn"  a section hiker about to finish up Pennsylvania.  We inquired about places to camp in the next 3-5 miles, and he told us of a nice grassy spot near the ruins of Yellow Springs, a coal mine that closed in 1859.  We thanked him and were on our way, tired from the heat and the morning climb, but grateful for the relatively flat trail that we had to walk on now.  As we walked, we began to hear what sounded like thunder, but it was too regular to be thunder... too rhythmic.  Still, what else could it be?  Sometimes when thunder echoes off of the mountains, it can sound different than what we're used to hearing back home... that must be it... As we walked, it grew louder and more frequent.  It was also sunny.  Fal and I said to each other, there's no way that that's thunder.  Then, I remembered that the Fort Indiantown Gap military base was at the base of the mountain.  It turns out that they were doing shelling exercises.


The peaceful atmosphere of St. Anthony's wilderness turned into what sounded like a war-zone!  It was a little unnerving to say the least.  We're not all that accustomed to hearing shells explode and then echo off the mountains.  It certainly made me pause to think about how blessed we are to live in a country where we live in relative peace.  I could not imagine listening to that day after day, night after night, constantly wondering if your home will be hit next; never feeling safe.  And yet, that is how far too many people live every day.  As I think about Independance day being today, I think about the sacrifices of so many so that I can live in a place where I can have an opinion, express my beliefs, work where I want to work, receive a quality education, walk a trail in the middle of nowhere... for fun... the list could go on and on; but none of it came free.  It was all bought a price.

The shelling stopped around 6pm, just after we reached the place that "Overturn" had told us about.  Two other young women were pitching their tents when we arrived.  We asked if it would be alright if we joined them.  We set up camp and then cooked our dinners.  We tried in vain to make a call or two or at least send a text to our loved ones, but it was no use.  The GPS unit, however was working, so we used it to send a message off to Dave and to my folks, that all was well.  The ladies we were camping with said that they had seen a couple of bear cubs about 2 miles from where we were camping, so all of us made sure to take extra precautions when hanging our bear bags that night.  We settled in and not long after we had gotten in our tents it began to rain.  Soon, thunder and lightning accompanied.  We were below the ridgeline and surrounded by younger trees, so all in all it was not a bad place to be camped in a storm.

We weathered the storm fine and stayed completely dry.  In the morning, we gathered our bear bags, began packing up camp, made breakfast, and then headed out.  We had about 7 or 8 miles to do, having made it further than anticipated on the 2nd.  We started out early and strong.  The footpath was still pretty even and so far there hadn't been too much change in elevation, so even with our 40lb packs, we were able to cruise along at a decent clip.  We reached the site of the old fire tower around 11 and then we began hearing the fighter jets.  After Wednesday's shelling, I guess we shouldn't have been surprised that there would be more exercises, and for whatever reason, the planes didn't seem to bother me as much as the shells.  We walked on, not able to talk much for lack of being able to hear over the planes.  The descent to Clarks Valley seemed to take forever!  Some of the trail had switchbacks built in, but much of it was steep and rocky.

We reached Fal's car around 1:30.  I decided to come off the trail for the night.  My feet were becoming more painful again and I had run out of dry socks.  Further, severe storms were going to be pummeling the ridgline where I was due to be camping.  Fal and I headed into Harrisburg for a late lunch and then drove back to Ambler together.  It's my hope that in taking 12 hours off from hiking and allowing my feet  to air out will enable me to continue on without having to come off again.


