Saturday, July 6, 2013

Trek: Pain & Summiting

This won't be my normal kind of blog post, for this will involve me telling you about my experience. There will definitely be lessons along the way, but nowhere near the same format as normal. I just say that up front so you know what you're about to read. 

I got the chance to go on Trek with Wilderness Expeditions this past week. They are a faith-based guiding service in Salida, Colorado and have been guiding groups since 1989. There are many of you who have probably been on Trek through this company or another like it. I had never actually been on Trek before, shocking as that may be for those who know me best. I was just never part of a youth group that did Trek, so I never really had the chance to go. But here I am as a college grad, and I've finally got the opportunity. 

The first official thing we did was go rappelling Sunday morning. For me, this was not something new, in fact, I've helped others do the same before. However, I did see something extraordinary. I saw bravery. In my time leading OC Excursions, which involved climbing and rappelling, I got to see the same thing: overcoming fear. I've seen people step  off the edge, go for the next climbing hold, and trust the rope through tears. And that's pretty extraordinary. I'm not brave because I'm very comfortable trusting my life to a rope and have taken very decent falls on it, those who do so despite being scared to death are the real brave ones. I can remember very few situations where I was so scared I was crying and still did the thing I needed to do. Most of the things about Trek are really reversed of the way we normally do things. It's not normal for us to trust our life to a rope and back off the edge of a cliff. It's not normal to deprive oneself of a lovely bed and delicious food to sleep in the woods for 4 days with not much more than granola bars. It's not normal to sign up for hard work, aches, and pains. But as I've said time and time again, the Christian lifestyle is rather similar. Who in their right minds decides to sign up for deprivation of self, picking up crosses and following someone you can't see (Luke 9:23)? Well, Christians do. As much as it is against our nature of self-preservation, God has given us this longing for adventure as well.

After rappelling, we hiked to low camp. I don't rightfully know how far any of these legs of the journey were, I only know the overal distance we covered which was 24 miles round trip (I nearly hit the floor when I heard that). I'm gonna guess the hike to low camp was no more than a mile or two, but it was my first encounter with what would be my nemesis for the week: The Pack. They lent us these exterior metal frame backpacks that were large, old, and for most of them, had seen better days. I'm gonna estimate that I had around 50 pounds on my back for most of the trip. Once again, I don't rightfully know, but I think it was around that. These packs are supposed to sit on your hips for the most part, taking the weight off your shoulders. The two problems with that were that my pack didn't seem to fit the norm, and I don't exactly have the most  bodacious hips around. I'm not saying those who didn't have problems had bodacious hips, I'm just saying that when it comes to hips, I've been told (by family, friends, and a yoga instructor) that I seem to be lacking. Anyway, long story short, the pack seemed to set on my shoulders and killed what little hips I have. Good pack or bad pack though, nobody just handles that much weight going uphill well. 

The next day we woke up and headed to high camp. This was easily the hardest day of quite possibly the hardest 4 days of my life. It was just a long freakin' hike. MOST of this day was uphill too. Most of our crew broke down at some point, some cried, and there was a decent amount of item exchanging going on, making some packs more manageable. I was doing pretty well for the first half of the day. My endorphins were kicking (inner dolphins as they would say) and I was overall feeling pretty decent. Come lunch, that all changed. What followed was an uphill hike that just seemed like it wasn't going to end. I stuck around the back in part because I was trying to be encouraging to those back there, but I ended up taking a decent amount of time as well. I just got tired. 

We finally made it to high camp and I felt like kissing the ground (in part because I was grateful for this soil that was to give me rest and in part because it would feel good to just lay down). We set up camp and laid around for a while before dinner, which was absolutely wonderful. 

The next morning we woke insanely early. Like, we needed headlamps to eat and hike with for the first 30 minutes type of early. This was summit day. Every summit day is really just a summit attempt day. Trying to get to the highest point on a mountain is never an easy or safe thing. Weather can change in an instant and you certainly do not want to be the tallest thing around in a lightning storm. Our group faced twisted ankles, asthma, bloodied knees, and just pure exhaustion. To be honest, I wasn't sure we were going to make it, or at least all together. The goal was simply too far away and there were just too many factors weighing individuals down to make it all together. Even the weather wasn't looking like it was going to cooperate just before we were about to summit. However, call it stubbornness, call it providence, call it luck, we made it to the top. I've climbed a mountain that was even higher than this one before, but it didn't quite compare. We had risked alot, struggled immensely, and given everything we had to be at the top of this mountain, and the reward was great. We ended up having around a 12 hour summit day from leaving camp to returning to camp. 

