A guest post today from Vicki VanNatta.
Vicki, two friends, and I recently spent a morning on bicycles in Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island in Maine. You’ve heard of the “mountains of Acadia”? That phrase is always used to describe the island’s striking topography — except in bike rental shops. There the word mountain is absent from everyone’s vocabulary.
The morning bike ride triggered reflections on our lives. Vicki tells it well …
Have you ever biked in Acadia National Park? Bike rental companies will tell you the hills are ‘rolling’ and ‘manageable’ and assure you that people like me—a seasoned senior who rarely rides a bicycle—can enjoy riding the many miles of carriage roads throughout the park.
They don’t mention the long stretches where the road steadily inclines—stretches where this senior was pushing her bike for at least half a mile at a time. They’ll also tell you the carriage roads are clearly marked with directional signs and you won’t lose your way.
May I just say here that either I am much more out of shape than they thought and far more directionally challenged or their point of reference is vastly different than mine.
The hills are not steep but they are long. The signs are there, but I felt like Dorothy on the yellow brick road. There should have been a sign at the very first fork after the very first hill, a sign that said “If you haven’t ridden a bike for years, turn back now!”
But the morning was beautiful, the company was wonderful, and I thought ten miles on ‘rolling hills’ was doable.
By the time we took a break, ate our snacks, and debated if we were going to finish the course or turn back the way we had come, I was very tired and wishing we were done instead of at mid-point. I wasn’t having fun anymore. But going forward or backtracking — either option meant a lot of pedaling and more pushing.
Wearily, we got back on the path and turned down what we thought was the correct road. I was delighted to discover that we had an immediate, exhilarating, long decline. I rushed down the hill enjoying every second. It was a welcome relief to the long uphills we had just climbed.
Sadly, after a minute of effortless downhill delight, we arrived at another fork, and here the signs made it plain we had gone the wrong way!
The ride down the hill had been wonderful and exciting, a welcome relief from the hard uphill work. But now, we had no option except turning around and going back up the path we had just come down. For me, it meant a long walk pushing my bike back to that first fork and then starting over in the opposite direction. The forest didn’t seem so beautiful anymore. The mosquitoes were really annoying. I was hot and tired and hungry. And my legs ached. The joy of the downhill cruise was forgotten and it certainly wasn’t worth it once we realized our mistake.
As I pushed my bike back to the place where we had turned right when we should have gone left, I thought to myself how much that thrilling ride down the wrong road reminded me of poor choices in my life.
Thirty years ago, I stood at a fork in the road. I was struggling. The trip to that point had been very difficult. I looked at the signs, hoping for an easier road ahead.
As a young girl who was in church since birth, I had studied the map; but somehow, at that time of decision, going down a road that was not on the map seemed so right. And away I went, flying along without effort, enjoying the ride and thinking how much better this road was than the path I had been on.
Only to discover I had gone the wrong way. This was NOT the road I needed to be on. And oh, how hard it was to get back up that hill and start over in the opposite direction!
Pushing my bike back up the hill in Acadia took only minutes. Putting my life back together after an affair and bitter divorce took many years and far more tears.
Just as turning the wrong way on a bicycle path took all four of us down the wrong road, my choice thirty years ago took many others with me. My daughter, my husband, my family, the family of the man I was involved with—I took them all down that road with me. And when I was forced to face my mistake, we ALL had to work our way back up a long hill—trying to go in a new direction, trying to find strength to finish the trip.
When we finished our Acadia bike trip, I was hot, tired, stiff, and thinking that the morning after I would not be able to stand up straight. Surprisingly, the next morning I woke up and realized that I would do it again. In fact, I want to do it again! But next time I hope to be a frequent rider, stronger and more experienced. I will be very careful not to take that wrong fork in the road. I will pay more attention, study the map more closely, ask if I need help in determining which direction to go, and learn from my past choices. And so it is with my life.
If you find yourself at the bottom of the hill, tired, weary, and utterly without hope, turn around. Don’t just keep going, hoping things will somehow get better. Find someone to walk back up the hill with you. And most of all, ask God for the strength to get back to that place where you can, once again, be on the right road. The road home.