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.