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.