Trail Magic

Recognizing God’s Grace in the moment and having sincere gratitude.

Trail magic, trail angels, trail blessings, all of these terms describe the same thing. A moment(s) on a hike when someone provides you with something that you are in need of. This can be as simple as a container of filtered water to copious amounts of food or a ride to town or the trail head. Trail magic is a much lauded and highly anticipated event for any hiker on a long trail. We hear stories about it, he hope for it ourselves and many will seek to be the purveyors of said blessings after they finish their through hike or even while on the trail.

Have you ever been given something out of the blue by a complete stranger for no reason at all?  What was it?  How did it make you feel?

Trail magic or angels or blessings are really just another name for God’s grace. The definition of grace is unmerited favor.  Getting something that you didn’t earn and can’t pay for that is a benefit to you.

Can you name things in your life that fit this definition of grace?

The key for us as Christian men and women is to see each moment for what it is, God’s grace.  There are differing kinds of grace. There is general grace or universal grace. This is the grace of God that keeps the planet turning, the sun the right distance so we’re not crispy critters, the cells in our bodies from flying apart like a busted water balloon, the everyday breathing in and out and walking to and fro that we take for granted, constantly.  Then there is the revealed grace of God. The death, burial and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. The forgiveness of sin, the promise of a hope here on earth as well as in heaven. The Holy Spirit as a comforter and Jesus in our hearts.

My response to the big and the small should be gratitude.  I have not earned the right to breathe in and out much less to stand before the throne of Almighty God. All of that and so much more is by the grace of God so that I can glorify God in the course of my breathing in and out and walking to and fro every moment of every day. There is nothing that is happening to me that does not have a purpose in the kingdom of God. I may never know the why of it but I can certainly know the Who.

I will thank God for His graces every day and multiple times a day.  Yes   /   No

Everybody has a plan until they get hit

The importance of dealing with temptation

The use of a hiking itinerary is mixed among through hikers. I would say that almost without exception, every hiker starts with a “plan” of how many miles they want to average each day, what town stops they want to hit to resupply and an end date to complete the trail. However, as another modern philosopher Mike Tyson said, “Everybody has a plan until they get hit.” You can also use the military version of “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy”.

A virgin through hiker will over estimate their ability, under estimate the terrain, and delude themselves into a quick and successful hike.  For many, this will be the tipping point for them to quit and get off the trail. The temptation for ease and comfort is too much for them to be willing to hike one more mile.

Have you ever put a plan together for something and seen that plan fall apart?  What were the circumstances?  What was the outcome?

The same is true of Christian men and women when it comes to the topic of temptation. We over estimate our ability to resist temptation, under estimate the power of temptation and delude ourselves into believing that we aren’t or won’t be affected by its lure.

So how does a through hiker deal with a busted itinerary? They adapt. They adjust. They take a reality check for clarity. What they DON’T do is quit. At least, not the ones who make it all the way to the end.

Christian Outdoorsman, TV Personality and Worldclass Hunter Jimmy Sites shared a story at a recent wild game supper that I thought was very important. His father gave him the option of temptation and participation and asked him which was wrong.

So which is wrong, temptation or participation?

Jimmy’s response was initially participation but he changed it to both thinking his father was asking a trick question. His father told him that the participation was the right answer but that the real issue with a person moving from temptation to participation was a crucial moment in between. What was that you might ask? His father told him it was “hesitation”.  That lingering moment where we have seen temptation raise its hand and wave. We linger, we hesitate, we think about it too long, then participation becomes irresistible and begins.

Temptation                                         Hesitation                                            Participation

The challenge for the through hiker is not to hesitate in their thinking about plans or miles or issues. They have to be decisive about what the next step will be then take a literal step on the trail. They can’t afford the luxury of hesitation.  He who hesitates is lost as the saying goes.

