“Why do you hike?”

I woke up this morning with this thought, and it keeps resurfacing. In case it’s God talking (that’s happened before), I thought I’d better try to answer the question.

But the answer depends on when you ask me. 

At the beginning of a multi-day trip, I’m rested and excited by the possibilities: What will I see and hear? Will my gear adjustments make this trip more comfortable? Did I remember everything I need? At that time, my answer to “why do you hike?” is “To experience as much of the world as I can on two feet, knowing that I have everything on my back that I need to do it.” 

At the end of a long day of trudging up and down mountains, with my blisters yelling at me …  when I’m exhausted and counting my steps to make the miles left pass faster… my answer to “why do you hike?” is “Because it feels good when I stop.” 

Then the little pleasures at our campsite make stopping for 12-16 hours feel even better: An unexpectedly delicious meal because I found the dehydrated bacon I tucked away for a special occasion. Discovering running water near our campsite so I can go to bed truly clean. Hanging my bear bag on the first try. A meaningful conversation with a friend as we sip tea after dinner. Falling sound asleep within minutes from sheer exhaustion. If you ask me then, I’ll say “because I worked hard today, and it felt great to stop — and God smiled on our time in camp.” 

But today I’m unexpectedly sidelined with an injury, taking unplanned time off to heal before I drive home tomorrow.

As I look at the last several days, I can see God’s fingerprints all over my time on trail. I came down with a nasty fever and cough from a kidney infection just before I was to leave for the trail. It was diagnosed and treated on Wednesday, and within 24 hours the fever was gone. By Sunday (4 days later) I felt strong enough to join my friends mid-hike. That rapid recovery was nothing short of God’s grace. 

Despite a few minor tumbles, no major injuries sidelined our group. (Well, at least until my little knife-in-the-big-toe incident.) We talked about important life stuff and family health challenges. And stupid things like, “if your only defense against a zombie apocalypse was whatever you last ordered on Amazon, what would you do?” 

We saw abundant evidence of wildlife as we hiked — bear paw prints and scat, bobcat tracks — but never actually encountered an animal larger than a chipmunk.  But we DID get to hear two great horned owls calling to each other right above us in the early morning light. So cool.

So what would I say if you asked me today, “why do you hike?” 

I’d say: Because it’s the one place in my life where I am most fully present and alive. Because it brings me closer to the people I’m experiencing it with. And because there I am most completely dependent upon God for provision, safety and direction. 

That includes this little unplanned detour. As a wise friend reminded me, the trail will still be there tomorrow. 

A bit of background.

In case we haven’t met yet, hello! My name is Karen. I have been married to a wonderful man, my high school sweetheart, for 31 years. I am the mother of two adult kids who turned out way better than they should have, and who are now both married to equally amazing humans.

My professional background is in marketing and communications. I am now happily retired (gainfully unemployed?), and spend probably too much of my time hiking, sewing, backpacking, planning to hike or sewing things for backpacking.

God lifted my obsession with alcohol in 2009, and I continue to be active in a 12-step recovery program. I struggled with an eating disorder for more than 30 years; He has led me to victory in that area too.

If you know me at all, you know that I just can’t sit on the things I learn… The bumps on our journeys are meant to be shared with others. Blessings, friend.

In which my obsession begins…

This post is a little longer, an 8- to 10-minute read. It captures three days in 2014 that started my love affair with backpacking. These are journal entries from the Pacific Crest Trail.
And no, I hadn’t read “Wild” first. :-)

August 16 // Saturday

I’m coming to the end of a great vacation with my extended family on the Oregon coast. Cousins, aunts, uncles, my husband and kids… we’ve spent a wonderful week relaxing, eating, laughing and walking the beaches.

forest_tree_foreground_fogThis all seems like a warm-up, though, for the main event. I have planned a 3-day extension to this family vacation to be able to do some hiking in the Oregon mountains. I had packed all my gear into two of our big suitcases, and I keep sneaking down to my room in our vacation rental home to go through it and double-check that I have everything I need.

I spent the rainy afternoon on a 5-mile walk by myself on a rainforest-like trail, which summited some nearby cliffs. It was a challenging, steep path covered with ferns and fallen trees. I came back sweaty, soggy, soaked and grinning from ear to ear. I think my family suspects I’m crazy. I can’t wait for Monday.

