We pressed onward, up the makeshift rock stairs that ascended the steep hill. The path climbed the mountain in a zigzag, attempting to make its slope slightly less intimidating. Our breath was short, our calves tight, and our thighs felt like a mixture of gelatin and fire. Our backs, shoulders, necks ached from carrying our packs. Everything was soaked. Exhaustion. We stopped to rest every so often and looked up at the hill that seemed to never end. Around every corner and turn, we hoped that we were clearing the top, but the zigzag continued.
We looked at the map in hopes we would see a marker as to where we were. We had simply wanted to take a nice hike in to see some waterfalls, perhaps for a few miles that might take us a couple of hours. We had already been hiking for several hours, and by our best assumption we were just past the halfway point. We had hiked through a thunderstorm that dumped heavy rain and threatened us as we walked along the mountaintop path with its tall forest looming all around. I prayed for safety.
All we could do was keep pressing on, pushing ourselves to keep going. There was no turning back. I prayed for strength. We continued to ascend, looking for any sign of the next part in our journey, a fire trail that we hoped would be a bit easier to hike. Our feet were throbbing, blisters forming and the muscles in the arch feeling like rocks. Exhaustion, frustration. It got the best of both of us at certain points. “I know this isn’t what we expected or wanted, but let’s try to make the best of it. We’re together.”
Finally! A marker indicating that the trail was splitting. Splitting in several different directions. After a few minutes of trying to determine the right path in our slightly delusional exhaustion, we started down the fire trail. A nice, wide road, fairly well groomed. The light was beginning to fade, but neither of us had the energy to see what time it was. I didn’t want to know. The path began to slope slightly upwards, and around the bend we saw it continue to climb. It continued upwards, slowly, slowly. The uphill did not stop. Oh, I wanted to cry. I wanted to lay down, to completely collapse, in the middle of the path and to call the park ranger to pick me up. I prayed for strength.
We walked in silence for those last couple of miles, except to indicate when we needed to stop and rest. Oh, what joy we felt when we saw the marker for 0.1 miles to the road! We still had about a half mile to our car, but it was downhill, and we hitchhiked. Nobody stopped. We reached a grassy patch by the road, and I stopped there with all of our stuff, and he went the rest of the way to get the car. Oh, what jubilee it was to get into the car, sit down. Our muscles would barely move us in the ways our brains told them to move. Oh, but we did it. Seven hours later, weary, hungry, we finished our 8 mile “strenuous hike,” as the trail map called it.
As we drove along the mountaintop road, we saw the most breathtaking views as the sun descended over the mountains. The light and shadows played over the peaks that surrounded us, gracefully falling where the mountains commanded them. Large, puffy clouds billowed behind the mountain peaks in the distance. I held my husband’s hand as the pit in my stomach grew.
Regret. Why didn’t we look at the description on the map before we started? He doesn’t really like hiking that much, and this may have ruined it for him. Sadness. A day lost. After our hike, we had been planning to take a nice long drive through the park that boasts some of the best views in the state. Frustration. Things not going as planned.
I wanted to be thankful for the time we spent together, for the bonding experience, for the trial. Some of the strongest family memories I have were of the hikes, drives, camping experiences that just didn’t go right. There was crying and whining involved, but they make us laugh when we look back now. In that moment, I couldn’t bring myself to feel that way. With time, I knew I would. But not yet.
Last night I began writing this story in my head. I had already documented every detail, diary-style, in my journal the day after the hike. But last night the story began to take shape as I went to bed. This morning as I looked at the 2nd day on a 40 days of prayer devotional, it instructed me to thank God for my blessings. Sometimes God shows us things in unexpected ways, and He reminded me today that some things are not what they appear to be at first glance. There is much to be learned when we scratch under the surface of our difficult experiences. I left hurting, frustrated, sad, but with an open heart to God’s healing and teaching.
What if Your blessings come through raindrops?
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near?
What if trials of this life
Are Your mercies in disguise?