As I think about the war-zone type noise that disturbed the peaceful hike through St. Anthony's Wilderness, I think not only about our troops who fight to protect our freedoms, but also about the noise that we so often allow to eclipse the sounds that God has placed in the world for our enjoyment.  When was the last time you stopped to notice the chirping of a cricket, or a bird or a katydid?  When was the last time you listened to the rustling of the trees as they blow in the breeze, or the chipmunks and squirrels playing on the forest floor?  All of these things, things that we don't necessarily need to go far away to hear, are things that we tend to block out.  In the hustle and bustle of day to day life not only do we fail to hear these wonderful creations, but we don't miss them either.  How is it that the care-takers (stewards) of the earth, have become so out of touch with it?   I can't help but wonder, if it is so easy to tune out the sounds of God's creations, how easy is it for us to tune out God's voice?  One thing I've really been appreciating while on this journey is that I'm able to witness creation and recreation almost every moment of every day.  It's incredible to think of how intricately God has knit every creation together, and to be able to observe that creation as it happens is amazing!  Oh that we could shut out some of the noise that inhibits our being able to hear the sounds and see the sights of God's glory!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men...

The best laid plans of mice and men,
oft go awry
And leave us naught but grief and pain
For promised joy

On Sunday morning, I was joined by Mark and Mike.  We hiked approximately 5 miles in the morning, stopping for lunch at Smith Gap.  After a decent break, we continued on to Delps Trail.  Before beginning the hike that day, I had applied moleskin to my big toes as I had started to develop blisters.  What was intended for prophylactic treatment, though, would end up causing significant trouble later on... but more about that in a minute. Mark and I bid Mike farewell when we reached Delps Trail and we continued on into the state game lands.  We had an exceedingly difficult time finding a campsite in the game lands, but after a long search and some guidance from a couple of thru hikers, we were able to find a large, though less than ideal place to pitch our tents for the night. We prepared our dinners and ate, then called home and turned in for the night.  We slept somewhat fitfully and rose early on Monday morning.  
I took a closer look at my foot in the morning sunlight and discovered that a significant blister had formed under my second toenail from rubbing against the moleskin that I had placed on my big toe to prevent blisters from forming there.  The blister had affected the nail bed, which increased the risk of infection exponentially.  I found myself in a bit of a pickle.  If I didn't try to drain the blister, the pressure from the fluid could cause more damage and infection to the nail bed, but at the same time, if I did drain it, I would be creating an environment for infection by opening a wound.  With 10 miles of difficult trail ahead, I decided to go ahead and drain, then dress the blister.  
Mark and I left camp around 9. We descended into Little Gap crossing several boulder fields in the process.  The ascent on the opposite side was over smaller rocks, which are more troublesome for my feet.  We reached the ridge line and enjoyed 360 degree views of Palmerton and the surrounding area for several miles.  Continuing on, we traveled on a grassy road through the Superfund project site on Blue Mountain.  It was amazing to me how much the vegetation is still being impacted by the Zinc pollution.  Grasses are growing and small shrubs, but the trees are all dead.  As we turned the corner of the mountain, we observed a spectacular view of  the Lehigh River 1500 ft below.  We walked on and the trail became rocky once more.  We were now approaching the bald faced descent into the Lehigh Gap!  We crossed 3 or 4 boulder fields and came to the crest of the mountain.  We climbed up the boulders and found ourselves faced with an extremely steep descent.  It was difficult to see where we needed to go.  I stowed my poles and we looked to see where the blazes were leading us.  We dropped about 20 ft and then were faced with a problem.  We were on a cliff and could not see how to get to the next place that offered level terrain.  The drop was approximately 20-25 ft, but a misplaced hand or foot resulting in a fall would cause at the very least a broken leg or two, and at worst... well, let's not think too much on that...  Mark had the idea to lower our packs by rope and see if we could figure out a way down without being hampered by the extra 40lbs that we were both carrying.  I found a blaze to the side of where we were standing.  There was a rock that provided a decent enough hand hold, but it took a few moments before I found a good foothold.  I'm not really much of a rock climber, and am not all that keen on heights, but what choice did we have?  We took it slow, moving one hand and one foot at a time, making sure that we were stable before making the next move, and miraculously, we reached the next plateau.   From there, we had a few other instances that required some rock climbing skills, but nothing as extreme as that vertical rock face.  I had known the descent into the Lehigh Gap would be difficult, but I never Imagined that it would require scaling down 25ft of vertical rock!  I was so glad to have Mark with me! 

