A few weeks ago some girlfriends and I set out for a night of adventure. We were going to backpack to Snowmass Lake, near Aspen, CO.
We intended to start at Maroon Bells and trek the 8.3 miles over Buckskin Pass to the high alpine lake. We would camp there for one night and hike out the next morning, 8.7 miles, on a different trail. We had thought ahead and dropped a car at the exit point in Old Snowmass. We had planned carefully, filling our packs with only small, lightweight, essential items: tents, sleeping pads, a pot and a little stove. That way we had room for the necessary 8 lb camera (two of the four of us were professional photographers) and the 5 lb bladder of wine (4 of the 4 of us were pros at drinking boxed wine).
We flung heavy packs into the back of the truck and headed for the Bells. As we drove, anxiety began to creep into my spirit. It only got worse the more we talked to people and read the signs. Bears have been a big deal here this year. The forest service has made a thing of it more than any other year. Besides that, we were getting a late start. I knew that could be a problem if the weather turned and we were exposed above tree line.
We parked our car and purchased the passes for the shuttle ride to the trailhead. The salesman cautioned us about the bears. We were also cautioned about the porcupines. We were warned there was a 70% chance of rain. We were warned to get over the pass before 1pm when the lightening would hit. I got even more nervous. I kind of wanted to back out. I thought of the fact that I now have two babies at home. I thought of the fact that because this was my home turf and I had made this trek before, I felt responsible for the lives of the girls who were with me. I thought of lots of things and most of those things had me scared.
We rented a bear canister from the forest service, repacked our food and gallon of wine, and boarded the shuttle bus that was to lead us to our death… er, I mean, “adventure.”
It was a 20-minute bus ride from Aspen Highlands to the trailhead at the Bells. We heaved packs off the shuttle floor and onto our backs and made our way down the shuttle-bus steps. A few paces through the parking lot and I found myself approaching a sweet old ranger man patrolling the area. He was fit. His hair was greying. I think he had on wire-rimmed glasses. He looked like a grandpa. His voice was gentle and kind. He was precious in his brown ranger shorts and boy-scout-ish, short-sleeved, button down shirt complete with patches. I decided to share my fears and ask a few more questions. I asked about the bears. I asked about the porcupines. I asked about the rain. When I got to the lightening he lost his patience.
“Oh for God sake,” he said, rather harshly, “If you want to be safe, go to the mall.”
My friends chuckled. I was stunned. That’s not what I was expecting from sweet old gramps. I spun on my heel, almost toppled under the weight of my pack, and munched on that trail mix for thought the rest of the hike.
The first half of the hike was the hardest. In the first few hours we climbed a few thousand feet. Our lungs noticed the change in altitude. Thick clouds unfolded like a down blanket above us. I couldn’t overcome my anxiety. I was constantly looking to the sky. If the lightening didn’t get us that day, I was sure the bears would that night. I was coming up with backup plans. I was contemplating exit strategies. I was trying to figure out how to convince my compadres that perhaps we should abort the backcountry trek and just camp at a drive up campground instead. Basically, I wanted to bring my friends to the mall.
Good thing my girlfriends are rockstars. They were one small part unfamiliar with the magnitude of wilderness dangers, one large part committed to the adventure. They wanted to press on. Gosh, we need friends like that. I need friends like that. People who won’t let us turn back on what we have set out to do. People who won’t allow us to let our fear take over. People who are committed to the adventure.
This past May, through much prayer and consideration, the hubs and I resigned from our full time jobs as youth workers at the church. I have half wanted to take back the decision since we made it. The allure of perceived security is magnetic. I almost tried to talk my way back into my job after I quit. I have almost applied for other full time positions. I almost cannot trust. Almost.
Many well-intentioned friends have offered up cautionary words about our decision. The words have come at me like bear warnings and threats of lightening. How much should I let these posted signs deter me?
Many well-intentioned friends have asked us questions.
“Why’d you quit?”
I’ve tried on answers like backpacks looking for the right fit. There is only one answer that feels right. It’s the answer the makes most people uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable too.
“God is calling the shots without telling us what’s next. The truth is, I don’t know.” God said, “Commit to the hike. Follow me on the trail. I will unfold the map as we go.”
I don’t know about you, but I am the type of person who likes to see the map ahead of time.
I think God would be okay if we didn’t listen. I think he’s gracious with us as we struggle through trusting him. But I also think his gentle and sweet and kind and blunt and matter-of-fact statement to me, AND TO YOU, is, “If you want to be safe, keep doing xyz. [If you want to be safe, go to the mall.] If you want to be tested and grow and see beauty unimaginable, if you want to live a life of adventure, if you want to go deeper with me, if you want to see what I have planned – and it’s good – follow my map (not yours). Trust. Follow ME.”
Though excited, I am nervous to share this faith journey with you. What if things don’t go as planned? What if God doesn’t come through? What if we fail? What if we look stupid? What if we make God look stupid?! What if a bear eats us? What if lightening strikes?
I’m inviting you on our journey because of all the other possibilities. What if we get to experience beauty and things and life and adventure in new and profound ways only because we said yes? What if the wildflowers are better this year than any other? What if there is a mountain goat at the peak? What if the bears don’t come and the lake is gorgeous and the conversation is a blessing and the friendships are strengthened and the hike is good and the wine is delicious? What if God keeps his promises? What if he shows up like he says he is going to? What if HE REALLY IS THAT GOOD?
Is there an adventure God’s been trying to bring you on? Is there an area in your life where you just need to move your food from a ziplock to a bear canister, grab a friend, and hit the trail? Is there an area where you just need to trust?
My family hits the trail in just a few weeks. Will you follow our journey on the blog? We very well might fail. We also might succeed (whatever that means / looks like). Either way, you’re invited.
In the next post I am excited to tell you where we are headed!