Tuesday, September 28, 1999

News from the front lines: the mieces broke past our sentry and tore through the shelter from all directions, desecrating everything we owned. They left behind small brown reminders of their victory upon our pots, water containers, backpacks, in my drinking cup, and all around ours sleeping bags. Those vermin must have been dancing gleefully to give such mockery. They nibbled away at my pot handles covered in rubber, at my toilet-paper, my water bag, Llama’s bite valve (for sucking water out of her water bag), my shoelaces, and a sock of mine. “CURSES!!” Oh they had fun toying with us like a cat with a mouse but they will rue the day (or night) they try to cross me again. I will be waiting next time with sword (pole) in hand, full of the strength of a mighty warrior thru-hiker! In the shelter tonight, a comrade was almost bitten on the ear by the enemy that was crawling on him, but with a mighty crash he was able to take the upper hand and slay him with his sandal. “YES!!” A valiant blow that has sent up cheers across the trail. I only hope I will be able to prove myself as mighty tonight in the next battle.

Wednesday, September 29, 1999

 “I am no longer my own, but yours.  Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and heartily yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.

And now O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit you are mine, and I am yours. So be it.”

Covenant prayer from Wesley

Today I’m feeling stripped and exposed. There is so little of me that has not been broken, shed, or bled out of me over the last 6 months. I have had to face much of my own junk and wrestle and grieve it. To let go of it and to fall on my face and ask God to change me and grow me. “God, give me wisdom and give me character.” So much arrogance and pride has been pulled out of me, I didn’t even know it was an issue before I began but now I see how much it shaped my thoughts and how it shaped my perspective. I was a fool. I was un-teachable and un-coachable. I thought that to gain maturity and wisdom was to experience brokenness once or twice, to set me in a better direction, now I have it. It is not a single experience like I had hoped or thought, it is a lifelong way. It’s a daily, even moment by moment recognizing my lack of wisdom, coming to God for that wisdom, it’s a lifelong way of believing all my life long, that God is my only source of wisdom. God is the only source of life.

Sometimes in certain light I see humility as a weakness. But it is the very thing that infuses me with the courage to ask for help from God. I’ve hurt many, I’ve been a bull in a pottery shop unaware of the damage I caused in the lives of those closest to me.

The mountains of the Appalachians have led me to hit the wall of my own un-teachability, I have hit the wall of my own life shattering foolishness, and I have come up crying, “Oh God, maybe I don’t know was much as I thought I did. Maybe there’s a better way. Maybe there’s a humble way. Maybe I am not thinking, maybe I’m not the center. Maybe there is another, infinitely greater to whom I can submit my entire life and heart and direction and affection and love to.” And I’m deeply grateful to have had my eyes begin to open so I can change.

Today Llama and I passed through Monson, it’s a key town on the trail. It’s the launching point as we enter the 100-mile wilderness, a remote stretch of the trail that ends with Mt. Katahdin in Baxter State Park. I am hoping to reach the summit in 8 days.Many businesses in this town live on the few hikers that pass through. There are a few restaurants, stores, a post office, and a laundromat to help hikers as they prepare for their final push. L.J. and Daisy are leaving the trail. They are tired. They have loved the tail and they are done. There is only 100 miles left but they have no desire to complete it. I understand and I don’t. They are so close to finishing such a long journey but they are also so tired that they have lost all enthusiasm and motivation to even care about finishing even one last step. I really enjoy them and am sad to see them depart.

Thursday, September 30, 1999

“It seems to me that each year one should pause to take stock of himself, to ask where am I going?  What am I becoming?  What do I wish to do and become?” Ben Franklin.

Tomorrow is October 1, a new month. It amazes me how long I’ve been carrying my home on my back and learning the rhythms of simplicity and silence. I motivate myself throughout the day, “It is only a week hike, I can survive anything for a week. I can do this, just finish this out. I’m not done growing or learning, end well Wadi. I’m not tired. I’m good looking. I can do this, I’m a beast!”  I am so tired I play games with myself and lying to myself to keep going.  

It rained today as I entered the 100-mile wilderness; cold, wet, and windy.  There was a sign at the trailhead that warned hikers that there was no help available in this section and to take at least 10 days of food (that’s not going to happen). I am going to try and do it in a lazy seven and then summit on the 8th or 9th.  I am hoping to see some beautiful sights and more animals.  I really want to see another moose.

I feel like the end of this hike is like the end of a book, it’s the last chapter that shows the growth and wraps up all the lose ends of the story. I feel like I have been understanding and learning how to articulate much of my thoughts and growth from the previous half year. So much of what has happened to me has been me learning to direct my attention to the presence of God in my life. As I think about what is next for me in my life it’s easy to get lost in thought on serving God in ministry, in what challenges I want to take on, what my next goal will be, how I’m going to make a living. And then I hear quietly in the back of my mind what I believe to be God’s voice, “There is only one agenda for you, that you would know me, that you would grow in your ability to hear me, that you learn to follow me, love me, and follow my leading.”

