“Vacation” on the Appalachian Trail

Last week I spent six days hiking and living on the Appalachian Trail.  It’s been a lifelong dream to hike the entire 2,195 miles of the Appalachian Trail.  Instead of deciding to be gone from my regular life for 5-6 months, I thought I should start with a small chunk to see if I really wanted to do it. 

At times it was hard.  The hike was 38 miles of up and down steep rocky trails. But there were flat parts, water crossings, and cool breezes. 

At times it was smelly—my feet were worse than a teenage boy and don’t get me started on my arm pits.  It was truly dirty camping night after night without showers or toilets.  But there were glorious moments like the smell of the trail as the rain started or the first sniff of shampoo off the trail. 

At times it was scary.  We saw a bear, a rattle snake and a tiny little black snake.  There were encounters with 78,000 spiders. But there was safety in numbers at the campsites and sharing of food and stories late into the nights.  There was even one night when a senior hiker got up to check on all of us at 2am when a falling branch startled us all awake.  

One of the most rewarding parts of the adventure was the time spent with God.  Each day included a conversation with God.  Each sunrise, sunset, waterfall, and mountainside view got comments of gratitude to the Lord.  Every single hard step included a plea for help.  The long sleepless nights tossing and turning on a blow-up mat included prayers.

And I used the time to concentrate on one particular scripture.  I’d tried to memorize it prior to going and just didn’t have my heart in it.  So, I wrote it in my journal page and carried it with me the entire hike. I looked at it often and while hiking mediated on the words and the context of the scripture.

“It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.” ~Luke 6:12

He went off to the mountains to pray.  Jesus went to the mountain to pray.  And then He spent all night in prayer.  Have you ever wondered what Jesus was praying for that night?  We know snippets that indicate He was asking to not have to be tortured and have a horrific death.  We know He prayed that He would accept that death if it was God’s will.  But did that take all night?  

Have you ever prayed so earnestly for something that it was like you were conversing all the possibilities with God?  Hours went by and you were still content to continue talking to God.  No answers yet, but just talking to God.  

That’s how I imagine that night was for Jesus. Prayerful conversations with the Father, in which He continuously talked through how He was feeling, how He wished it would go, how He loved the Father, and how He would do His will.  

What a beautiful example of how we should pray.  In the midst of chaos and challenges we can turn to the Lord and find rest.  Constant prayer is like having a consistently open phone line directly to God.  If I’m honest, I rarely take advantage of that type of prayer. I get caught up in daily life and forget to chat with God for everything.  

Except this last week while I was in the woods. I was able to connect to God like I haven’t in quite a while.  In the midst of the beauty of nature and the difficulty of a physical challenge, I was able to focus on talking to God.  And it was a remarkable time.

I want to encourage each of you to take time this week to really focus on talking to God.  Find the hypothetical mountain where you can pray…and then do it without ceasing.

It’s your own personal “vacation on the Appalachian Trail.”

~Emily

Appalachian Trail Conversation

I hiked last week.  A lot.  Emily is training towards a monumental goal in a couple of years, and so on occasion I’ll go on hikes with her.  And what I really mean is, we were on vacation and I had nothing better to do, so I let her take me all over northern Georgia area and got sweaty.

Now, anyone that knows me knows that I’m not shy, never have been and I never will be.  And on this particular day, she had picked a hike that was actually part of the Appalachian Trail (AT).  Because I know her goal, I make it my mission in life to talk to anyone that looks like a “serious” hiker.  If you don’t know what a serious hiker looks like, they have a pack that looks too heavy (even though it’s usually not), a bedroll or tent attached to make the pack look even bigger, filters or Life Straws in water bottles, great hiking boots, hair maybe a little messy, you get what I’m throwing down.

It was a great hike orchestrated by Emily.  However, there was a moment that God orchestrated that day that we simply would never have imagined on our own—a moment that you know was simply the hand of our Maker.

We walked around two miles of this particular stretch called Hog Pen Gap and were headed back to where we came from.  The group got separated and Chris and I ended up bringing up the rear at about 5-10 minutes behind Emily.  As we were walking, we passed a woman who looked like one of those serious hikers.  We exchanged hellos, but as she passed us, she stopped, turned around, and inquired about whether there was a water source ahead going in her direction. 

That led to a small conversation with her.  She was, in fact, one of those serious hikers!  She explained she was “couch-to-trail” meaning no training.  She just got up one day, decided she wanted to hike the AT, made a few plans, put some stuff together and hit the trail!  She then explained that she was hiking by herself and that one of the hardest parts of hiking that way was the loneliness that sets in.  She said in one stretch, she went four days without seeing another soul!  As she spoke, I felt the Holy Spirit nudging.  I wanted her to know that she wasn’t alone.

I asked her for her name.  She said “Rochelle.”  I said to her, “Rochelle, I don’t know if you’re a believer, but I am, and I’m going to be praying for you on this journey.  I want you to know that you have people everywhere rooting for you.  And I’ll be praying that you won’t feel alone.”  She replied she was and thanked me.  Before we left, I told her Emily was right up the trail and I was going to tell her about Rochelle, too.  I told her I was going to have Emily look her up on the Appalachian Trail FB groups to find her and we would be rooting for her and praying for her!  And then we went our separate ways.

When I got back to the car and told Emily, she knew exactly who I was talking about!  She’d seen her on the trail, but hadn’t really had a chance to talk.  And wouldn’t you know, that going off of only her first name and a guess of the way it was spelled, we found her on FB among dozens of Rochelle’s in about five minutes later that day!  We were able to connect with her, shoot her a word of encouragement and keep up with her journey!  God knew exactly what He wanted when He planned that moment.

You see, maybe that moment was meant for Rochelle.  Maybe God wanted her to hear from another sister in Christ that she wasn’t alone and to be encouraged.  But I think that moment was just as much for me.

While I’m no stranger to strangers, it still takes courage to talk about God to people.  I constantly have to exercise that commandment, and it means sometimes I have to open the conversation and be willing to be vulnerable.  In today’s culture, while we don’t have it as bad as the apostles did with persecution and stoning, we still have to be prepared for rude remarks, demeaning comments, and ridicule.  It can be nerve-wracking!

The bigger lesson, however, to me was a reminder that even when we feel alone, we are never really alone. 

I’ve been walking through some very rough waters these last few months.  Just read a few of my blogs since March, and you’ll understand my need to completely rely on God.  I know there are many people around me that are doing and feeling the same.  It can feel lonely and discouraging, wishing the heartache would just stop.  We want God’s miracle and we want it now because the feeling of being alone in the storm feels so heavy.

Because of that moment with Rochelle, I was reminded of a verse in the Bible that I can hold on to in those moments, Isaiah 41:10.

“Do not fear, for I am with you;

Do not be afraid, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you, I will also help you,

I will also uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

We do not have to feel alone.  Our greatest strength, our Heavenly Father, is with us as we navigate through sickness, mental health, and despair.  He hasn’t left our side as we struggle through marital problems and job worries.  And He even walks with us when we’re alone on the Appalachian Trail.  Even when we feel the heaviness, we can be assured that He will carry the burden and that He will uphold us.  We never have to do it alone. 

I pray, Iron Porch, that each of us always feel His presence in our moments of loneliness. 

~Erin