My previous post did not succeed in publishing the photo of me at the top of Half Dome. Hopefully it will come through this time.
Lessons from Hiking Half Dome:
I am delighted to have experienced again the beauty and the thrill of hiking up and down Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.
Unfortunately, though, I made the same mistake I made while hiking Rim to Rim at the Grand Canyon. God designed the human body to run efficiently on the nourishment of food. It fuels our bodies to be able to match the challenges before us. I thought that I was eating better on this hike than I had on the Grand Canyon hike, but I clearly was not eating nearly as much as I should have for I definitely ran out of energy as the hike went on. Sadly, I realize this is my tendency not just when hiking but in the whole of my life. I get so focused on the task I wish to complete that I do not pay attention to myself or to my needs. When I was younger and in better shape I was able to get away with this—at least in hiking. But I recognize now that I need to change my approach to life. If I really want to be able to accomplish anything of value in my life, I need to pay better attention to who I am and to what I need so that I can take in what is needed to be able to accomplish what is possible.
The value of being noticed: Different folks who had planned on joining me on this adventure ended up falling out for different reasons, so I made this hike alone. On my way down, while absolutely exhausted, I occasionally sat down along the trail to rest and renew my energy. Most people just passed by. But I remember one man in particular who stopped and asked if I was all right, if I had enough water, if there was anything else I needed. That man may never know how much his interest meant to me. What I realize from this is that there are many people I pass in life who may be feeling worn out from whatever it is that they are facing. Perhaps there is nothing I can do for them. But taking the time to stop, and to ask, and to pay attention to them may turn out to mean as much to them as that man’s interest meant to me.
The self-centeredness of exhaustion: Normally when I hike I am a friendly hiker. I say hello to people I pass. I strike up conversation with those I have the opportunity to spend a few minutes with. When I reached the point of exhaustion on my way down, I still found the ability to look around at the beauty of the Mist Trail and the waterfalls and such. But for quite a stretch I had no energy to extend friendliness to other people. That evening at the Curry Village grocery store (while buying an “I hiked Half Dome” shirt and an ice cream treat for myself) a customer in line was very rude to one of the sales clerks. When I reached the checkout stand, that cashier was telling my sales clerk how rattled she was from her encounter with that man. Later that evening I thought about the similarity. I wonder how many folks who are as rude as that man was are actually feeling as exhausted about something as I was while hiking. Perhaps I can look beyond the rudeness to the exhaustion, hurt, fear, weariness of soul that might be disturbing them.
The presence of God: Though I had no family or friends joining me on this hike or meeting up with me when the hike was over, and though I missed the company greatly, I was not alone. All through the hike, I talked to God and I recited verses that helped to keep me going. I am so grateful for God’s promise to be with us in all things, and I am so grateful for the truthfulness of that promise! It was so good to have His company during the hike and afterward!
In the book, The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath, Mark Buchanan talks about the importance of gratitude in our lives. I was especially struck by these lines:
“Thankfulness is a secret passageway into a room you can’t find any other way…. It allows us to discover the rest of God—those dimensions of God’s world, God’s presence, God’s character that are hidden, always, from the thankless. Ingratitude is an eye disease every bit as much as a heart disease. It sees only flaws, scars, scarcity….
“You cannot practice thankfulness on a biblical scale without its altering the way you see. And the more you do it, the more you find cause for doing it. Inherent in a life of thanksgiving is an ongoing discovery of God’s sufficiency, his generosity, his fatherly affection and warrior protection….” (p. 67-68)
Then he tells this story:
“In Guelph, Ontario, there’s a riverside park landmarked with large intricate sculptures: a dinosaur, a man riding a bicycle, a child and his mother. But these are no ordinary sculptures. Each is made from the debris collected from the riverbed. Every year, the city drains the river by a system of channel locks, then invites people from the community to scour the river’s muddy floor and clean up the garbage scattered along it. A welter of refuse is dredged up: shopping carts, tires and rims, car hoods, baby strollers, bikes and trikes, engine blocks, rakes and shovels, urinals, copper plumbing, wine bottles, shoes, thousands of pop cans. Mountains and mountains of rust-scabbed rubbish, slick with algae, are hauled out. Rather than truck all this garbage off to a landfill, the city calls its sculptors together. Each artist is given a mound of junk and commissioned to make from it beauty. The created works are then showcased along the very river from which the raw materials have come.
“God does that. He works all things together for good for those who love him and are called to his purposes. He takes junk and sculpts art.