I’m coming to see that the presence of God in my life is not found only in the woods, on a mountaintop experience (literally) but it’s also in the season of waiting for health to be restored, working day in and day out, loving my family and learning to love Llama. I can learn to love God and be still in all areas of life. God is not only mystical and powerful and creative and awe inspiring in nature but everywhere. I can continue to connect with God when I feel excitement and laughter, and also when I experience hurt, sadness, stress, disappointment, and even disillusionment. And all of them are moments I can ask, “what is happening in my heart and mind? What am I feeling?  Does this mean something? And God, where are you in all of this?”

I always thought God was gone when I was hurting. And if God isn’t gone he at least feels really distant and possibly un-caring. I think my expectations of what God is supposed to do and be are wrong. “God, what is a relationship with you supposed to be like?”

Friday, October 1, 1999

“To believe in God for me is to feel that there is a God, not a dead one, or a stuffed one, but a living one, who with irresistible force urges us toward more loving.” Vincent Van Gogh

My 180th day on the trail.

The sun is out and the leaves are like stained glass in the trees above. This is the way life should be more often in my life.

Little Wilson Falls are the highest falls on the trail carved in a deep slate canyon. With the amount of rain recently the water was forceful and impressive. We had the falls all to ourselves so we just took a moment to sit and enjoy the view and sounds of the water rushing down the slate staircase.

More news from the front lines. I did it! with a swing of my shoe I launched my advancing advisory into a low gravitational flight pattern from off of my backpack. Our eyes locked as I approached him with catlike reflexes. He saw me coming so he began to scurry in fear, darting and dashing all over my pack trying to find safety and protection. But my pack was hanging and he could not find the rope to freedom. With a strike of my shoe a mighty blow has been struck to the mieces. The War of the Shelters is ending and I shall return to my loved ones and safety. But for tonight, one more for God and country.

Saturday, October, 2, 1999

“It is costly wisdom that is bought by experience.”

Roger Ascham 

Maine supposedly grows 95% of all blueberries commercially harvested.  “The way life should be.”

It is adventure that brings aliveness and not entertainment.

As I look back at the many hikers I’ve loved over the last months, their friendships, the challenges, the conversations, laughter, pain, blisters, and mieces, a smile crosses my face and I get a little sad that many never made it to the end of this trail. And there are many friends I have no idea where they are or what they are doing. I have no way of knowing what has happened to many of them and will never know. I was taught growing up that I’m supposed to share Jesus with everyone because they may never go to heaven if I don’t do my job. 

I hated that idea. I hated the pressure on me to do something that’s not my job. I didn’t like the shame and guilt and manipulation that I felt was being put on me to act a certain way, to live and talk a certain way. I don’t get how is it that God is nervously waiting for me to share the Bible with someone wondering if I will do it and if I do share, will I share it in a way that is going to effectively lead that person to make some sort of commitment. 

I believe that God is present in in each person and that God is at work in each person. I don’t think God is in heaven waiting for people to believe in him before giving them his salvation. I don’t think God is passive. I think God is calling people, drawing people to himself. I think God initiates and God calls. And I feel like I have had the joy of listening for God with others. I’ve had the honor of being invited into the struggles people are having with God as they seek to know him. I refuse to carry the weight and job of God.

Sunday, October 3, 1999

“Nature is but a name for an effect, whose cause is God.” William Cooper

This morning just before I was about to hoist my pack on, Lauren, a section hiker cried out in a voice of fear and panic, “Moose!”  About 50 feet away from the shelter stood a massive bull moose watching us from the woods. He was a moose that legends are made from. He was immense and intimidating, he huffed at us and pawed the ground telling us, “this was my home, get outa here.” His rack on his head was larger than any I have seen on a trophy display. And stuck right across the enormous palm shaped antlers was a log wedged in with sticks sticking out from underneath it (what’s brown and sticky? A stick). He had the makings of a beaver dam on his head. He looked at us one last time to make sure we knew we were not welcome there and then he turned and crashed back into the woods.

Llama and I set out on a brisk morning to tackle White Cap Mountain, the last mountain before Katahdin. I started to get excited for my first time as I thought about finishing this mountainous task I had laid out before me six months ago. I felt motivated and simultaneously completely exhausted physically and emotionally. Then we had our first clear view of our finish line in the distance. I thought it would be a bump in the distance 60 miles away, but instead what I viewed was a huge mountain rising from the land. I was shocked and in awe of how truly majestic it is. It is a massive granite mountain that dominates the rolling valley forestland at its feet. A large “Whoop” broke the silence of the moment and I realized it had come from me. We took a few photos as we let the wave of excitement fwash over us. 

