What a week we just spent in the mountains of Virginia!!!! (yes Virginia, not North Carolina as previously thought. The mailing address is North Carolina-but we hiked in Virginia-small detail) Ryan, myself, and Barry took 14 JH and SH students to a backpacking ministry called Wilderness Trail for a week and we have all returned, mostly unharmed besides some bad scratches and achy feet, and forever changed in our walks with the Lord. You can’t help but love a ministry that cheers you in as you pull up their pinetree-lined driveway, give you huge hugs even though we smelled like stale potato chips and beef jerky, and welcome you into the lodge with words of encouragement in that beautiful southern drawl. From that point on we knew we were in good hands!!!
We spent the next 36 hours learning how to get ready for the trail. We got into our respective hiking groups of about 10 people, met our staff and junior staff leaders for the week, and came up with a crazy name for each group. Our groups were “The Mystery Machine” and the “Holy Hiking Hotdogs”. We made up funny skits and colored flags that represented us as a team and presented them to the entire camp (about 120 campers were there total). I must say Ryan and Barry’s group skits blew the rest of us out of the water-that’s what show choir will do for ya!! Then we all took turns on the group team-building course where we were pushed to rely on one another in new and challenging ways like walking across two cables while making a tee-pee of your body with someone else-we had to totally rely on the other person to make it across. We also received all our gear for the week-backpacks, individual food, group food, tents, all that good stuff. We were instructed in the fine art of packing your pack which really means, we were told what we didn’t really need to bring because by day two you wouldn’t care if you still had on the same shirt and underwear that you wore the day before, what you would care about are the extra pounds on your back! No cell phones, no watches, no ipods, no noise from the world was allowed to accompany us. We all carried the bare minimum with the exception of some contraband make-up that snuck into one of the packs:)
Each evening that we were at the WT property we had worship, skits, and a message about how our lives need to produce the fruits of the spirit. We were encouraged to look into our hearts and see which ones were going to be our biggest struggle on trail and in our lives at home. Those fruits became the focus of the next four days……
We were up at 6:30am every morning-my group by our sweet leader, Alexandra, singing us a worship song, Ryan’s group by Nathaniel gently asking them to rise and shine. We had the best leaders by the way-no boot camp for us with orders and drill sargeant reenactments, just strong voices showing us the ropes with love and humility. We were all driven to our first drop off point-each group started somewhere different-sometimes crossing paths, but not usually. My group started at Masse Gap on “God’s Stairclimber”. Imagine if you will the highlands of England-that’s what it looked like-with rocks galore that we clammered up on until our buns were burning!! Ryan’s group spent the next 3 days up in highlands such as these. They enjoyed several surprise meetings with wild ponies and their new babies-one even tried to eat Ryan’s shoes and was successful at getting their junior staff, Nala’s, peanut stash-baggie and all!!!!! My group spent just one day in the open fields and the rest of the time in Creek Country where we were blessed with treetop canopies and 2 amazing swimming holes. I never thought creekwater could be so refreshing!
No matter where you were the first and second night you were pummelled with rain. We woke up around 2am to extremely loud thunder and lighting, got in lightning protocol stance, and prayed for the morning. We got WET!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Throughout the trip Jacob Witke in his group and me and Alex in mine slept on tarps in the open instead of tents so we REALLY felt like we were right in the action of the storm. By morning we were able to have an oatmeal breakfast and dry out a bit. As we hiked we would lay out our stuff to dry if we found patches of sunlight but the stink was already lovely:) The second night it was more of just a steady downpour but God was just prepping us for how much we were going to need to rely on him. We found joy in the rain-played games around our campfire or huddled inside tents being silly and talking life. Rain keeps you on your toes and teaches you to be PREPARED!!!!!! You don’t leave your stuff all over, you cover your packs and your shoes before bed, you make sure other people’s packs are covered….you look out for one another.
The miles and miles of hiking hurt our feet, our backs, our knees, our necks and made us super hungry and tired. Using the restroom outdoors was another hurdle for most people-of course the boys embraced it quickly-ask Mark Fisher about his bathroom experiences if you’d ever like a good laugh. Our packs were like our own personal double-edged sword, necessary but HEAVY!! Poor little Shelby’s pack had to be readjusted because she was too little to even keep it on!! We got bug bites, rashes, rope burns, splinters, blisters, and headaches that wouldn’t go away. But…… out there we had conversations. Not over texting, not by email, not on the surface. We learned about eachother in ways we’ve never been able to before. We told eachother stories just so we could take another step-and I’m not exaggerating. There were moments, lots of them, when we all wanted to sit down and cry. But we knew that wouldn’t get us anywhere, so someone would pick you up, tell you they loved you, and tell you to get your buns movin. Overall, each group hiked over 45 miles in 4 days carrying 1/3 of their bodyweight. Only God makes that happen when you haven’t trained for it.
Our biggest blessings of the week are too many to count, but here are a few of the highlights…..not a single one of us had a major injury, we were all given time every morning and all day to pray to God for strength and encouragement, we were allowed to act like kids-playing tag, singing crazy songs, playing mind games, catching geckos and crawdads(which we ate by the way), seeing more of God’s beautiful creation than many of us ever stop to look at, mushrooms of every color of the rainbow, ponies that have never been broken, more “I love you’s” than I can count, and where we started by wanting to quit-we ended by wanting to go back again and again.
Our last night out on trail we did 3 things. At the beginning of the week we all picked a secret friend from our group. Throughout our time on trail you were supposed to love on that person without making it obvious that you were their secret friend. You helped them put on their pack, shared your food with them, rubbed their shoulders, ect… On the last night you gave them a gift-it could be anything you thought would bless them. Some people made flower bouquets out of the rhodadendron, others carved a stick or made something out of things they found and carved the date into it. Others gave candy or food they had saved or something special they had brought with them. It was a sweet time to tell your secret friend why they blessed you all week. After that the kids all gathered around the campfire and did an encouragement circle for eachother. One person sat in the hot seat while everyone else told them what fruits of the spirit they saw in them this week. Tears and tears poured down faces as they loved on eachother. While that continued the leaders took each person aside and washed their dirty, achy feet like Jesus did. We told each kid why we loved them so much, annointed them with precious oil, and prayed over them. As leaders our hearts were just bursting with pride that everyone had made it, that they had all “gotten it”-that it wasn’t about the hiking at all really, but the journey towards more love with God and eachother. Then the kids were given the option to wash our feet. I’m tearing up just thinking about the sweet, sweet words that your kids had for us. Ryan and I have never felt so loved, so appreciated, and so blessed in our entire lives.
We hiked out Thursday morning-Ryan and Barry’s group painted themselves with ash and attacked their pick-up van like wild banchee-you’ll have to check out the pictures to get the idea of how crazy they all looked. As we pulled back onto the property we raced to hug eachother and hear stories from our adventure. We all enjoyed an outdoor shower and some AMAZING “get-back-day” food. We played for the afternoon and closed up our time at WT worshiping together.
Wilderness Trail was hard, but with Christ who gives us more strength than we will ever be able to comprehend, we did it.