Not Out of the Woods

I wrote this last night, somewhere on a mountainside in northern PA. The fireflies lit up the dark forest like light bulbs, brighter than I have ever seen them, as I wrote…

The rain is dripping softly overhead and the creek sings the other girls to sleep. I, the night owl, lie awake typing on my smart phone. I have no service, I cannot sit on Facebook, but I can use my imagination. I see now how modern technology may have dimmed our creative skills somewhat. If I were sitting on Facebook I would not be writing.

I feel exhilarated! I also feel like I may have had too many caffeine packs in my filtered, peroxided stream water, but mostly I feel exhilarated. I woke up at 6 am this morning after a restless night. I proceeded to pack the reserve army backpack I borrowed from my brother-in-law. The whole time I packed, it got heavier and heavier. A thought grew heavier and heavier on my mind. By the time I was carrying my clunky backpack downstairs, the thought was on my tongue.

“This was a dumb idea!” I told my sister. I outlined this thought in detail. This was not the first time we had had this conversation, but it may have been the most serious.

“Number one,” I said, “Hiking with all your worldly goods,” (not quite), “in a knapsack on your back, for miles through rugged terrain is something soldiers train for. I did not train for this.” Secondly, “Roughing it is so not my type of thing. I like being clean and showers and not germs!” Also, “We’ll probably get eaten by bears or rattlesnakes and we won’t even have cell service or be able to get medical help! Is it right to risk your life just for fun?”

“It will be good for you,” my sister said. “It will be fun and exciting!”

I continued to make negative comments until she finally told me, “Fine then, stay home if you’re going to be so grumpy about it!”

I had spent over $60 on supplies for this trip already or I may have considered it. I was filled with trepidation and was not sure I could hike for 17 miles on mountain trails while carrying a backpack. But $60 of supplies not used is $60 wasted, and I hate being wasteful. So I told myself it couldn’t be that bad and I got in the car.

When we were walking up the road to find our trail at World’s End, we saw a rattler lying along the road waving its head at us. I was suddenly not the only person ready to turn around and scratch the idea of hiking 17 miles through the mountains far from civilization. Julia, our valiant leader, was the one who suggested it. My sister talked us into sticking with our original plans. Julia and I were both paranoid of snakes. It was comforting to have a friend in terror. It made me a little braver, and after a few miles I stopped feeling like any moment I would meet a snakey end.

We hiked through the beautiful woodland of northern PA. Ferns lined our path and the smell of the woods seeped into our pores. It was a beautiful day for hiking. At two miles we stopped at a creek. Clear water bubbled over smooth stones and the sun dappled down through the trees. I felt great. I was hiking with a pack on my back and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be! I stripped off my shoes and socks and felt the cold mountain water splashing over my toes. We ate beef jerky and filled up our water bottles and continued our journey.

Soon after that the trail decided I was feeling too confident and took some wide-ranging liberties. We went down switchbacks with caution and straight up mountain sides grabbing trees, our hearts pumping in our ears. At about 4 miles, I hated my back pack, I was annoyed at myself for agreeing to come along, and I told myself firmly that Christian girls should never be mad at friends for inviting them along on unglamorous camping trips.

Then we went up, up a trail up above a waterfall, and then we went down, down a trail and down a wooden ladder. And then we were beside a different waterfall down in a valley. I threw off my pack like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress leaving his pack at the cross. I felt light as a feather and the air by the waterfall cooled our hot faces. The waterfall sang me a calming song and I calmed. When Julia asked if we wanted to do a short cut instead of hiking all ten miles today, I found enough grace and courage to concur with the group in the decision to continue our planned trail.

We hiked up more steep trails to the low overlook. Looking out over the mountains, I believed it was all worth it. There was nothing low about that overlook that I could see. Until we started climbing the next mountain incline. The other hills had been practice. This one tested our fortitude to the limits. We sometimes barely moved, and we sometimes rested, but we never turned back. Up we went, and then up again, and then up again. And then Janita, in the lead, shouted “I’m at the top!” We all found courage to go the last few yards. When we got to the high overlook, I realized that that mountain, too, had been worth it. A mountain top experience sounds hackneyed… until you’ve just hiked up a mountain and are viewing the panorama below you. Mountain tops and valleys spread out to misty horizons.

Then there is a descent. The mountain top experience is with you and you know you can do anything. The last three miles were through quiet forest trails with ferns and carefully placed, elegant trees. I had learned endurance and I no longer doubted if I could finish the 10 miles today.

God uses each step of our journey to prepare us for what comes next. He gives us graceful inclines when we can’t go up another step. He gives us valleys with waterfalls and fans us with cool breezes when the sweat drowns out clear thoughts. He takes us up mountains and says, “See? This is what I needed to show you. Wasn’t it worth it?” And at the end of a long day, He feeds us the food of victory (Ramen noodles with spam) and it’s incredibly sweet because of the journey, and He sings us to sleep with the lullaby of a creek.

We’re not out of the woods yet. We have many miles more to travel tomorrow, but I will “both lay me down in peace and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, make me to dwell in safety.” Your presence gives every journey meaning.

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