The word “Katahdin” is an Abnaki word meaning “Greatest Mountain.”  The Abnaki Indians traveled through the woods and waters beneath Katahdin but they did not climb it because they believed it to be both sacred and pointless. They believed that Pamola, the “storm Bird” of mythology, had wings and claws of an eagle, the arms and torso of a man, and the head and antlers of a moose. If angered, Pamola would unleash sharp forked lightning bolts, snowstorms, and violent winds to prevent men from climbing his sacred peak.  According to legend, Indian braves who were foolish enough to climb above tree line were struck with lightening and would wake up after a shock at the bottom of the mountain, or they would just vanish into the air to never to be seen again. You didn’t mess with the deity of Katahdin.

Llama and I didn’t stay long standing there.  When our emotion had subsided we pushed on and continued our descent. The next few days will be flatland and lakes, mud and mosquitos, the final sprint towards the last summit.

It has been a great journey and I think the emotion of excitement is really more of a feeling of pride in myself that I was able to do something I didn’t believe I could really do. I don’t know that others thought I could do it either.  And it’s not that I wanted to prove anyone wrong, I just wanted to prove myself wrong. I wanted to believe that I could make better choices in my life than I have. That I don’t have to take the easy path, I don’t have to quit when I want to, that I don’t have to avoid pain and discomfort when everything in me wants to escape, hide, cheat, and just feel good, and do what it takes to feel good. I have overcome an invisible obstacle in myself I didn’t know I had but as I look at it now, it was a wall in my life that has been there since I was 11 years old. I felt light in my heart and realized how important each step getting here was, more important than me standing on that final summit. 

Monday, October 4, 1999

My six-month anniversary.

“God is the unutterable sigh, planted in the depths of the soul.” Jean Paul Richter

The day started off very cloudy and dark and within an hour of hiking the sky started dropping rain through the trees. The temperature began to drop quickly and the rain began to form into large snowflakes. The snow falling soon turned the woods into a winter wonderland. The sticky snow piled up high quickly and heavily on the trees bowing the branches across the trail becoming barriers for us to duck, dodge, and press through. My pack grew heavy, as the wet snow wedged in between me and my pack, my back getting cold and wet. The rocks hid under the snow layer making the trail both slick and ankle unfriendly. Llama really struggled with the cold. Her skin was white and she complained of her toes and fingers stinging and then her toes going numb on her. She had a cold and was feeling miserable both inside and out. We just continued down the trail hoping to get quickly to our shelter for the night and where we might find or build a fire.

As we walked my prayers were nothing more than groans and deep sighs. Llama wasn’t doing well, she was in pain and crying as we sledged onward. It did warm up a little by mid-afternoon, turning the snow back to rain. Then the  snow hanging on the trees around us began to loosen its hold and slide off. The trees would drop their snow on our heads, we were trapped in a losing snowball fight against the trees. We were soaked in an ice bath. And then the temperature dropped again and the rain turned to hail pelting us like a duck in a BB arcade.

We hiked at a steady pace, staying safe but always moving forward, never breaking, never resting. We pressed on for 24 miles. We abandoned the idea of a cold shelter and wanted to find a place with a fire and heated rooms. Not far off the trail is the White House Landing Wilderness Camp and we knew that was our location to head for. We took a side trail several miles and ended at a large lake, the trail just ending at the waters edge. There was a sign posted, “blow the airhorn and we will send a boat over to pick you up.” We looked at each other, reached for an airhorn sitting on a stump, blared it across the lake and then began to wait. I’m certain Llama has some frostbite on several of her toes and possibly on her fingers. She’s not doing well.

Soon a small boat was slicing through the calm waters with a man at the motor bundled up against the cold. When he arrived he had a big grin on his face, he knew he was saving us and happy to help us. Our numb bodies stumbled aboard and we took our seats. We exchanged our backpacks for life vests and then braced ourselves against the cold air as we powered back across the lake to the lodge. Our heads huddled down and bodies tightly balled seeking to stay warm.

When we got into the lodge we were barely able to move. Llama and I needed each other to pull off gloves and coats because our fingers couldn’t bend or grip. We sat down on a wooden bench inside and Llama began to cry from sheer exhaustion, happiness from being out of the winter cold, and because they made fresh homemade pizzas. Our friends Rocky and Bullwinkle were there and the four of us rented a heated cabin that felt life giving. We just laid on the beds soaking the heat into our bones and muscles. When we felt like we could move, we all went back to the lodge and ordered pizzas and grilled burgers, our first food in our 24 mile empty bellies.

It was just long and exhausting day. It was a beautiful day. I am going to miss walking daily in the woods daily. I wish I had the eyes to see the future to know if I will find a way to stay connected to God through nature. I’m not worried about my connection with God, I always find new ways to connect, but this was a special way that surprised me. This felt more intimate.

I’m fairly certain Llama has frostbite on two of her toes. Her skin is still white and it has a burning feeling. I think today may stay with her for a while.