There has been some debate in this Maine vacation house about whether or not this story should even be told; and if it is told, exactly which details should be included and which we would rather omit.
I wanted to hike what seemed a simple little trail. Both of my reasons for pushing my friends to go along with this idea might seem frivolous: I wanted to hike a cobble, and I wanted to set foot on the Appalachian Trail.
Headed to New England, we found a comfortable bed and breakfast in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts and stopped there on Friday night. Saturday morning, we would hike the trail before continuing our journey to Maine.
Early Saturday morning, I set out from the B&B and flip-flopped up the road just a little ways to the trailhead of the cobble preserve. An information board offered a map of the trail, a circular, two-mile route through field and woods, up over the cobble, along a ridge with promised views of the Tyringham valley, joining with the Appalachian Trail for a short while, and then down again and right back to the parking lot where we started. Looked simple enough to me.
Rain had poured down the day before, and I was a little concerned about the condition of the trail. But along came an elderly man and his dog, down the trail. I saw another figure coming around the bend further down the hill, and that turned out to be his wife. They assured me that the lower portion of the trail, which she had just walked, was wet, but fine.
“But,” he says, eyeing my flip-flops, “if you’re going to walk it, you might want to change shoes.”
I was not intending to hike in flip-flops! I was just out for a reconnaissance stroll… of course I would change to more appropriate shoes.
And here is where the details shall be blurred, so that we … I … can save face. So I can say, ‘Yes, we hiked the cobble and we walked on the AT!’ … and you might be impressed.
Three of us took to the hills and woods. The fourth stayed in the village, rambling about on her own photography expedition. We expected to be back by ten, well before the B&B’s eleven o’clock checkout time.
But at three minutes before eleven, there was still no sight of us, and our friend, waiting at the B&B, began to devise an emergency rescue plan …
Let’s just say that the morning was not what any of us expected. And probably not what we would have chosen, had we any foreknowledge. And yet, as we huffed and puffed up steep hillsides, straddled with an awkward duck-waddle the trail that had turned into a creek, tried to find firm footing in rivers of mud, and, most important, attempted to decipher the markings meant to keep us on the right trail and going in the right direction — during all of that, I couldn’t help but think of all the spiritual lessons on that short trail.
There were the blazes, beacons meant to keep us going in the right direction. Those blazes were encouraging and beckoning, but sometimes turned discouraging and deceiving.
There were alternate paths that looked good and right … but where would we end up?
There were hard climbs that stretched us further than we wanted to be stretched.
And then there was that lovely, ridge-top rest high above the world.
There was the realization that, once again, we had come unprepared in essential ways. We had made the same mistakes on a vacation hike last year and promised ourselves … never again! Yet here we were, same mistakes. Will we never learn? (No, I’m not giving details.)
There were those folks we met who told us we’d be at trail’s end in just ten minutes. Just a few polite words to weary travelers … how wonderful.
And there was the comforting company of friends, fellow-hikers, struggling just as much as I was, but … hey, we’re in this together … we’ll get through it together.
And besides, we joked, the last thing we wanted was for our local paper back home to carry the headline,
SEARCH CONTINUES FOR LOCAL WOMEN LOST ON TWO-MILE TRAIL
So we struggled onward. And the very best thing? Coming down the trail at the very last, with the parking lot and familiar landmarks in sight.
That last section of trail was most disagreeable. But we saw home, and then nothing would hold us back.
Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. (Philippians 3:14, NLT)
Blessed are those whose strength is in you [God],
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
They go from strength to strength.
till each appears before God in Zion.
(Psalm 85:5,7, NIV)