Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Know that Feeling?

I enjoy blogging. It is a great release and I wish I could devote more time to it. Sometimes I capture a great picture and want to share it. Sometimes the desire is to share an original thought. Today I hope to share a feeling. This feeling is a flashback that hit me when I read Judy's post ( about her trip to Honduras and the visit to the city dump there. Judy's story reminded me of feelings that hit me at the end of my first backpacking adventure on the Appalachian Trail.

I had talked Joe McClary and Jim Naylor into joining my brother, his son, and me as we attempted to hike the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail in a week. We were all novice backpackers and did not know if we were capable of the goal we had set. This story would take you two hours to read if I tried to tell every challenge and the accompanying fears and feelings. But a couple of highlights are needed to help you "feel" the experience a little.

One vivid memory was the night before we were to hit the trail. We had rented a cabin for the night and arrived there about the time we should be getting to sleep. Unfortunately, we were undecided about SO many things that we had the contents of 5 backpacks scattered over the living room floor until after midnight as we discarded many pounds of food, rope, and assorted items you might take camping but not want to carry in a pack for 80 miles. The uncertainty about equipment, fitness, safety skills, and sanity was greatly amplified by the raging thunderstorm battering the cabin. The lightning and thunder were jarring and reminded us that there were MANY things we had not considered.

Skipping details, we got started close to the appointed time and it was HARD. It seemed that we were always going straight up. It was particularly difficult for my nephew, Russ, who had been sick in the days before the hike and was very young for a strenuous hike. The first day we did not make it as far as we had planned and were exhausted. The next morning sore muscles were abundant. By mid-morning the thought was gnawing at me that we could not make the destination at the pace we were going. A decision had to be made and I was in the middle of it. See the goal of hiking the Georgia section of the A.T. was my brother's dream and I was there because it was something he wanted to accomplish. But I had invited the two friends from Montgomery and felt a responsibility to them as well. I got my brother to drop behind the others a little and we talked. It was a heart-wrenching talk for me. We decided that he and his son would cut their hike short and hike to the nearest road and hitch a ride to attempt to catch up with their van (another long story). My two friends and I left my brother and his son on a trail in the middle of the woods to find their way back to a vehicle that was in transit to where we were supposed to be in a week. I cried. As I walked, I cried several times. Was I doing the right thing?

Again, I have to skip thousands of details involving rain, bears, trail side surgery on Jim's big toe, and body odor. We did see Keith and Russ about mid-way and were greatly relieved to find that they got to the van with relative ease and enjoyed the relaxed pace after we parted. We left them, however, in heavy rain. We hiked--it rained. We hiked--it rained. We had more difficult decisions in the remaining days. We got tired and wet and began to be very direct and honest with each other. There is a sermon there, but I press on.

Eventually, we realized we were getting better at climbing mountains and had made up lost time and that we were going to make it. When we arrived at the top of Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the A.T., there were many emotions. We had made it! We had endured a lot and accomplished what we set out to do. But my brother whose dream it was to make this hike was not there to enjoy it. And I cried again. Here is the problem; after you hike so far and endure the struggle and rain and body odor and reach this milestone--you are still about 8 miles from Amicalola Falls where the vehicle is located. That means more than half a day of hiking remains. But here is where the feelings begin that all this post is about. As you near the state park, you are not hiking on a trail in the woods anymore. Now you are hiking on a gravel jeep trail in the open Sun with no canopy. It feels so different to be out of the deep woods. But that is not the shocking part. The shock comes from the people. You begin to meet people walking from the lower parking lot in the park to the upper section of the falls. The hike for them is a little over a mile-uphill--and most of them have not walked a mile in....well ever. So there you are--sweaty, dirty, stinky, and feeling like a mountain man in touch with creation and the Creator. And there they are--a steady stream of fat, spoiled, complaining people who can't believe they are walking A MILE! And at that moment, after the week's experience, you see these people in a completely different light. I could not believe how bright and noticeable they all are. Probably 80% of them are wearing a bright shirt with something written on it, screaming their message to all within sight. The feelings surprised me. I first felt that these people did not belong here--didn't deserve to be here. How could somebody who woke up this morning, turned on lights and a TV before taking a hot shower have anything to complain about? How can you walk ONE MILE with no pack and think that is difficult? Could you please turn down the brightness on that novelty shirt and plaid shorts? Can't you see that WE have done so much more than you? Still we hike on and met the steady stream of clean, perfumed folks. Until it hit me. One week ago that was me. I have lots of those shirts (not the plaid shorts, though). I like to point how difficult my journey is. I forget to count my blessings and say thank you.

Over a short period of time, I became one of THOSE people again. Only not completely. That experience and those feelings are part of me now. And that is part of why I put a week's groceries, my house, bed, and stove in a pack and drag it up a mountain over and over--day after day. Because it makes it a blessing to pay a water bill, an electric bill, and a gas bill. You know what? Four dollars per gallon? Have you ever spent a month without an automobile? A week? A day? Thank you, God, that there is a station on many corners where for only $4 I can buy enough gasoline to take me 20 or 30 miles in a half hour. Otherwise that would take me a couple of days and I would not smell nice when I arrived.


Kathryn said...

What an absolutely gorgeous post. And so well written. That pretty much sums up life and people in general, doesn't it?

Lerra said...

Great post! That last little soapbox about the price of gas is exactly how I feel.