August 18 // Monday

Noon – I drove to Cascade Locks, along the Columbia River, after dropping off Chuck and the kids at the Portland airport and making a quick stop at REI to get bear spray and some other essentials. I’ve scoped out a 30-mile loop hike that first follows a trail well known for its many waterfalls. Then I’ll take a connector route that will bring me to the Pacific Crest Trail. I plan to follow the PCT back into Cascade Locks, and end where the PCT meets the Bridge of the Gods. Read more

Call it what it is

In my morning readings today, I read a passage from Oswald Chambers in “My Utmost for His Highest” that hit me between the eyes.

It said, “Sin will kill the life of God in us.”

See, I had spent some time in battle with my old self last night. The discussion started at about 8pm, and went something like this:

New self: “I am satisfied after a healthy dinner, and can celebrate a day of good food choices. Victory is within reach!”

Old self: “Yes, but everyone is leaving the house for at least an hour. You could eat whatever you want and no one will know.”

NS: “Bingeing doesn’t even feel good anymore. What’s the point?”

OS: “But it’s what you DO when you have unexpected time alone. Remember?”

Guess who won? Dumb, stupid Old Self.

30 minutes later, after eating ice cream from the container and picking all the sweet pieces out of a bag of trail mix, I felt defeated and frustrated witth myself. I had sabotaged my forward progress with a 2,000-calorie spree and now I felt like cr*p. And, honestly, I felt like I had let God down (as if I could hold Him up).

Really? After so many years of recovery? I still have to wrestle with this?

But I’m in a great place spiritually. I’m a new creation! I’m made in the image of God! I have the Holy Spirit to empower me!

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” -Ephesians‬ ‭4‬:‭22-24‬

<Sigh.>

I used to think that feeling far from God is what fueled my addictions and compulsions. But I had it backward. What God helped me see in the quiet this morning is that Satan uses those old thought patterns to entice me into sin. And sin is what makes me feel far from God, not the other way around.

Gluttony is a sin. Forgive me, Lord. Thank you for the gift of this new day and the “do over” that it brings. Please grant me strength to make good choices and resist temptation. Just for today. I’ll be back here at Your feet again tomorrow to ask for another portion. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

AT day one —  part 2

Did you miss part one of this post? Click here.

Robot

I parked at the Laurel Falls trailhead in Hampton, TN. After getting Cash’s bags strapped on him and my own pack hoisted up and strapped on, I followed a side trail that would intersect with the AT. It followed a tumbling stream along steep cliffs for about a mile and a half.

trail_from_laurel_falls
Approach trail at Laurel Falls.

I stood at the first trail intersection I reached and tried to get my bearings from the maps I was carrying. I’d been following blue blazes and completely forgot that AT blazes are WHITE. However, the first human I’d seen all morning came into sight just as I had decided on the wrong path. He was striding quickly and was prepared to pass me without comment. “Excuse me,” I said. “I know this might be a silly question, but I’m accessing the AT from a side trail and I’m a little disoriented. Am I going the right direction, northbound on the Appalachian Trail?” “Actually, the AT is over here,” he said, and he pointed to a small path I hadn’t even seen off to one side of the one I was on. “I’m heading north. Follow me.” Who knows how long it would have taken me to figure out my error?

day_1
On the AT north of Hampton, TN

Robot was a thru-hiker from Germany. (Thru-hikers are people who were hiking the entire 2500-mile length of the AT, from Georgia to Maine, in one fell swoop.)  He’d started in Georgia on April 1.  In my short time walking with him, I learned that last year he thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. (Robot was his trail name; I’m sure it’s not his real name. I’m pretty sure it’s not polite to ask.)

Right away he commented on my pack size and proceeded to launch into a litany of opinions about lightweight hiking strategies. He was surprisingly fluent, and I politely nodded my interest. Robot was clearly going to be miles ahead of me by noon and we weren’t likely to meet again. I was right about that, although I saw his name on a couple of trail registers. (More about that later.) After we exchanged a few pleasantries, Robot took off at a brisk pace ahead on the trail. Thanks, Robot, wherever you are, for pointing me down the right path. I might be in the wrong state right now if it weren’t for you.

The rest of the morning was an uneventful walk in the woods. The path was covered with last year’s fallen leaves, making for a soft foot-landing.

Da Bears (almost)

I had chosen a beautiful stretch of trail along Watauga Lake as my stopping point for day one, about 11 miles of hiking total. I had day-hiked at the lake the last time I came to visit, and I knew there were beautiful campsites all along its edge. We stopped and ate lunch around 1pm, and Cash and I were already beat. After lunch I regretfully pulled my boots back on — blisters were forming already and my feet were ready to be finished. I was looking forward to this next segment, which would be relatively flat, and where we could pitch camp early, watch the sunset and enjoy a leisurely evening looking out over the lake.

Um, no. Read more