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Are you...

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Are You…

  • ready for trails that are WET, ROCKY, & CHALLENGING to follow?

  • ready for DIFFICULT stream crossings?

  • able to use a MAP & COMPASS?

  • prepared for UNPREDICTABLE weather?

These words are outlined on a trail sign located in the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area. They’re posted for all to read and to prepare any given explorer who is set to embark on the miles of trails through the West Virginia backcountry. The only problem is…I was that explorer and I didn’t read it until halfway through our backpacking trip.

A brief backstory…last summer I walked this same trail with a few friends and a handful of youth with hopes that we could find space to disconnect in order to connect, the idea was to maybe understand the Creator and ourselves a little bit differently. Crisp mornings, sunny days, and peaceful evenings. The space was alive and the walk was enjoyable on a multitude of levels.

This year, well, it sucked. The same sign was there with the same capitalized words. It greeted us at the trailhead, nothing new added, still as it was.  However, it wasn’t until two days into our journey that I actually read it for the first time.  All of a sudden, there it was again, right in front of us as two trails now merged. It asked the same questions - seeing if we were really up for what was potentially in store for us if we continued to walk on.

You see, standing at the sign this year, we had just hiked through a torrential down-pour, stood completely drenched under pine trees waiting out a lightning storm, and ate lunch being met with the rain dripping from the tips of our noses. It was miserable. I read the sign and was wondering about everyone in the group. I was concerned about their gear, their mental states, and whether or not they were cursing their decision to come on the trip. Did they have any hope within them that it would eventually get better?

To be frank, it didn’t. In fact, it continued to rain for the next 36 hours. We set up camp in the rain. We then moved camp in the rain because of the rising river nearby. We ate in the rain and with nothing left to do, we slept as the rain continued. For the next 15 hours we stayed in our tents.  Waiting out the rain, wondering if it would ever end.

Fifteen hours in a tent is tough. Accompany that with thoughts of wet gear, worries of rain making its way into the tent, and questioning if the river was still on the rise. Counting the drips hitting the tent and wondering if it was still raining, or was it now dripping from the trees? Nope, it’s still raining and, yes, my backpack was collecting water.

Questions like this aren’t good.  Especially when you’re miles from the nearest point of relief and any sort of aid.  Thoughts began to grow roots deeper into my mind. Finally, I stepped out of my tent and walked over to my friend Andrew’s tent. Standing there in my rain gear, I asked through the nylon barrier the questions that were resting just below the surface. “Hey, what should we do? Do you think this is going to end soon? The river is rising, should we change routes? Should we just start heading back to the cars?”  

There it was. The last question revealed the state of my heart. I wanted to give up. I wanted to go back, call it quits. Nothing seemed to be changing and with no end in sight. I didn’t see any purpose in going on with what was planned for the duration of the trip. I’d rather just get to our cars and head home.

I was upset with myself. I couldn’t believe I wanted to throw in the towel. I was frustrated that the rain was dictating what I had hoped to gain from this trip. I purposefully hadn’t set any expectations other than in some form to hear from God. It was a simple summer, a new school year was soon beginning, and I set out on this trip longing to hear from Him - and now I just wanted to go home. I was done.

At some point after going back to my tent, Andrew got up and went on a walk - venturing out for another way. Some time later he returned with a new route outlined and a trail that we could take - even if the rain did in fact continue, it could be done. It would mean giving up our hopes of seeing what we had planned and to go now a different way. We couldn’t stay where we were, we eventually had to continue on - and hopefully at some point the rain would come to an end.

So that was it. We packed up camp and decided to continue walking.  After the gear was set, a few of us stood on the edge of the river looking for any sign for a turn in the weather.  Then, off in the distance, slightly above the tree line was a hint of blue sky between the clouds. Chills shot throughout my body.  I couldn’t shout it loud enough - BLUE SKY!  Running back into the woods shouting again, I SEE BLUE SKY!  Heads popped out of tents, smiles upon our faces, and celebration entered the woods. There was blue sky coming. We didn’t know how much, but there was hope more was to come.

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With renewed spirits, we set out again on our walk with loaded gear, even wet as it was. The walk that day lead us out of the dense forest and out onto large open prairies of rolling hills, wild blueberries, blue skies, and a gentle breeze.

We made it to our final evening of camp. Around the circle, we ate the last bits of food, offering leftovers to anyone that was still hungry, and we waited for the stars to make their appearance. It was our last evening in the wilderness. Together we survived a storm.

Andrew summed it up perfectly, “It would be great if we were in the sun all the time. Part of being in the wilderness is being in the unknown. The rains will come.”

And once again there it was: the trail sign. But this time the words were read a bit differently.

Are You…

  • ready for trails that are WET, ROCKY, & CHALLENGING to follow?

  • ready for DIFFICULT stream crossings?

  • able to use a MAP & COMPASS?

  • prepared for UNPREDICTABLE weather?

Was the trip tough? Yes. Have I ever experienced a trip like this before? Never. Did I see any reason to continue? Nope. However, given all that we literally walked through, I would sign up again in a heartbeat. You see, while in a tent in the middle of the forest, God did show up.  An area of my heart was exposed and He was there to sit with me in it, for fifteen hours in fact, and to continue walking with me through it.  Through the joys, the celebrations, and yes, through the rains.

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Joe Garner discovers a renewal and refreshing element of life while experience God through His creation.  A teacher by trade, his interests can can be found in the form of biking, backpacking, or taking a random night hike through the woods. His passion is driven by fostering and inviting others along to experience God in a new and simple ways. He has a heart for community, learning through imagination, and walking with others as they discover their stories and who God created them to be.