Look at any verse that speaks to dealing with temptation and the verbs are the same: Avoid, Flee (1 Corinthians 6:18), Abstain (1 Thessalonians 5:22), Resist (James 4:7), Run. These verbs are very active. They invoke an action. There is no debating, no thinking it over, no rationalization. Get out of there. Git. Run, flee, avoid…don’t hesitate.

1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” The way of escape always begins with action. With the step away. It is encouraging to know that God does not allow us to be tempted “beyond our ability”. It is profoundly important that we see that as a promise directly from God Himself.  If we can believe and have faith in that promise, we can know that the outcome will be positive and glorifying to God. If I know that God promises me that the temptation that I see before me is not more powerful than Him and that He has already provided an escape mechanism for me, then my likelihood for hesitation goes down. My trust is in God’s power, His provision, His grace and not in my perceived ability to resist because I’m all that and a bag of righteousness chips.

When the plan gets busted, this is where the hiker gets some help. When you are tempted, the help is already there. The promise is already given. You can know what the outcome will be. Have faith in the promise of God. Do not hesitate.

2 Timothy 2:22 “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”

I will trust God’s promise that HE is stronger than any temptation that comes my way, that He has already provided an escape.   Yes   /   No

 I will stop hesitating when it comes to temptation.  I will act. Avoid, Run, Flee.   Yes   /   No

NO Rain, NO Pain, NO Maine

The importance of adversity in your life

No Rain, No Pain, No Maine.  This is a common mantra on the AT. It’s going to rain, there will be pain. There is no avoiding it and avoiding it will not get you to Maine. 2,190 miles is a very long way to hike. You may experience rain in all its forms from mist or fog to hurricanes over the course of a through hike. You can go days, even weeks at a time with only rain to hike in.

The pain is a given as well. It is estimated that of those who begin at Springer Mountain in Georgia, that only about half of them even make it out of the state of Georgia hiking the AT. That section of the trail is less than 80 miles. Less than 80 miles is all it takes for some hikers to tuck tail, give up and head home. If you make it out of Georgia and hike the whole trail, you’ll take some 5 million steps along the way. Achy muscles, sprained ankles, various scrapes and abrasions, not to mention the blisters will all be had. You will fall. It is not a question of if but only when and how often.

This doesn’t include the multitude of logistical issues that can arise from trying to get into a town for mail drops, finding places to stay, finding water sources, space in shelters, bears and other critters or equipment failure.   If you’re going to hike the AT or any of the triple crown trails, adversity is a given.

Think about a time when you have had to endure a physical or mental struggle?  How did you make it through? Did you handle that adversity successfully?

We hear it said often but it is hard to sink in sometimes. Following Christ does not automatically afford us a life of sunshine, unicorns and rainbow skittles.  Matthew 5:45b “For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Everyone has adversity but it is what one does in the face of it and with it that makes the difference. John 16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” The overcomer in this verse is Christ himself. As His joint heir, we are given the same power to endure and even overcome adversity of any kind. The important aspect of this is that we need to keep believing Christ and all He has promised us.

Just as the hiker’s strength and endurance are vastly improved by the end of a through hike on the AT, so can your strength and endurance in the faith be improved as you walk through adversity.  Romans 5:3-5  “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”  The word I love most of all in that verse is hope. If I have hope, I can endure anything. Christ is our hope. So many promises from our savior and friend. We should never be without hope.

What are some of the promises that Christ has given me that will help me know I have a hope?

 I will use these promises, look for more promises, and believe these promises in order to trust, endure, and hope in Christ.  Yes   /   No.

Food and Water

Calories Count and Purity counts:  You are what you eat – GIGO

Food and water. These are two of the most talked about, most debated, most concerning thoughts for through hikers in general, second only to the physical demands of the hike. It’s hard for many people to imagine the changes that take place in the appetites of a long distance hiker. It has been estimated that the average through hiker will need to consume between 7000-8000 calories a day to maintain their body weight on a long distance hike. This is roughly four times what the average person should eat in a normal day. Hiker recipes can often be strange and unusual affairs taking what they have and making something that most people would consider abhorrent. However, when you’re hungry, you satisfy the hunger in any way you can.