We finished our descent into the Lehigh Gap and found Scott and Anne waiting for us.  My feet were on fire from all of the rocks that we traversed!  Not to mention my legs and arms that were beginning to become stiff from the climbing escapade...  Anne and Scott treated us to dinner in town and then Scott and I returned to the west side of the Lehigh Gap.  We traveled uphill for about half a mile, found a campsite and began settling in for the night.  We made a small campfire and enjoyed a few snickers bars and good conversation before heading to bed around 10pm.  That night, I decided that I would need to come off for a day or so to tend to my feet, which now hurt with every step.  
We woke on Tuesday morning early and began to climb Blue Mountain again.  It was cloudy, and threatened to rain.  Our plan was to take the North Trail which goes right over the Lehigh Tunnel of the turnpike and offers some spectacular views.  When we reached our first overlook at Devil's Pulpit, we felt our first raindrops.  Within a few minutes it was raining steadily, and after a few moments more, we heard some thunder.  We knew that we would be traveling on an open ridge-line for several miles and had to decide whether to turn back or risk being stuck on a ridge in the middle of a thunderstorm.  We decided to turn back.  It was only two miles to the bottom of the mountain, and we were able to communicate our new location to Denise who would be picking us up.  We reached the bottom of the mountain in relatively short order, careful not to slip on the wet rocks, and awaited her arrival.  By the time we reached the bottom, the clouds had cleared and the sun was shining.  It turned out to be a very pleasant morning and as much as it killed me to have given up so soon because of the weather, I think it was the right decision to make.  Thunderstorms often times hang on the mountains or along the rivers, and we had both to contend with...  

Denise dropped me at Kim and Ricky's home in Hellertown where I planned to take a day off before returning to the trail.  The blister on my second toe had now become pretty painful and I was really starting to worry about infection.  I decided to try and treat it topically on Tuesday night, resigning myself to seek more advanced medical attention if it did not improve with conservative treatment in the next 12 hours.  That night, the nail detached form the bed and in the morning, I lost it completely.  Once I lost the nail, it was clear that the infection was more significant than I had thought.  I drove to an urgent care center in Hellertown and filled a prescription for antibiotics.  
I started treating immediately as I knew Sports Unlimited would be coming on Friday and there was no way that I was going to miss that!  Thursday evening, Kim, Ricky and I left for the trail.  We camped in the state game lands, just beyond the boundary to the Hamburg Water Shed.  I did my best to allow the toe to air out, but I also came to find that in doing so, it was extremely difficult to keep it clean.  I had to scrub dirt out of the wound several times that evening.  
In the morning, I padded and protected the toe as best as I could.  I knew my pace would be a little slower than normal, but hoped that the folks from SU would understand.  They arrived full of energy and ready to roll at 8:30.  I allowed those who wished to walk more quickly to take the lead and I brought up the rear with Nancy and a few others.  We reached the Pinnacle an hour ahead of schedule and took a decently long lunch break before continuing on.  The second half of the hike was a little more challenging.  The path was more narrow and rocky and we had a couple of boulder fields to traverse.  We reached Pulpit rock around 1:45 and enjoyed a break during which time we discovered a copperhead sunning itself in a crevasse in the rocks.  It was a little smaller than I expected, but I was glad to have seen it and been able to identify it as a young adult snake.  We snapped a picture or two well out of harms way and then completed our descent down the mountain.  It was a great day, and I was glad to meet such an awesome group of people.  They departed around 3:30pm and I waited with Kim and Ricky for Jean and Drew to arrive with a food drop.  
As we sat, I realized how sore my toes had become during the day's hike.  When Drew and Jean arrived, I asked Drew if he could offer his opinion as he is a very experienced hiker.  He told me that I needed at least 3 days off the trail with the toe completely exposed to air.  I knew in my head that he was right... but it was really disheartening to hear.  This was not how I had planned things to go, and I certainly hadn't expected to have this trouble so early on.  Then, something really amazing happened, Drew asked me if he could take the next 30 miles and hike them for me.  He asked if I would pass the baton to him for a short time so that I could heal, but the hike could continue on.  Gratefully, I said yes!  As hard as it was for me to come off, even for a short time, I felt so much better doing so, knowing that someone else was carrying the torch for the time that I was recovering.  So as I'm writing tonight, I'm doing so from home, rather than the trail.  Drew finished all 30 miles in less than 24 hours, and now I'm able to allow my toe to have some healing time!   It was such a blessing that he was the one joining me on Friday night!! Now the hike truly has become a team effort!  I'm hopeful that by Tuesday, I will be ready to return, and hope that the foot issues will be behind me for the remainder of the hike.  
It's been an emotional couple of days, but I also see that God is at work, encouraging more and more people to be involved in the mission to find a cure for Nathan and Bennett.  Drew carried the torch for a little while, and others are stepping up to the plate and offering to carry it as well.  I've come to realize that I had become a little too attached to the plans that I had made around the hike and that my plans may not have aligned with God's plan.  He's prodding me to let go of my plans and instead to follow his plan, which I know ultimately is the better plan.  It's difficult to do, but in going forward, I will be listening much more carefully for His leading.  Sometimes an injury provides us with the piece of humble pie that we need to take a bite of in order to get out of God's way.  While 'the best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry', God's plan is steadfast and perfect.  When we follow His plan, instead of our own, we find  all the peace, fulfillment and joy that we could hope for.  



Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Ripple Effect Grows

 The hike began with gorgeous weather, good company and a beautiful prayer offered by my friend Ricky, pastor at St. Paul UMC in Hellertown.  Sarah, Jeff, Scott and I then began our 7 mile trek through the beautiful Delaware Water Gap.  We saw a couple of vistas, and stopped in the power line clearing at Totts gap for lunch before continuing on to Fox Gap.  We reached Fox Gap and enjoyed a few pictures, some down time and then the three of them departed and I continued on to find a campsite for the night.  That was the trickiest part of the day.  I had taken a blue blazed detour around Wolf rocks, having turned an ankle early in the day, but the detour took me 1.5 miles out of my way.  I rejoined the AT nearly an hour and a half later and began to feel a bit of panic set in as it was now 5pm and I still had to find somewhere to camp, set up and cook dinner before darkness set in.  I quickened my pace and came upon a thru hiker who told me that there was a site not too far ahead.  I thanked him and went on my way.  After 15 minutes more at a quick pace, I still had not found a place, but came across another thru hiker.  I asked him if there were any campsites coming up.  He assured me that there was  one, 10 minutes down the trail.  I thanked him and went on my way.  I'd gone about 50 paces when I suddenly saw a site nestled in the trees.  I immediately went off trail to take a closer look and found that it would suit perfectly.  That day I learned that when hiking, 10 minutes to one person could be 30 to another.  Time and distance just don't matter as much.















As I nervously lay in my tent that first night, I thought on the 23rd Psalm.  I slept fitfully and rose around 5am the next morning, packed up camp, ate breakfast and began day two of my journey.  Saturday was a much more difficult day.  I was flying solo, had slept poorly for two nights and had some ground to make up already, having been behind when I made camp on Friday night.  I set off at a comfortable pace and soon found that I was treading on one of the rockiest footpaths I've ever seen.  For 6 miles I walked on nothing but jagged rock after jagged rock.  After 4 miles of that, I had a minor melt down.  My feet hurt and it felt like I might be getting some blisters; I was tired, and I hadn't seen another hiker all morning.  It was definitely a low point!  Over those final two miles leading into Wind Gap, I remember thinking over and over again, "why on earth are you doing this?"  I descended steeply into the gap and stopped for an extended lunch.  After I ate, I spent a great deal of time meditating on the scriptures and praying.

