Brian had been on many hikes before, but nothing like this one.
His early walks in the woods had been wondrous, each bend in the trail revealing fascination: a new animal, or a creek, or a leaf floating lazily to earth. Later, he moved on to day hikes and exploring new trails, with Amicalola-to-Hike Inn becoming his favorite.
He worked up to longer treks, learning about hiking along the way, and started going by himself more often. He got lost at times, but enjoyed finishing—accomplishing something—on his own.
But, this was different. They were taking the journey along the Appalachian Trail: a 2200-mile, 6-month marathon through 14 states from Georgia to Maine. It was time to get serious.
The First Part of the Journey
At Springer Mountain, Brian cajoled the group to get going. He was excited about proving something—not sure what, or to whom—and he wanted to get there, which meant getting going.
Along the way, he began to learn some things, including how easy it was to get lost. And that when you can’t see far down the trail, you have to advance uncertainly, searching from one white blaze to the next. The weeks passed in the blur of his heads-down quest for the next mile marker, and the beauty of the woods slowly faded in the background.
And the challenges of the journey got worse: unexpected uphills, streams to traverse, a twisted ankle, dwindling supplies. The hardest to take were wrong turns, sometimes going miles before realizing their mistake, and struggling with how hard it was to turn around.
Trudging through the grueling middle third of the Trail, all he could think was, “Why am I doing this?” But, he pushed forward, though wondering if the goal of “doing the A.T.” was becoming consuming. Until, somewhere in eastern Pennsylvania, that familiar sinking feeling returned.
Once again, they were lost.
The Rest of the Journey
Which is when he appeared, a bearded hiker camped in a clearing at a trail crossing. After swapping hellos and stories, Brian swallowed his pride and asked for help, “Which way do we go from here?” “That’s easy,” the man said. “Follow me.”
The next morning, they broke camp, their new friend guiding the way. Oddly, Brian felt relieved not having to navigate anymore. And he enjoyed the company of their companion as he winsomely taught them about hiking, eating off the land, and the plants and animals they encountered. After a while, Brian learned he could count on this guy, and they happily agreed to finish the trip together.
Slowly, the journey get better, and the sense of adventure began to return. Brian stopped thinking of how far they had to go and took it a step at a time, and he began appreciating the woods again. And enjoying his buddies, rediscovering why he had wanted to travel with them in the first place.
He still wanted to conquer the A.T., but the journey became more than that. He had a guide, and the destination would take care of itself if he did what he was supposed to. He felt weary at times, but he knew each day’s hike would be a good one. This was more than hope; it was certainty.
Brian traveled on, content with each day yet looking forward to the promise of tomorrow. Until, too soon, they crested a ridge and spotted Mount Katahdin—the end of the Trail—in the distance. And, in the impending finality of that sight, the journey came into focus: the rough times and the good, the camaraderie of friends, their trusted guide, the lessons learned, and the reasons why.
Mysteriously, it now all made sense.
Question: What struck you most about the parable of “The Journey”?
Action: Read next week’s STEPS Journey Blog article for “The Meaning of the Journey.”