Monday, March 24, 2014

Rocksylvania

Over the past couple of months I've read in more than one book or article that many thru hikers have nicknamed the Pennsylvania section of the Appalachian trail Rocksylvania.  Having never before been on the trail, I envisioned large boulders in the woods and small to moderate rocks dispersed at random on the trail.  Yesterday I finally was able to get out on the trail for my first training hike.  I packed my pack with most of my gear and weighed it in at about 35 pounds.  My friends Kim and Ricky joined me as they plan to accompany me on a portion of the trek and they too being inexperienced hikers want to train for the summer.  We parked at a trailhead in Wind Gap.  I had planned to hike southward but we were unable to easily locate the trailhead and decided instead to head north towards Fox Gap because the trailhead to go north from where we parked was easily found and accessible (I later consulted the guidebook and maps and determined that we just hadn't gone far enough down the road to pick up the southbound trailhead).

We looked at the northbound trailhead and saw a steep incline of steps.  From the ground it looked to be about a 150ft climb, but we shortly found that the trail zigzagged up the mountain and in fact was a 500ft climb over a distance of about one mile.  For our first experience it was quite difficult... especially with my 35 pound pack weighing me down.  As we climbed I couldn't help but think of a quote from the 2001 film "A Knight's Tale"  in which the character Geoffrey Chaucer says, "To trudge: the slow, weary, depressing yet determined walk of a man who has nothing left in life except the impulse to simply soldier on."

Okay, perhaps it wasn't quite that extreme, but the task was daunting and discouraging for three people who were (or so they thought) in decent physical condition.  Kim, Ricky and I made an important realization that hiking and backpacking is a completely different animal from our typical training and running activities.

Once we reached the top, the trail leveled out in terms of elevation, but we quickly learned what the authors of those articles and books I had read meant by Rocksylvania.  The trail, when we looked ahead, seemed to be an endless footpath of jagged, ankle twisting rocks and boulders.  One misplaced step or wearing inadequate footwear and you could be in serious trouble...We continued north for an additional 1.25 miles learning how to follow the white blazes, and occasionally slipping on some ice and snow that had not yet melted from the trail.

Though we had to pay close attention to where we stepped, we were thoroughly enjoying one another's company.  There's something about being outside in the crisp air of the woods that rejuvenates the soul.  Perhaps it's the respite from the busyness of the world and the awareness of the vastness of God's creation that is so appealing.


We reached a dirt service road to a power company, and as it was getting to be late in the afternoon, we decided it would be best to turn around and begin our 2 mile walk back to the car.  We did not want to have to descend the mountain in poor light conditions.  When we began our descent, we each turned to one-another and said, "We climbed up that this afternoon?"  It looked quite different to us from the top!  We carefully descended the mountain and arrived back at the car, thrilled that our first excursion into the woods had gone so well.  We were hardly off the trail before we began talking about our next training hike.  The discouraging climb that began our hike, while not forgotten, had been conquered.  We knew that we could do it and we are confident that the more we train and prepare, the easier it will become to ascend and descend the mountains.

As I've been writing tonight, I've been listening to a recording of the handbell piece that I played this past Sunday, called Appassionata--meaning deeply emotional or impassioned.  As I've allowed the music to carry me like waves carrying a ship on the sea, I'm reminded of the passion that is the driving force behind this hike... the passion that God has given me to reach out on behalf of two beautiful little boys, their family, and the 250 children in the world, who like them, are fighting for their futures. As I train, I am reminded that my passion is not my own but comes from God, who has called me.  When I become discouraged, I need only look to Him for perseverance and strength to carry on.  As the Psalmist says in Psalm 121:
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.