With a heavy and discouraged heart, I began the steep climb up the west side of Wind Gap.  On the way up, I passed by two hikers-father and son- who were resting.  We exchanged a few words and I moved past them.  Not too long after, I was taking a break and the two of them came and passed by me.  We exchanged greetings again and chatted a little bit about our destinations.  We found out that we were headed for the same destination - Leroy Smith Shelter.  We exchanged positions periodically throughout the afternoon and I really enjoyed hearing some of their stories.  David, the father - a retired teacher- was a seasoned hiker and had lots of stories from the trail.  His son Stuart was also an experienced hiker.  We arrived at the shelter around 6pm.  David and Stu went to get water at a nearby stream.  Having filled up in Wind Gap, I began boiling water to make my dinner.

Two thru hikers were enjoying their dinner at the shelter but were staying at a nearby campsite for the evening. They were a couple from Alabama who had been on the trail since April 3rd and were hoping to be at Katahdin in Maine by mid-August.  They asked me about my journey and I shared with them, David and Stu about Nathan and Bennett and Hike4Hope, and passed around one of the postcards that Phyllis had made.  The thru hikers returned to their sites and Stu, David and I began unpacking for the night.  Once settled, we continued to chat cordially about various topics, mostly about family and work.  David and Stu also continued to ask about Hike4Hope and Progeria. We turned in for the evening around 9pm and were all asleep within minutes.


On Sunday morning, I rose with the sun and did my devotions.  I had several hours before Mike and Mark would be joining me for the day, so I thought I'd take my time getting packed up.  David and Stu got up and began packing their things.  Their final destination was in Smith Gap, a short 6 miles from our current position.  Before they departed, they each wished me well with the hike, and in life, and then proceeded to reach into their wallets and each hand me a donation for Hike4Hope.  I was speechless!  With all of the planning and fundraising that was going on back home, I never thought of the trail as a possible avenue to raise awareness or funds.  Yet these two gentlemen whom God put in my path found their spirits stirred by my story enough to make a contribution and perhaps even take my story home with them to their friends and families in Virginia and Washington DC.

This was an absolute WOW moment!  Here I was on my lunch break Saturday afternoon, tears of loneliness and pain streaming as I prayed and meditated on the Word.  Then I start my afternoon hike and encounter these two gentlemen who are friendly and genuine.  We spend one evening together and God takes the ripple effect to another level.  He put them in my path when I needed companionship and encouragement, and as we talked he stirred them to contribute to the cause that I am so passionate about.  It is an encounter that I will never forget, an encounter orchestrated by a loving Father looking out for his children.  It opened my eyes to an even greater mission field, in that as I encounter other hikers from around the world, there is opportunity to spread the awareness about Progeria far beyond borders of states and countries.  There is opportunity to tell Nathan and Bennett's stories to the world, and encourage others to share their stories in their own communities.  God is doing amazing things to help Nathan and Bennett and all of the children in the world who have Progeria.  The ripple effect continues to grow and I feel so privileged to play the small part that I can play.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Path of Least Resistance

In less than 4 days time, I will set out on the Appalachian trail; walking to help find a cure for Nathan and Bennett.  I am absolutely blown away by how God has been working throughout the journey leading up to the hike.  Everything that has happened has served as a constant reminder that I am but a small spoke in the wheel of God's plan.  He is doing amazing things and I am both humbled and honored by his invitation to participate in his plan.  

 At the end of my devotions each morning, I pray and meditate on the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.  To me, it is the perfect way to start my day.  As I prepare to go out into the world each day, it serves as a reminder that I should strive each day to allow myself to be used by God for His purposes, and it gives me some practical ways in which to do so.

Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

If I am to live as Jesus lived, then I must also do as Jesus did.  As the Messianic Prophecy explains in Isaiah 61, Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom to the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve - to bestow upon them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  When we open ourselves to the Spirit's leading... when we allow his current to flow through us without resistance... when we allow ourselves to be a channel through which he can work... it is then that we are most likely to be able to see him at work in our lives and in the lives of others around us.  When we're in control, our vision is clouded.  When we give up control his vision is clear.

The danger of opening ourselves to allow the spirit to flow through us unrestricted, is that we might just get what we ask for! If we mean what we say when we ask for the spirit to move and direct us, we have to be ready for some radical directions.  It is easy for us to put limits on the spirit's direction, and I know that I am often guilty of this.  It is easy for me to say, "I want to serve. I'm ready and willing, as long as I don't have to... or as long as I can..."  We don't like to be uncomfortable, but when we allow ourselves to be uncomfortable, to be used the way God wants us to be used, it is then that we can catch a glimpse of his amazing kingdom.  


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

It all starts with a pebble...

In 17 days, I will begin my 27 day Hike4Hope Journey to raise funds and awareness for Progeria Research in honor of Nathan and Bennett.  As I am making final preparations for the road ahead,  it is very easy for me to feel overwhelmed by the task.  At times, I doubt and ask myself, "What on earth were you thinking?  You don't know the first thing about hiking or backpacking and you're choosing to learn by hiking 250 miles?"  Yes, doubt and negative self talk are often a problem of mine.  In these moments, I find it helpful to step back and remind myself that this whole journey is a journey of faith.  It began with a prayer, a call, and a response; and when I said "yes" to that call, I replaced my agenda with God's agenda.  I trusted that His way is infinitely better than my way, and trust that he has equipped and will continue to equip me for the journey ahead.  A wise friend once shared with me, "When God leads you to the edge of the cliff, trust Him fully and let go, only one of two things will happen, either He'll catch you when you fall, or He'll teach you how to fly!  God closes doors no man can open & God opens doors no man can close..."
As I think back on the past few months, I find an incredible list of the ways that He has been preparing me for this journey.  He gave me many wonderful, passionate, creative and knowledgeable people, who have been absolutely instrumental in making this hike happen.  They have provided an incredible amount of encouragement and support and have also provided resources to help me select gear, determine appropriate distances for each day, have utilized their gifts to help increase public awareness about Progeria and about Nathan and Bennett, and have blanketed everything in prayer. I have been truly blessed by the people who have come along beside me to help me complete this mission.

One of my hopes from this hike is that there will be a ripple effect; that others will also be open and willing to answer as Samuel did, when they hear God calling them to action.  The way that this group of people has jumped into action has shown me that it is possible for this ripple effect to happen.  In fact, I would say that it's already begun.  I was not the original catalyst.  I am merely one small part in the ripple effect.  The catalyst to me came in the words of and through the relationships with my dear sisters in Christ on a women's retreat last October.  Each one of them may be able to tell you that the catalyst for them, came from somewhere else.  The pebble has been cast and now the endless waves of ripples have begun to spread across the water's surface.  

 Something that has always amazed me about ripples on the water's surface is the briefness of the catalyst that causes them.  One instant, one moment, a fraction of a second; that's all the time that a pebble is visible.  In the time it takes to blink, the pebble has disappeared beneath the surface and can no longer be seen.  We are left instead only with the evidence that the pebble at one, perhaps undeterminable, time broke the surface of the water.  The ripples are all that remains of the pebble, but the energy from the ripples also prove it's existence.  They move out, always away from the pebble, but at the same time point to where the pebble first struck the surface of the water.  Without the pebble being cast in the first place the ripples would not exist.  

Now, if you will, imagine that each one of us is a pebble, placed on this earth for a specific reason at a specific time.  The energy in the ripples that each one of us creates in the world around us, has tremendous power.  Those ripples have the ability to continue on into eternity.  Just look at the pebble that Jesus cast.  He was on this earth for only a short 33 years before disappearing below the surface of the water, but over two thousand years later, the ripples that went out from his pebble are still moving outward and changing the lives of countless people every minute of every day.  What if we all saw ourselves as pebbles?  What if we embraced the ripple effect and realized that everything we do has an effect, good or bad, on those around us?  What if we embraced the power in that ripple effect and channeled that power to change the world? 

