What makes for a good hike?
Is it the destination that makes a hike great? Or is the journey along the way the determining factor? Maybe the duration of the hike enables you to immerse yourself in the wild for an entire day, while a shorter walk might make the experience more accessible.
And then again, some of us may define a good hike as one that never gets started.
The best hike I ever experienced took place in Glacier National Park when I was 25 years old. I was alone and travelling through the West that summer. I had never been to the mountains of northwestern Montana and I was thrilled at the alpine ecosystem in which I found myself.
I had awakened that morning in my little yellow tent. Even though it was early July, I was chilled and rekindled the evening’s fire. I had charted out a 15-mile day hike from my campsite, and I was eager to get on the trail.
The pine trees that lined the well-worn trail were a rich green. The sky was cloudless and radiated the most comforting blue imaginable. The meadows that unfolded on my left and on my right had tall grass, and the wide canyon that I hiked deeper into gave me a vision of indescribable grandeur.
I lost track of time. The sun crept higher, but I hardly noticed. The water from my pack tasted sweet, and the snacks that I munched on provided the perfect amount of energy I needed to hike farther and higher into the mountains.
In time, however, I met backpackers on the trail. One of them asked me a perfectly ridiculous question.
“Why are you hiking alone?”, one of the hikers asked me.
Flummoxed by the question and shaken out of my rocky mountain high, I stammered on about the fact that I was from North Carolina and just happened to be traveling by myself.
“Don’t you know that this is grizzly country?”, he insisted. “There’s a grizzly and her cubs up ahead,” one of the other hikers reported. “If you don’t want to return with us and if you don’t have bear spray, I’d recommend that you sing.”
Sing? I chuckled. Was this to appease the grizzlies who were partial to musical theater?
They didn’t appreciate my sense of humor and said something about it helping me to warn bears of my approach.
I thought about their invitation to return to the campground with them, but I couldn’t tear myself away from the trail that had hypnotized me with its charm and transcendence. So, I ventured on alone. But after about 100 yards, I began singing.
In all truthfulness, I was a bit nervous about the grizzlies. Okay, fine. I was scared. Grizzlies tend to be aggressive and will maul you to death. Yes, this was a bit unnerving. But I wasn’t so scared by the prospect of meeting a grizzly (or three) that I was willing to sacrifice the beauty of the journey for my own personal safety.
So, I hiked on. And I sang. And to my surprise, I would find comfort and reassurance in an unsuspecting way.
But that’s a story for another day…
As I recall, there wasn’t any one particular feature of the hike that made the day so memorable. True, my day hike had a river, cascades, deep forests and alpine meadows. But, it wasn’t the promise of my destination that kept me moving on. It was simply the achingly beautiful scenery and the way that it made me feel.
In 2018, our church will be journeying along the Path in the hopes that we can find ourselves walking humbly with God. The Holy Scriptures are replete with metaphors of journey and pilgrimage for God’s people, and they can help us to better understand our lives in the context of travelling and moving along a path. Like the experiences and seasons we endure, the path on which we find ourselves will oftentimes be dark, rocky and difficult to discern. But our path will also be littered with mercies and graces, beauty and majesty, alike.
Jesus once said: “I have come to give life, and give it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
Perhaps the best hike is an abundant one, filled with any number of frightful and extraordinary elements. A rich and bumpy trail is really the best kind of path for it reveals the world in all its raw power, promise and potential.
And besides, the path and the journey we find ourselves on becomes all the sweeter when we know that we do not travel alone.
As we’ll see this year, we most certainly do not.