Seriously, how bad can a hike be? Particularly when you have the right gear! We had hiking boots, daypacks, layered clothing, and gloves along with the questionably essential cell phones and cameras. The brochure suggested the trails would be strenuous. In all reality, strenuous is a relative word. Strenuous compared to what? To whom? We were in shape, although I should have learned years ago that ‘in shape’ can also be relative based on variables like age and the activity one finds one’s self confronted with. I remember having a similar attitude years ago when challenged with a 50-mile bicycle ride. I was ‘in shape’ for running and aerobic exercise as well as soccer and tennis. Bring on the co-ed league softball! Being active wasn’t the issue. Being ‘in shape’ was and I wasn’t ‘in shape’ for serious bicycle riding. 50 miles hurt…a lot!
Our guide met us with a small boat and his springer spaniel, Daisy. He outlined that we would travel to his float house/office to get ready for the hike, boat across the cove to his canoe and paddle into shore to meet our trail. He directed us to multiple pairs of high rubber bog boots, packets of trail mix, bottled water and granola bars. We were instructed to pick out a pair of boots and load our daypacks with water and snacks. Wait…what??? We had the latest and greatest waterproof hiking boots that could withstand any amount of rain or wet trail we had ever encountered. Didn’t he understand that we were ready just as we were? He insisted and we eventually complied. Then, as we loaded back into his boat, he handed each of us a walking stick. I took it, thinking it was rather silly and cliche, but what the heck???
We reached the canoe, which could only hold 3 at a time. He instructed us how to step into it so it wouldn’t tip and made the 3 necessary trips to transport six of us to shore and our hiking adventure. Daisy made sure she was in the first load and barked anxiously until we were all ready to hike. This was her day to shine! Her job was to run ahead of us and warn our guide if a bear chose to use the path…the path carved through the wilderness by bears and deer…a path our guide, our group of six and Daisy shared with them. Instructions were given regarding our best response should such a meeting occur. Our guide was outfitted with a rather large pistol to use as a last resort should the potential bear not choose to not leave us as he found us. It was his philosophy that it was better to have the gun should he need to use it than to not have it and need it. Ultimately, the best option was not to have to use it.
My city-loving, height-fearing, mud-hating, worry-hearted self should have heard bells screaming a warning in decibels requiring earplugs at this point. Yet there was something about the calm reassurance of our guide as he casually explained our hike was only about a mile in and about a mile out with a 450-foot elevation. Hey, I can do that!
He instructed us every step of the way…where to place our feet, when to use the walking stick, what branches to cling to as we made our way through a minute piece of the temperate rain forest in Alaska. This was no ordinary hike. Rain forests have bogs and a muddy, mossy, wet concoction that will suck you in well past your ankle and can suction the boot right off your foot. Moss can be found on almost every limb and exposed tree root. Soon we were adept at finding the horizontal roots to gain footing and avoiding the vertical, more slippery roots. We jumped over what appeared to be narrow creeks, learning that they can be deceivingly deep. A twist of the boot released it from the grasp of the sludge. His gentle instructions encouraged us as we ascended the trail, the same one used by indigenous animals as they foraged for food and water. We didn’t know what we were walking towards, we only knew that we were going somewhere with someone we literally trusted with our lives…someone we had only known for a short time…yet, someone whose gentle guidance encouraged us to keep moving forward, literally through the muck, when our natural instincts would have kept us anchored in one spot.
And there it was!!! Just in front of us was a clearing with a small, perfectly clear lake. Our guide had built a temporary shelter to welcome us to his utopia. Split logs made comfortable benches, a fire pit provided heat and a tarp provided a ‘roof’ to protect us should it rain. A separate area several yards away was surrounded by tarp and made into a makeshift latrine complete with more comforts than any Johnny-on-the-Spot has to offer. We were ready to pull out our trail mix and waters when our guide took off his pack and presented us with hotdogs, marshmallow, chocolate bars…both milk chocolate and dark chocolate…and graham crackers. A hammock hung between two trees and kayaks were available for those who wanted to explore the lake. It was simple; it was unexpected; it was hospitality beyond our expectations; and it was all and everything we needed.
The hike back to the water’s edge was spectacular. One step at a time, don’t worry about ten steps ahead, simply think about where your foot is going to land on the next step…then the next step…the next step… And, before you know it, you are out of the wilderness…changed…the same…but different…calm…grateful for it all…connected to the beauty, the challenge, the guide, Daisy, the others…hopeful for what is to come next, knowing that there will always be another wilderness to encounter.
It doesn’t take much to realize the metaphor for life in this simple hiking experience.
- There will be plenty of muck, but the right tools will help you get through it.
- Sometimes all you can do is think about the next step.
- It helps to have someone to guide you, someone who has been there before and can encourage you to keep going.
- There will be a place of unimaginable beauty and hospitality when you reach the clearing.
- The wilderness will is always waiting…just ahead, but this time we know that we can keep going.
You see, God lives in and through all things – even the things that make us anxious, overwhelmed or scared – always sharing with us the essence of who we are and Whose we are; beaconing and nudging us to live as if God matters; compelling us to reach out and walk with someone who needs us or to let someone guide us when life drops us into the middle of the wilderness. Even the muck can become beautiful when we realize that there will be a clearing complete with all we need…a place that is peaceful where we can laugh and share life…a place where we can hear the gentle giggle of God as she threads her majesty and love into our stories, amused by her creation and how beautiful it is when we find her.
Oh, and one more thing…a dog will always help you on the journey!!!