I think that that's what Christ might have had in mind when he gave the great commission.  Twelve ordinary men altered the course of history and showed us the window to the Kingdom of God that Christ himself revealed.  They realized that if they could show the truth to a couple of people at a time, then God could take those people and use them to show another group, and another...  The ripples caused by the apostles, are still moving out from their pebbles, long after they slipped below the surface of the water.  The fact that the ripples that we create continue on after we depart from this life, encourages me to remember that I may never see the full effect of the ripples that I create.  I may be fortunate enough to see a small ripple effect, but it is possible and maybe even probable that I will never see the full ripple effect.  It gives me great pause and makes me think about the type of ripples of which I will be the catalyst.  Will the ripples that move out from my life help to build the Kingdom or destroy it?  Will I use my words and deeds in this life to point back to Christ, continuing the ripple effect that He started thousands of years ago?  

I've spent a lot of time thinking about the impact of the individual.  I often times find myself wondering if it really is possible for a single individual to make a difference in this world.  When I consider the ripple effect, I see that, yes, it is possible for one individual to make a difference.  Each person's ripples begin in their immediate communities and spread from there, through the lives of the other people that they interact with.  So, "let your light shine before all peoples, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).  I encourage you to embrace the ripple effect that your life has on those around you.  Let us channel the power of the ripple effect and use it to bring about the Kingdom of God.  

It all starts with a pebble...




Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Treasure Map to Nowhere

This past weekend was a weekend of firsts.  Kim and I spent the day on Saturday completing a 10 mile training hike, which is the longest distance I've gone in a single day and is also the distance that I plan to travel each day during Hike4Hope.  It was also the first time that I carried a full load (just under 50lbs).  Up until this point, I had completed shorter hikes with about 3/4 of my load.  For this 10 mile hike, we decided to hike from the Hamburg Reservoir to the Pinnacle on Blue Mountain and back, making a short stop at Pulpit Rock, and checking out a few side trails along the way.  The ascent to Pulpit Rock was quite pleasant.  We began around 9:30am and temperatures were very good for walking.
The trail along this section, while offering several switchbacks, was also fairly wide, and we were pleasantly surprised to find it to be relatively free of rocks.  As we neared Pulpit rock, the conditions of the trail began to turn to what we have come to expect of the trail in Pennsylvania.  We clambered through a boulderfield and continued a little further before coming to the brilliant vista offered at Pulpit Rock.  We decided this would be a great spot to take a pack break and enjoy our surroundings for a brief time.  We quietly and contemplatively sat on the edge of the cliff admiring the beauty of God's creation.  I could have stayed there all day, were we not on a mission to complete the 10 miles before sunset.

The next two miles took a great deal of mental toughness.  Those two miles felt like four.  The ruggedness of the terrain was discouraging not to mention physically taxing.  As we crossed another boulderfield, we came upon the logs pictured below and began discussing how hiking is sometimes like following a treasure map...a treasure map to nowhere.  When you are deep in the woods, walled in by trees and rocks with no one else around you, you often begin to wonder just where you are going and why.  You think, "Why am I putting myself through this?"  "What's the point of walking across all of these rocks?"  "Where is the X that marks the spot, that makes the journey worthwhile?"
Sometimes, like this past Saturday, the X that marks the spot is found when the ridge opens up and you have a clear view for miles of land around you.  At other times, you finish a hike having had no spectacular views.  Instead, the most spectacular thing you might have seen are the ankle-twisting, boot-breaking rocks on which you've spent hours treading.  Believe it or not, the rocks do have a pretty neat history of their own, but compared to the vistas that you hope for on every hike, they can seem a bit dull.  So what do we do when we are following a treasure map to nowhere?  We keep going.  We press on to finish the race set before us.  We step back and realize that if life were only made up of the spectacular vistas, we would not have as great an appreciation for them when we encounter them.  The thing that makes the vistas so incredible is the element of surprise.
Imagine scaling piles of scree and talus amid the never-ending green curtain of the forest, wondering if this is all there is to look forward to.  Then, all of a sudden, you are hit by the sunlight as you step out onto a ledge that emerges from the trees out of nowhere, allowing you to see for miles around.  There are no words to express what you are feeling... awe comes close, but it's so much more than that.  These moments, these spiritual highs, are what propel us on-wards.  They provide encouragement that we need to carry on completing Christ's mission here on earth.  But we can't stay out on the overlook forever, no matter how much we would like to.  There is work to be done, so we learn to use these vistas for strength and encouragement as we return to the work that has been set aside for us.  We draw on those vista experiences to bring others into the fold.