What is your favorite thing to eat after a hard day of work or exertion? What is the strangest thing you have eaten simply because you were hungry?

Likewise, water is a profound preoccupation on the trail. The day’s hike is often centered around where the next water source is and where you camp is dependent on an available source of water for cooking, cleaning and rehydrating.  Most water sources one comes across on the AT are spring feed. Coming straight out of a rock. Makes me think of Moses in the wilderness. Numbers 20:11 “And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank”
There are times where water can only be had from a creek, river or lake. Filtering is an important process when hiking in the wilderness. Microscopic yuck monsters like Giardia and Cryptosporidium can and will make you violently ill. To be that sick in the wilderness is not on anyone’s top 10 list of things to experience.

There is a very old computing term called GIGO (Garbage In Garbage Out). It’s an informal rule that the integrity of the output is dependent on the integrity of the input. The better the food and water I have on the trail the better the energy level, overall health and well-being of me as a hiker.

The same is profoundly true of each of us as Christian men and women. You may have seen the analogy of the cup. You can’t see what’s inside, but when my hand shakes the cup the contents come out a little or a lot and what is inside is there for the whole world to see.  What you take into your life, into your mind, what you read, what you listen to, what influences you allow into your heart, mind and soul are more important than you know. A seasoned Naval Officer will tell you that it only takes a teaspoon of diesel fuel to contaminate the entire water supply for a ship of hundreds of sailors. It only take one microscopic amoeba to put you in the hospital while hiking in the wilderness.

The problem is that we taste and see too much. A little bit of this or that isn’t going to hurt me, we say. I can handle this. I’m stronger than people know. I can stop any time, and then we slowly poison ourselves over time until we are spiritually sick to our stomachs and can’t seem to find a remedy of any kind.

The integrity of what we take in will determine the integrity of what we put out for God. God’s Word, music that edifies the soul, friends that are seeking and pursuing purity in Christ, speech that glorifies God instead of taking His name to use as a curse word, are just some of the things that we need to be mindful of.

Psalm 42:1 “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.”

Matthew 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

1 Peter 1:16 “since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.””

It isn’t any easier for the older versus younger adults around this fire. Older men and women can be just as lax in their judgement; thinking what they are doing or involving themselves in is only affecting them, no one else. That is, until the cup of our lives is shaken and something unfortunate comes out.

I will take stock of the influences in my life and will hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God.    Yes   /    No

 I will be mindful to “filter” the things I take into my life. They need to be pleasing in the sight of God.     Yes   /   No

Who is your hiking buddy?

The importance of accountability. (This one is for the guys)

The average through hiker will start the trail alone. They will not have a hiking partner. There will be those who have a close friend, significant other or even a pet on the trail with them but in the beginning most start on this epic challenge by themselves. However, almost without fail, what generally happens is that friendships are found and formed in the early stages of the hike. The personalities are compatible, the hiking pace is roughly the same, the daily or weekly goals are the same and a partnership of sorts is formed. This will gel sometimes into larger groups of three, four or more that generally hike together over the course of the trails entirety.  They share resources, they look out for each other’s physical and mental wellbeing, they motivate each other, challenge each other and  hold each other accountable to completing the hike.  These relationship start as total strangers but by the end of the hike form into bonds so deep that lifelong off trail friendships are very common if only with a select few persons they hiked with. Friends closer than brothers, thicker than blood. People you can call on and count on like no other.

Do you have a friendship that is so deep the friend is more like a brother than a friend? Are you able to be completely honest with each other on any topic or are there things that are off limits?

