“Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” – Ecclesiastes 12:13
“That’s what a good wife does, keeps your dreams alive even when you don’t believe any more.” – Michael J. Sullivan
“Living the Christian life isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth it.” – Sir Fob W. Pot
I awoke, packed up, ate a pop tart, and was ready to hike in just thirty minutes. I was highly motivated because today was…(drum roll)…rendezvous with Janet day! This would be our third and final get together during my AT hike. We chose the town of Slatington as our afternoon pickup point which meant I had a 7.3 mile downhill hike and she had a four hour drive from the DC area. The most notable thing on the hike was the presence of thousands of gypsy moths along the trail. To pass the time, I tried to see how many I could step on and eventually killed nineteen of the hardwood eating pests.
There are basically three types of towns along the AT. The first are trail towns that the trail runs through that love and cater to hikers. Damascus, Virginia is an example of that. Hikers fuel their economy and they fuel hikers with their enthusiasm and support. The second type of trail town is off the trail some number of miles but still loves hikers and wants their business. They go out of their way to get hikers into town by offering free shuttles or posting the names of Trail Angels willing to offer rides. Franklin, North Carolina is an example from that category. The third category of town either doesn’t care or outright doesn’t want hikers in town. No attempt is made to help hikers get into town. I would put Slatington into this third category. The lady at the counter of the auto repair place at the trailhead was unfriendly and not interested in hikers using their restroom. If I were the owner, I would at least have a cooler of water outside for hikers or maybe a soda machine. How difficult would that be? No one offered a ride despite my hitching efforts. There were no signs about Trail Angels or town services. And to top it all off, the two mile walk into town was on a narrow, dangerous road to be hiking along.
The only friendly or helpful person I encountered was the manager of the laundromat who was interested in my hike and glad to have my business. I’m not suggesting everyone living near the AT needs to bend over backwards to cater to hikers. I am suggesting that towns, especially those in economically challenged areas, could make a lot of money on the thousands of hikers who travel through each year. It’s just interesting how some towns take advantage of their proximity to the trail and others seem pretty ambivalent.
After doing laundry I walked across the town to a Chinese restaurant and got a plate of General Tsao chicken and two spring rolls. During my hour at the restaurant, I made four trips to the restroom, which may explain why some trail towns would prefer hikers just hike on by. After my fourth trip, Zhang Wei, the owner, emerged from the restroom saying, “Nemo air freshna, some ting wong in air.” I quickly exited, crossed the street to a gas station, got an ice cream and a drink, and awaited the mid-afternoon arrival of my wife.
I just have to say that I have the best wife! When I think back over my half century old life (something I’ve had plenty of time to do on the AT), I think I’ve made five really good decisions that have impacted my entire life. First and foremost, I decided that God is real and I needed to become a Christian. So I did. That’s a decision you can’t afford to get wrong, as eternity is riding on it. Second, I chose a Christian wife who I love and who loves me. More on that in a minute. Third, together we decided to raise our children in a Christian environment. That meant a lot of things, including teaching our children about God, regularly attending Bible class and worship services, and being heavily involved in church work. That gave (and continues to give) our lives purpose and generally puts us around pretty awesome friends who share similar values. Fourth, I chose careers, in the military, as a teacher, and as a youth minister, that have intrinsic value and involved helping people. I’m glad I never had to grudgingly work just to earn a paycheck, although I would have done that if necessary to feed my family. Finally, together we decided that the best way to spend the next chapter of our lives is serving others, rather than accumulating and maintaining possessions. Whether that takes the form of RV-based domestic mission work, building houses with Habitat, doing disaster relief, or overseas mission work, it really is just about helping others and letting God’s love shine through us.