The vista experiences, I find, often come when we need them most; just prior to a trial or difficult time, or immediately following one.  The second half of our journey on Saturday, was no exception.  We had taken a nice break for lunch at the pinnacle, trying hard not to let the entertaining, albeit rambunctious antics of the scout troop of 13-year-old's spoil the peaceful atmosphere that we craved.  After dishearteningly witnessing several violations of leave no trace principles, we decided it was time for us to begin our return journey.  As we got up to leave, we realized that we were already beginning to feel the effects of our hike.  Our feet and knees were sore and my shoulders were aching from adjusting to the increased weight of my pack.  What made things most difficult in beginning the return, was we knew that we had two miles of rugged terrain ahead before we reached Pulpit Rock.  For two hours we walked on, silent for much of this part of the journey.  Occasionally, we greeted and passed by some fellow hikers who were on their way north to take in the astounding views of the Pinnacle.  We looked for landmarks that we recognized from the morning to help spur ourselves on, saying things to one-another like, "Hey I remember that rock.  We're not too far from the boulderfield now!" Or, following the theme of Lord of the Rings (which so often permeates our conversation) jokingly expressing how "going south somehow seems like walking downhill." We looked for anything that we could use to keep our spirits high, knowing that reaching Pulpit Rock meant that we could have a brief respite and an opportunity to admire the scenery again.

At Pulpit Rock, we took our break and mentally prepared for the descent to the Hamburg Reservoir. We had been walking for over 6 hours and had completed approximately 8 miles of our journey.  We had two more miles to go on sore and tired legs. We knew we had one more boulderfield to traverse, and a good bit of down-hill hiking before we would reach our final destination.  These last two miles were the most mentally taxing of the day.  We were nearing the end, yet it took an incredible amount of energy to keep on walking.


Over the course of the day, we talked about many things, often times making references to Lord of the Rings as is our usual custom; but on our descent back to the Hamburg Reservoir, we discussed how blessed we were to be out hiking on that gorgeous Saturday afternoon.  We not only saw beautiful vistas, but observed many of God's creations.  Ferns were covering the forest floor, sweet azaleas were in bloom, a butterfly perched on a branch, and we were even lucky enough to observe a Scarlet Tanager in the canopy of the trees. We were out, completing a task that for many is impossible, and for others would be compulsory in order for them to survive.  As we walked, I thought about the innumerable people in the world who would have to walk 10 miles or more just to get to a water source, only to fill their containers and have to walk 10 miles back with the heavy water that surely carries waterborne illness.  I thought of countless others who like Nathan and Bennett would not be able to complete our day's task because of the ruggedness of the terrain.  As we discussed the blessing that it was to be voluntarily hiking on the A.T., our aches and pains from 6 + hours of walking had no hold on us.  We drew upon the blessings and completed our 10 mile adventure in under 8 hours time, thankful that we had no run-ins with any slithering creatures, suffered no injuries, and grateful for the opportunity afforded to us to embark on such and incredible journey.