For the Christian man the need for accountability is profoundly important. Like these hiking partners, a man needs someone, specifically another man that will look out for your physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing, motivate you, share resources, share burdens and hold you accountable to finish the walk of faith well and strong.   Scripture could not be clearer on this point: Solomon in his wisdom concluded in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” OR Proverbs 27:17 “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”

To attempt to walk in Christ without at least one accountability partner is inadvisable at best, fool hardy at worst. God provide us the ultimate accountability partner in the Holy Spirit. This is done by the transformation of your heart.  That “still, small voice” that leads you and makes you uncomfortable with sin. Nothing and no one can take the place of the Holy Spirit in your walk. You have to be willing to listen to and heed its influence on your heart and actions.

Along with the Holy Spirit, a group or collection of men to be accountability partners is profoundly important. Accountability is not reading a devotional together, talking about it for 5 minutes, praying together for another 5 minutes then spending the next half hour talking about sports. Accountability is hard, it can be messy and it will cost you something, but the benefits can make a huge difference in whether you succeed or fail in your Christian walk.  It’s not going to just work out or happen organically. The fact is, you need to seek these men out. This will not happen automatically. The term birds of a feather flock together applies here. You have certain friends because you share certain interests or common goals or motivations. Your best buddy may not be the best accountability partner though. You want someone who will be strong enough to hold your feet to the fire. Call you out on bad behavior or stinking thinking. Someone who is willing to look out for you and push you toward the goal you have set for yourself, to serve Christ and honor God well. If you have a close friend that will do that faithfully and without fear of losing the friendship, then that is a good accountability partner.

You still need others on your team. Look for other men who are different from you. Certainly, sound spiritually but also men who exemplify the traits you want to develop.  Strong prayer warriors, men with deep quiet time or devotional relationships, men who serve easily and willingly, men who rightly divide the Word of God meaning they know how to study God’s Word soundly. They know how they got there and they can help you do the same.

You have to be willing to be that same way for another. You have to have some skin in the game. Otherwise it’s all take and no give and that makes for a poor example of a real man. You also have to be willing to stay with the relationship long term. Make a commitment.

Accountability is a big word and subsequently a big responsibility. I’ve seen it done poorly many times but I’ve also seen it change lives, save marriages and preserve families. Men willing to take the hard road, stand in the gap, dig in with another man to beat back sin and complacency have and can make the difference. It takes a real man to see the need and other real men to fill the need. Time to man up fellas.

I will make a commitment to find at least one person to hold me accountable for my walk with Christ    Yes   /   No

 List the names of three people (men) that I will ask to be accountability partners with me:

________________________________________

________________________________________

________________________________________

 I will make a commitment to be an accountability partner for another man.   Yes   /   No

No man truly hikes alone. We all stand on the shoulders of giants who have walked the path before us. Individual success is always a group effort.

You have to be prepared to hike alone sometimes

The importance of knowing who you are in Christ. 

Through hikers on any of the triple crown trails will have a group of persons that they hike with over the course of the trip. These groups are loosely affiliated many times. You’ll see and hike with hikers A and B today or for several days but eventually, they will take a zero or you will hike faster or slower than them and you’ll be separated from them for a time or perhaps never to see them again on the trail as each is hiking at his or her preferred or prescribed pace. You’ll come in contact with other hikers whose personality will simply not jive with yours. Consequently, there will be times where you will find yourself very much alone on the trail. Hiking for hours or even days and not spending any significant amount of time in the company of another human being other than yourself. Most through hikers will tell you that a NOBO or SOBO hike is 10% physical and 90% mental. The separation from friends, family and just the lonesomeness that one can experience on even the most well traveled trails is mind wrenching.

Have you had to go through a situation alone?  Have you ever had a situation that your friends didn’t understand or didn’t agree with? How did you make it through that situation?

The point is, you have to be prepared to follow the path alone. For the Christian man or woman this means that even your dearest and closest friends and family may choose to go where God has told you not to go. I have personally experienced the loss of friends because of the choice I made to follow Christ. They could not or would not walk the same path with me so they went their way and I went mine. This is a personal loss that is still tender to me even some 30 years later. Your relationship with Christ is to be paramount.