“And the primary way we participate in that is thanksgiving. Be thankful in all things.” (p. 68)
I am extremely grateful for this sabbatical I am on, I am thankful for a church that has allowed me to take it, and for some grants that have provided the needed funds. I am thankful for all that I have seen, enjoyed, experienced , and learned. (Since I have been through a detached retina in one eye and tears in the retina in the other eye, I am very grateful that I have been able to see the things I have seen.) I am grateful for the time I have spent (or will spend in the coming days) with various members of my family. I am thankful for all the wonderful people I have met in my travels and for the kindnesses they have shown to me. I am thankful for the great church I will soon be returning to. And I am thankful that God has promised to keep doing in me the work that will grow me to be all that He intends for me to be.
Reflections on the Grand Canyon
I had a wonderful…and difficult…time hiking from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to Phantom Ranch then up to the South Rim. Here are some of the lessons I learned from our hike:
Provide, in advance, what your body (and soul) will need for the challenges that lie ahead: Greg and I wanted to get an early start on our hike into the Grand Canyon because we knew the temperature at Phantom Ranch (and along the last six miles of the trail between Cottonwood Campground and Phantom Ranch) would be 109 degrees that afternoon. So we caught a 5:30 a.m. shuttle from the Kaibab on the North Rim to the trailhead and got started hiking down at 6:00 a.m. I ate a banana as we started, and I felt great. Unfortunately, that’s all I ate for quite a while, and I didn’t drink much water as we began our hike. I felt fine at the time and didn’t realize how much I would need sufficient water and food into my system in advance of the heat that was soon to come upon us. As we walked those last 6 miles of our 14.2 mile hike, my legs began to cramp because I had not provided my body with enough water, salt, and protein, and I had a very difficult time with that last leg of our first day’s hike. I recognize how easy it is for us to do this spiritually as well. We don’t know what challenges lie ahead of us and we feel fine at the time, so we do not take the time to fill our souls with the spiritual sustenance we will need when the tough times come. Then we “cramp” spiritually and have a tough time muddling through those tough times. Physically and spiritually, we need to provide ourselves, in advance, what we will need for the challenges that will come our way.
Travel through challenges of life with a good companion: It was so helpful and encouraging to make this trek with my son. When my calf cramped severely, Greg rubbed it down. He kept after me (even at the beginning) to drink more water. He took extra weight for me on our hike up on the second day. He kept encouraging me. Plus we laughed a lot and enjoyed the time together. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to have tried to do this trek without him. In all the adventures and challenges of life, we need a good companion (or good companions) to travel the way with us—people who will help us when we need help, people who will encourage us when our energy is depleted, and people who will enjoy life with us.
Never leave your companion: The day before Greg and I began our hike we received word that a woman died on the South Kaibab Trail about a mile above Phantom Ranch in the intense afternoon heat. We were also told that her companions had left her. I have not been able to find confirmation on any of the news reports that her friends actually did leave her (but I did read a report of someone else being left behind by her traveling party). The point is that no one should go through the challenges of life alone. It can be deadly. So let’s stick with one another through the hard times!
Travel lighter: When hiking the Grand Canyon, you need to bring sufficient water and sufficient food, but you need to be realistic about it. On the way down, we loaded up all of our water containers and drank almost every drop we carried. That was good. The next day, on our hike out, we knew we would pass some rest stops with water supply, so we filled up our water bottles only the amount we knew we would need (and a little bit more) so that we would not be stuck with too much weight. We brought down with us much more food than we needed. That wasn’t too much of a problem on the way down. But it was a problem on the way up. (Actually, I had thought we would be able to dump unneeded food at Phantom Ranch, but the signs instruct us not to leave our garbage or anything else there, so we carried it all out.) It gets me wondering: How much extra stuff do I hold onto that I don’t really need that just weighs me down? What things in my life should I stop carting around to make the traveling easier?
Build into your life sufficient time to recover: Upon reaching Phantom Ranch following our 14.2 mile hike in the desert heat, and preparing for our 9.5 mile hike up Bright Angel Trail the next day, I took it easy. I knew that I would need to recoup my strength and energy, so I laid low and didn’t over exert myself in that heat (and I enjoyed a wonderful steak dinner at Phantom Ranch that night). Greg and I realized the smartest thing for us would have been to plan into our trip an extra night at Phantom Ranch so that our muscles could relax for a day before pushing up the mountain again. This is true for all of life, and is the reason God calls us to honor the Sabbath. We need to build into our lives time to recover from the stresses and strains of daily life. A day of worship and rest is essential.
Even amidst the struggles, never stop taking in the beauty. As I struggled with cramps on the way down, and as I struggled with sore muscles and exhaustion on the way up, I put away my camera. I just did not have the energy to take pictures. I needed to concentrate merely on putting one foot in front of the other and keeping going. I put the camera away, but I never stopped enjoying the immense beauty of the canyon. Every bend in the trail gave a new perspective to the beauty that surrounded us. This challenges me never to stop looking for the beauty and the joys that surround us even amidst the struggles we face.