Updated: Jan 30, 2021
In 2014 I took advantage of an opportunity that truly changed my life, changed the way I saw myself, the way I lived in the big picture and the daily and brought new depth to my beliefs. I accepted an invitation to go on a backpacking trip into the wild Sierras. If someone had invited me to do that before that particular time of my life I would not have considered it to be an opportunity. I would have thought that to be nothing more than a horrible sounding idea.
Growing up I had a pretty safe and secure life. Though I was a bit of a risk taker, in truth I always had someone to lean on and depend on. I lived at home until I was married. My dad was the classic good dad. He worked a good, stable job that I’m not sure he loved, and all my needs were provided for. If something was wrong I could trust in his steady and resourceful nature to help me through it. My mom was always available and could figure out a way for whatever needed figuring out. I married a man who could pretty much do anything and make anything. I felt taken care of. They helped me to fly but I knew that I always had a safety net in them.
Adult life finds us all with some scrapes on our bumpers and some door dings, and 2013 came along with some bumps in the road that emotionally flipped me and left me upside down with my wheels spinning. The safety net was apparently an illusion. My dad died. My dog died. The difficult economy led me and Steve to sell our home. Nothing was certain anymore. My whole daily way of life changed. I rolled up my sleeves and did what needed to be done and said all the positive sounding things that a victorious person says, but inside I was crushed and lost. Midway through 2014 some depression set in with the bad habits that often accompany it.
On Facebook I began to follow the adventures of a guy I knew of from high school who decided to compile a list of 50 things that he wanted to do in his 50th year of life. By the time I found out about that list he had already accomplished some major things on it including hiking the Inca Trail and running with /from the bulls in Spain just to name a couple. As the date of his next feat, hiking the John Muir Trail from Yosemite down to Whitney summit drew near, he posted an invite for a few people to join him for the last 6 days of that hike. I day dreamed about it a bit…which grew into some actual pondering…then I mentioned it out loud and told my husband that I was toying with the idea. I don’t think he took me seriously. Two days later I announced to Steve that I was going to go. He said “ok”, but his face and tone spoke of some reservations. I studied as much as I could in the month prior to departure, watching videos, reading blogs, looking at packing lists… and I took a couple of short hikes close to home. Hardly prepared, the day arrived for departure and I was full of nerves and excitement but had no idea what the reality of it all was. It was all theory.
I met up with the group I would be hiking with. Strangers. Very nice people that I would feel quite close to when it was all said and done. But, at this point they were strangers. It was where I really needed to be though… without the safety net. In the very new place of total self reliance. At the edge of me. Every man for herself. Once I hefted my 40 lb. pack and began the hike up to Kearsarge Pass the reality of it all settled in very quickly. I had a lot of thoughts barreling through my mind. "I could turn around now and just wait for them to make it out in a few days." and "I can do this" and "I will ask them at the top if they want to vote me out of the tribe because I'm clearly the weakest link" and "How embarrassed will I be if I quit now?" As we came up above the tree line and were surrounded with nothing but beige shale there was no real beauty to distract from the fact that it was me and the Hill and I was going to have to work it out.
The climb to the top was brutal and I took up the solid position at the rear of our group and gave myself the trail name "Caboose"...maybe because it sounded much cuter than "Loser"... or “Delusional”. For what seemed to be hours, I trudged along speaking positive thoughts, praying actually, for strength, with the rhythm of each step. A cadence prayer. I tried to look around, but the terrain was rocky and it required more looking down....and if I looked up I only saw people so far ahead of me...so far above me up the mountain that it felt a lot like defeat.
One of the other gals and I traded some words of weak encouragement but in the later miles and hours of the day I'm sure my face only communicated fear, pain and sheer exhaustion.
Setting up camp in the dark and cold while exhausted and terrified was a new experience for me. Hell. Setting up camp at all was a new experience for me. I had rented my equipment the day before we left and had set up the tent with Steve in the warm September sunshine of my driveway. Once. It wasn’t quite the same in real life. After the tent set up I rallied my mental and physical energy to cook and eat my dehydrated meal. I ate until I was sick, and shivering from cold and fatigue. With all else cleaned up and put away and having donned the totality of my clothing, trying to ward off hypothermia I climbed into my mini-tent and watched the lights in the other tents go out one by one. I can't remember ever having such a dry mouth, throat and lips, being so dehydrated and still having to go to the bathroom. But there I was, scared to death of bears and alone-ness and yet, twice, all by myself under a sky more full of stars than I've ever seen I got up, put on my big-girl boots and went out to potty. I was pretty proud of myself actually. The rest of the night wasn't that easy for me though. I lay awake shaking with fatigue and fear, with a racing heart that I couldn't slow down, praying myself back from the edge of freaking out. It was a panic attack that was rising. “If today was hard and has left me in this state, then how am I going to be able to handle tomorrow?…longer, higher...less oxygen…I can’t sleep, can't eat enough, cold, tired, scared. Alone.” I found myself very much in the situation that I willingly put myself in. Alone and at the edge of myself. Scared about my ability to physically complete the hike. Terrified that I am mentally freaking out and can’t get ahold of myself. Horrified that I may be the weak link that will cause problems for the rest of the group.
I had to ask myself “How much do you believe in what you say you put your faith in? If you say that God is sufficient, then why do you feel compelled to run to the tent next to you and climb in with complete strangers?” The next four days would reveal much about the integrity of my beliefs and my faith and the nature of the One my faith is in.
Focusing on faith and trust erodes fear. To live fearlessly requires that we have faith in something. One might say that they have faith in themselves, but I know I've encountered problems that far outweigh my personal resources. Another may say they have faith in the universe. That feels kind of lonely to me. It seems impersonal and detached from love. My faith has been tried and tested in the God of unlimited resources and unconditional love. He said that his perfect love for us casts out and leaves no room for fear. That is what I had to take from my brain and wrap around my fears, and walk on out with courage...and trust.
Many times since then I've reflected back on that trip as one of the pivotal moments in my life. I asked myself some hard questions about my core beliefs and had to look at them honestly. Did I or did I not really believe what is said in the bible, literally. ...Things about God giving me the strength to do whatever I need to do or about having peace in the midst of a frightening time and about walking life out along side the compassionate and personal yet almighty God. I don't know if what followed was a question answered or a decision made, but for sure, I did know where I was putting my trust. Absolutely. And from that point until now I've experienced such a peace and sense of power in my own life to walk with courage and find victory over fear. The world has opened up to me in many new ways.
There have been a lot opportunities in the years since to build that faith muscle. Every time I exercise trust I see His faithfulness to keep his word to me. It gets easier and easier to do. I look forward to the day when that trust of full faith is my 100% default response to the challenges of life. I wish it would happen over night but it seems to be a "more and more" type thing. It's coming along though!