A few months ago, I decided to embark on a life-long goal of spending a month hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT). I have an ongoing love-hate relationship with backpacking, but it’s an activity that I continue to be drawn to, despite the pain, discomfort and hardship. So why do I love it you ask? There’s something about backpacking that makes me come alive. It makes me feel like I’m on an epic adventure; it reminds me how big and beautiful our world is and how small I am.
I love it is because of the challenge.
In the movie ‘Wild’ the main character hikes 1000 miles (1600km) on the Pacific Crest Trail in the States. In the first few days, she keeps asking herself ‘Why am I out here? What am I doing?’ In the first few days of hiking the AT, I could relate. I encountered thunderstorms, snow and temperatures below freezing. I found myself asking those same questions, ‘Why am I out here? What am I doing?’ I wasn’t quitting though. I am too stubborn for that. I had made myself a promise that I was going to hike for a month and I wasn’t about to stop on day 4.
The AT got better after the first few days. I made friends, the sun came out and I could feel my body growing stronger by the day. Don’t get me wrong, there were still many times I wanted to quit, but an hour could go by without wondering why I was out there.
On my final day on the AT, I wasn’t feeling too well. My knees hurt, I had a head cold, and I just wanted to sleep. I was ready to be done. Many of the friends I made were hiking with the intention of reaching Maine, which was about another 1900 miles (3000km) or 5 months, but I was glad to be leaving, or so I thought.
After getting a good night’s sleep in a bed, I headed to a bus station the next day to begin my journey home. I spent the day calling friends and family and sharing about my experience. As I shared, I started to grow sad I wasn’t continuing. I started to think about the next section of the trail and what it looks like, then realize I wouldn’t know. As I shared my story, I found myself saying, ‘maybe I need to go back and finish it one day…’ I thought to myself, ‘did I just say that? What am I saying?’ 24 hours ago I was so ready to be done with the AT, now I wanted to go back for another 1900 miles?? Am I insane? What it is that keeps drawing me back?
What I wasn’t expecting was the strength and victory I experienced at the end of the month. I felt so strong, physically and mentally. I felt I could take on the world! I had completed my goal, despite wanting to give up, but I didn’t, and that’s what made the difference. My accomplishment gave me a new sense of confidence and strength. Challenges seemed to wake me up instead of shut me down.
If there is no hardship, no opposition, there can be no victory. To have victory is to overcome challenge, pain and strife. Victories give us confidence, they give us strength to keep going. So why are we so quick to shy away from the pain and discomfort of a challenge? It’s all in our perspective.
I think this is what James is talking about in when he says, “consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith will develop perseverance…” Trials stretch us, they are not there to hurt us, but to grow us.
Backpacking reminds me that hardship is good for me, that a climb is often what I need to grow
stronger, that life isn’t always an uphill battle, but it often lasts longer than I think it will. The rewarding view and inner sense of accomplishment at the end of the day make the pain in the midst of the climb worth it. It reminds me that pain and discomfort are not to be avoided, but rather embraced.
It’s hard for me to believe I’m saying this, but as of right now, I’m considering hiking the rest of the AT next year, wow perspective is everything.
Will you come hike with us on the next Pathfinders DTS and embrace the challenge?