I say all that not to pat ourselves on the back…we are sinners and we struggle with issues as individuals and as a family. We need God’s grace just like everyone else. I say all that because I have run into a lot of young people out here, and a few older ones, who weren’t raised in that sort of environment. Many are searching for something. For many, God is sort of an abstract concept and the Bible is certainly not something that needs to be followed. The feeling is you just sort of believe in some higher power and be a nice person and that’s enough. Careers are often chosen based on income potential, with little regard to any larger purpose. Throw in a good looking spouse, a big house, fancy vacations, and “fun friends” and everything falls into place. Except that it frequently doesn’t, at least not over the long haul. A life with self at the center, rather than God, is a life which may eventually leave a person feeling disillusioned or empty. Some of them are hiking the AT for just that reason. I know that because they’ve told me so. Some are asking the same question asked by a Jack Nicholson movie character, “What if this is as good as it gets?” Peggy Lee expressed a similar concern in her song, Is That All There Is?
Several millennials I’ve spoken to have given up on religion because they’ve had bad experiences with boring, inactive churches that are in maintenance mode and aren’t really engaging their community and world. I say try a different church. Go on a mission trip. Serve food at a homeless shelter. Focus not on what your church can do for you, but how you through your church can impact your community and world. If your faith is boring you’re not doing it right!
Hiking the AT and being out in nature for so long can and should point people to God and illuminate his creative power, rather than just be an end unto itself. My hope is that the many folks I’ve talked to on the trail who are searching for meaning will find it in a loving God and a relationship with Christ. If this post can help influence even one person out there to consider or reconsider a God-centered life, then it will have been worth it. If I could just convince one of these millennials, or anyone reading this, to give God and faith and church another try, then my AT hike will have been worth the effort. I pray that it will, and that God will help me to more fully and completely live the ideals I’ve just laid out. I’m still a work in progress.
Back to Little Miss Janet, she is just an incredible wife! I feel like I won the marriage lottery and chose to have the prize spread out over a lifetime. We have been through a lot together…a miscarriage, her major kidney surgery, a robbery, a flooded house, the spandex pants she wore on Kyle and Laci’s engagement day, multiple Air Force moves, my mom’s illness, etc. She has always stood right by my side and held me up when life was making me wobble.
How many wives let their husbands be gone for six months to hike the AT? She hasn’t complained once or even hinted that I should consider quitting. How many wives let their husbands volunteer to deploy to Afghanistan for six months? How many are willing to be dragged all over the country and world, being uprooted every few years, as a military spouse? How many, when you ask, “Hey, what if we got rid of almost everything and lived full-time in an RV?” answer, “Let’s do it!” She has been nothing but good and loving and supportive to me, and that theme would continue with our little rendezvous.
After a wonderful gas station hug and kiss, she drove me to Pamela’s Forget Me Not Bed and Breakfast in Kempton, PA. Instead of wearing the usual yellow springy dress, she purchased a yellow nighty thing that made my jaw drop. (She wore it later that night, not at the gas station.) We spent three wonderful nights there, enjoying the jacuzzi tub, delicious breakfasts, and just being together. As with our previous rendezvous, she restored me and made me feel normal and whole again, if only for a short while.
While out running errands, we went by a Pizza Hut and I remembered being at the Eckville Shelter recently, frustrated because we were unable to have a pizza delivered there. I checked the map and saw that we were just a 20 minute drive from the shelter. Figuring there were probably some tired, hungry hikers there, we got a large pizza, large breadsticks, and two liter Mountain Dew and headed that way. We also had the remaining cookies given to me by our friend, Jana Leasure.
Sure enough, there were several hikers sprawled out on the lawn as we pulled up. I recognized one of them, Tree, a hiker with whom I’ve shared a cabin and shelters. I got out of the car and, already knowing the answer asked, “We got any hungry hikers here?” In unison, they shouted, “Yes!” It was so cool to see the huge smiles on their faces and to be on the giving end of Trail Magic for a change. It was also neat for Janet to see a shelter and meet some of my fellow hikers. I started to take her over and let her flush the rare AT toilet, but then realized that may not be too impressive to her. We said our goodbyes to the hikers and headed back to the B&B for a final night of marital bliss.
I guess this particular hiking blog was more about faith and family than hiking. I’m okay with that. I write what’s on my heart. And besides, in the grand scheme of things, faith and family are a lot more important than hiking.
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