June 14, 2011

On the Appalachain Trail: Journal Three

I've made it home, in a way. This morning I crossed into Virginia! Now I've got three states behind me (Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee) and once I get through Virginia I'll be nearly halfway done. Keep in mind, though, that it'll take me about a month to get through this state; the Trail spends nearly a quarter of it's length here.

Several days ago I had a real turning point in my walk with God out here. I knew it would be tough being away from so much support and being around people who don't know me, and it really was quite tough and in many ways still is. The tough lesson that I began to learn out here, the one that began to surface as I was worn down, was accepting grace. Whenever I would do or say something that I wasn't proud of, or passed by a great oportunity to witness, I would get down on myself. I really was trying to earn good feelings, to earn love and forgiveness; I was trying to earn the sense of peace I had before.

The most I can do is just relate this lesson with words. Many of you reading this will understand the concepts I'm talking about, but the true fruit shows not in some nice verse or piece of wisdom that's phrased nicely but in how I'm now able to wake up every day and walk in God's grace for my life before I do a thing. Now I'm spending time with God in the Bible and in prayer out of a response to his free love and forgiveness, not in an attempt to earn it.

That's the big lesson recently. I am certain of more to come and some that I'm in the middle of, but that's all I will share at the moment.

Now for some good trail stories. My "trail legs" have finally come in. That's the phrase for when your legs finally get used to hiking and all of a sudden you can do much bigger miles. I realized I had gotten my trail legs one day when I had just finished climbing a 2,000 ft mountain over three miles at the end of a 16 mile day and felt great, so I decided to go another 7.5 miles to a shelter that was made from a converted barn that I really wanted to stay at. Since then, I can hike 18 miles in a day without much trouble and can break the 20 mile mark pretty regularly. As long as I get some rest time in camp (and LOTS of sleep) I hold up just fine.

One of the best stories happened just yesterday. My friend Bookworm (also a recent college grad) and I were hiking along and came upon a parking lot where some scouts were being fed soda, snacks and fruit by a guy who drove out to do that for them during their hike. As we walked through he beckoned to us and let us have whatever we were hungry to eat. He began to wrap things up and half-jokingly offered us a cantelope to carry to camp. He was half-joking because he was willing to part with it, but it weighs 8-10 lbs and no hiker in their right mind wants to carry that kind of weight for little to no calories. I, not being in my right mind, actually accepted the offer of cantelope. Camp was only 5 miles away and I'd figure it would be cool to have a cantelope for everyone at camp, especially because it was our friend Intern's last night on the Trail.

That's when the guy also mentioned that he had a watermelon. A 15 lbs watermelon. Bookworm looked and me and smiled. He carried the watermelon and I carried the cantelope. It was pretty rough on our poor legs that had already gone 17.7 miles that day. When Intern finally arrive at camp, we brought out the fruit and carved it up. The cantelope turned into slices and we cut the watermelon in half and let everyone go at it bowl-style. It was awesome.

That's all for this post. More adventures and life changing to come over the next 1,700 miles or so.

June 3, 2011

On the Appalachian Trail: Journal Two

So far I've been in three states and covered just under 272 miles. I know nearly a dozen people behind me and about the same number ahead of me, all thru-hikers headed to Maine. My hiking appetite kicked in about five days ago and now I can pig out and eat just about anything... my brunch alone (ice cream and root beer) hit near the 1500 calorie mark.

Aside from reading my Bible on a regular basis, usually in the mornings, spending much time in prayer and worship has become very important too. Much of this is done while I'm hiking, but each day I need to get alone and talk with God; this need has arisen out of a complete lack of constant fellowship with other believers. I have met some lukewarm Christians and had good conversations, but not anyone who is serious about their walk with Christ. There was one guy whom I suspect walks like that, but I think he's behind me and I'm not sure where.

I have grown to appreciate my friends in Christ much more on this trip. I'm very glad there's a planned end date for that reason.

I have been able to keep my integrity out here and carry the name of Christ most places. but I've had plenty of missed opportunities and sometimes I get frustrated with myself for those. It's then that I remember grace, and I try to walk that balance of improving myself without beating myself up when I fall short. If there's one thing that's true it's the Christ covered everything so I need not worry about condemnation, and I want to live in full response to that.

There have been some rather adventurous experiences so far. I made a 1.4 mile wrong turn, encountered a bear (it cost me 45 minutes and some nerves), and have gotten quite a bit of free food and free rides (some I didn't even have to ask for! definitely Godsends). I spent 20 minutes sitting at the best view in the Great Smokies Mountains, called Charlie's Bunion. It's a rocky outcropping that gives you a 300 degree view of the surrounding mountains. The most beautiful places have been the southwest end of Thunderhead Mountain (GSMNP), which I walked through when the dew was glistening on tall grass with sporadic short trees. It really felt like a hillside in heaven. The most beautiful place was Max Patch Bald, though. You know the hills that Julie Andrews sings on at the beginning of The Sound of Music? The kind that people frolic through in commericals? Yeah, it was like that. It was as tall as a mountain, but treeless with lots of soft grass and millions of buttercups. Did I mention that it was 70 degrees with a slight breeze?

My legs feel great; it mostly the muscles and things in my feet that need to get used to the hiking. I can do 15-16 miles without much trouble, but after that things start to hurt. The good thing is that I haven't met a former thru-hiker yet who doubts my ability to get the Mount Katahdin in time... that has been highly encouraging. My feet have some more breaking in to do but not a whole lot!

The people of the South have been extremely hospitable. Hot Springs is the first true Trail town I've passed through (e.g. the Trail goes down Main Street) and I haven't walked passed a person without being audibly greeted. I'll be sorting through my maildrops from my parents, filling in the gaps, getting a shower, hanging out with other hikers for a little while then hitting the trail again tonight.

Feel free to text me with prayer requests! I've got plenty of time to pray for them on the Trail.

Hello to those people who I met along the trail who are following this! For everyone who doesn't know yet, my trailname is Pilgrim.

The Trail's been tough but God's been good and I don't think I'm allowed to quit without a clear indication from Him that it would be best. He's been providing when I need it and I've been growing a lot through the tough stuff that's come by, physically, mentally and emtionally. Thank you Lord!

As a last note to those of you who I'm sure are wondering: no, I have not met any cute single Jesus-loving female hikers under 25. In fact the only single woman I have met is a late 20's art professor from West Virginia. You may either feel dissapointment or relief now.