Something is only worth what someone else is willing to pay for it. On that day, that mountain summit was worth a heck of alot because of how much our group paid to get there. 

Several themes ran throughout all of the hike days. Firstly, it was really, really hard. Everyone was pushed physically, and mentally. The mental was perhaps even the harder for reasons I'm not sure I can explain. Something happens to those who endure hardships together. At this point in my blogging career, I've talked about how we as Christians are called to suffer with one another for the sake of the cross quite a bit, but I really can't say it enough. We live pretty cush lives most of the times. Even if it is not some sort of hardship or persecution related directly to being a Christian, anytime we struggle, it makes us stronger and reminds us of both the reward of such hardship as well as the opportunities we have in daily life to risk something for our faith and get outside our comfort zones. We are surely not meant to live comfy, mediocre lives, and somehow trek reminded me of that. 

Secondly, going through such hardships in a community strengthens that community in immense and amazing ways. There was non-stop servanthood and sacrifice for others being displayed as we approached the summit. The closer we got to the summit, the closer we got to each other. In part, this was because as the climb got harder, we needed each other more, for both physical and spiritual help. There was constant encouragement being passed around, such as is almost never found closer to sea level. Burdens were constantly lifted, not only by encouragement but also physically. Those who arrived at a resting point sought to ease the load of those still approaching. It got to the point where the injured were taking on the burden of the even more injured. We shared burdens, we shared food, nothing seemed to belong to a sole individual. If I may be so bold, it was a time where I felt like I was living out Acts 2:44 with people almost more than any other time - "All the believers were together and had everything in common."

Not only did the community lean on each other, but we leaned on God as well. Several admitted to getting some sort of song lyric stuck in his or her head that would just repeat over and over again, calling on God for help with the next step, and then the next. 

Humans have always sought and found God on the mountain. Moses communed with God at Sinai. The temple was built on Zion. Elijah was used to show God's power at Carmel. Abraham trusted in God at Horeb. Even Jesus pleaded with His Father on the Mount of Olives. Granted that God is everywhere and we need not go higher to find Him, there does seem to be a closeness to God that is found on the mountain. Somehow, we create a thin space between us and God on the mountain. Perhaps climbing a mountain is not necessary to get close to God, but it certainly doesn't hurt the process. 

As we came off our mountain, the hardships did not end. We aren't meant to constantly have mountaintop experiences. At some point, we must enter again into the valley and deal with what we find there. For me, there was a certain amount of disappointment. We took a slightly different trail going down that was supposedly faster. Although my pack had been adjusted, it slowly started to rest on my shoulders again and was bringing me discomfort. With the new route, I did not know where we were exactly but I guessed that we were past where we set up low camp...then I saw it. The area we set up low camp in was marked by several small buildings that were part of an old settlement in the area. When I saw these buildings, I realized we were not nearly as close to our destination as I thought, and disappointment came over me pretty hard. You want to know something though? We still made it, as tired and disappointed as I may have been. Unfortunately, we can't live on the mountaintop, we have to learn how to take the mountaintop with us into the valley. Hard times, disappointment, and low times are going to come, but with God close at hand, we get stronger because of it all. It may help us find God to climb a mountain, but we can't leave Him there. Crap happens, we're reminded of that time and time again. Paul said that we are given the privilege of not only believing in Christ, but also suffering for His sake (Philippians 1:29). It's healthy to be reminded of this from time to time, and to take heart because although we have trouble in this world, Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33).

Trek awoke the adventure in me. Theres something about activity in God's creation that trumps any kind of activity that humankind has created or made. In first century culture, purity was very much related to creation. This makes a whole lot of sense. There is no purer, more fun experience than just enjoying nature as God created it. Some people do dangerous crap that could lead to their death (and many times has). For me, I have different goals I want to attain related to climbing and hiking that I've either formed before this or after my trek experience. One thought I can't shake and now am firmly convinced that I want to do though is to retrace one or all of Paul's missionary journeys, using only methods of travel that He had access to. So basically backpacking and traveling by boat. It'd be a sort of spiritual journey/mission trip. Anyway, I thought about this yesterday, so it's still in it's infancy as a plan (but in Spenser plans, that's pretty good). 

What adventure might God be calling you to? Nobody's journey is the same, but we all got one. What mountain do you need to climb? I climbed the easy one, the physical one, now I just have to work on my own spiritual and mental mountains in life. Be bold - Get out there - and Do something. 

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