The scripture calls us to be in the world but not of the world. On a through hike, you are on the trail all day every day. You can’t escape that fact. You are hiking on it regardless of the circumstances or elements, but to become part of the culture of the trail can be a dangerous thing for a believer. There are some “traditions” that can cause a moral dilemma for even the most morally high minded hiker, believer or non-believer. The same is true of the day to day world you walk in. For some this feels like too much pressure, too much worrying over who I hang with, what we do, where I go, what I say. It’s just too much.  I have to agree with you, it is a great deal of things to be concerned about, but you have to remember, we’re not talking about a Thursday this week or next or the hour you spend online tonight or the social calendar for this next weekend. We’re talking about the final destination of your eternal soul. You want heavy, that is heavy. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” The price paid for your soul was steep and beyond comparison. You either grasp that and have an appreciation for it or you toss it aside like so many candy wrappers and dismiss it.

Some of your friends will want to go places you should not go, believe things that are contrary to the Word of God or live lives that seek only to satisfy their own desires and not to glorify God. You have to be prepared to walk on ahead. Stay the path alone for however long it takes. This is not to say that you make yourself a hermit because you have no Christian friends. I am a sinner saved by grace. Every other person I know is a sinner too. Some have accepted the gift and many have not. I have lots of lost friends. I live in the world but my allegiance is not to the world. There are some who will not associate with me or call themselves my friend because of my allegiance to Christ. Those individuals are beyond my influences. I can’t hope to be an agent of change in the lives of those around me if I’m not present. Hermits influence nobody.

Know this one thing. You will never be truly alone. First and foremost, Christ is always there with you and for you. Deuteronomy 31:8, “It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”  OR  Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

I will be willing to stand for Christ, even if I lose a friend in the process.  Yes   /   No

I will trust and know that Jesus is with me, even when I feel alone.  Yes   /   No

How far do you hike / Zeros and Nearos

The importance of shelter and finding your rest in Christ. Who is your safety? Where does your help come from?

Psalm 121: 1-8 “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.  The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.”

For many on the AT, the daily hiking is centered around getting from one shelter to another. Shelters are a unique quality on the AT. Generally they are a three sided affair, open on one side. They can sleep as few as 4 – 5 and as many as 18 depending on the shelter. Shelters are a place where water can generally be found, a place to cook, a place to sleep and a meeting point for those who have gone as far as they will or can go that day on the trail. Help, advice about the trail ahead and information about friends, fellow hikers who may be ahead of you can be found there. For the weary hiker, few things are as welcome as the site of a shelter. Especially in bad weather. Shelters can be a refuge, a safe place among kindred spirits all looking for rest.

Another option for rest are towns along the trail. These are places where a much needed Zero or Nearo day is welcomed. Zero days are day where you hike zero miles. This is a day off. A nearo day is where you may only hike a handful of miles to get into town or back out to the trail and nothing more that day. Many through hikers will schedule zero or nearo days on a regular basis to allow for rest, medical attention, resupply and laundry. Trust me. After five days of hiking, you stink. Maybe not to yourself, but to the rest of the world, you stink.

Where do you like to rest and recuperate?  What does a Zero day in your mind look like?

For the Christian man or woman, it’s important to understand where your help comes from, where you can find peace and rest and where safety is found. The world is an often dark and broken place and finding God’s peace is not easy to do all the time. We have to understand, as the psalmist understood, that any and all help for us comes from the Lord, Jesus, our Father in Heaven. Yes, there will be persons who lend us aid, offer a cool drink when we are thirsty, a meal when we are hungry, or knowledge when we are without understanding, an arm when we are tired and weak. However, we must never lose site of the sovereignty of Almighty God. It He who organizes and orders the paths of our lives. There is no happenstance, no chance, no coincidence. His WILL, will be done. Nothing can stop it. Therefore, we must look to God for our help. He is our shelter.  Psalm 46:1 “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” In him we will find rest, and hope.

Write down some ways you can seek your rest in God: