What We Learned from Hiking a (not) Mountain

One of my favorite hikes is a mere 40 minute drive from my dad’s house. I was fortunate to do it twice when recently visiting family, although I still dream of doing it once a week. The one, the only, the Billy Goat Trail. 

Reminiscent of musings from an Old Rag hike about three years ago, I started pointing out spiritual lessons along the Billy Goat Trail to my captive audience. They joined in, and by the end of our rock scrambling, we had accrued more insights than I can recall to compile here. You, dear reader, are left with those that I remember.

You See Progress When Tested

If I had to guess, I’d say I’ve done the Billy Goat Trail at least 25 times. It may be more (30? 40?), but certainly not less. Somewhat surprisingly, I am often still the slowest in the group when tackling the hike. It usually is a combination of my overly careful foot placements (I hate sprained ankles!) and my inferior cardio health (I’d often complain to David that my HR was too high). 

During this particular trek, the former held true (I am who I am!), but I never felt winded on the entire hike. Sure, I felt my HR rise here and there, but nothing meriting a break or a slow in pace. I had even done the hike about a month and a half prior with my best friend and it had been harder then. What had happened?

I’d started aerobic training. I’ve been running 12ish miles a week, specifically focusing on improving my aerobic health. I could literally feel my progress as I climbed over familiar rocks and navigated between muddy puddles.

Up until this hike, I had seen glimpses of progress in my aerobic health, but nothing so stark. It was when I needed it most that I could tell there had been growth.

There Are Multiple Ways to Be Right 

My youngest brother Theron joined us this particular day, and he was a joy to have around. He had a knack for climbing over rocks while I happily went around them when possible. Call it different levels of energy, but I think he just has more confidence in his ankles. In any event, we were following the same exact blue markers, and we were always headed the same direction. We were always within a few feet of each other. 

Sometimes the path was seven feet wide. Other times it shrank to a foot and a half where we walked single file. With the wider paths, there was more “freedom of expression”, as it were, where we could all hike in our own unique styles and still head the same direction. When the path shrank, we helped each other do the same maneuvering in order to cross a threshold.

This realization paralleled a spiritual epiphany I’ve been having. Yes, there are clearly wrong ways to go about pretty much anything, but there are also multiple right ways to do something. I’ve learned that many things that we may hold zealously are more cultural or traditional than Biblical or logical. I think it’s okay to have them, so long as we don’t confuse the two or try to enforce them as if they held more weight than they do. Theron likes to climb over rocks and I like to walk around them. And we still walked the same path and came to the same destination at the same time. There is freedom, even on the right path.

Why We Don’t Turn Back

As we took turns as leader, it invariably happened that the leader would miss a blue marker, go slightly off track, and someone would need to bring the team back on track. When I was a leader, this happened several times. I’m careful with my footing, remember? I’m often looking down when it would benefit all of us for me to look up.

There was one transition on the rocks where I was already seated and reaching across a boulder when my dad observed, “I think the blue markers are over there,” gesturing about 10 feet to the right of my position. “It looks easier over there, too.”

He was right. I was in a precarious position never intended to happen. The path he pointed to looked smoother. But uh. I was already sitting down and had committed to my dangerous option.

“I’m okay, I think I’ll just go this way and then adjust afterwards.”

No bones were broken or ankles sprained. But it was significantly harder to go my way rather than the right way. Why hadn’t I adjusted? Easy: laziness and pride. I didn’t feel like back tracking (wasting all of that “precious energy”) and I didn’t feel like being seen back tracking (there are other people on the path! They’l see!)

How silly. Why not forego our paltry energy conservation and misleading ego? Let’s turn back to the right path as soon as it is seen.

Don’t Make It Harder

Due to recent rain, there were several times we had to cross small streams by jumping, stepping on small rocks, or using flimsy slivers of trees as makeshift crossings. Then, near the last stretch, we came to a man-made, incredibly-sturdy, handrail-included bridge. It took us over a stream that was more like a river. 

On a roll from our listing of lessons, my dad quipped, “And if there’s a bridge, don’t question it, just take it.” My youngest brother jokingly added we could probably just walk downstream to find an easier place to cross if we really wanted to.

Sometimes we refuse help because we want to get all of the credit, or we don’t want to be seen as weak, or we think it somehow illegitimizes our accomplishments. Untrue. Furthermore, sometimes God gives us bridges: there are plenty of times that we need to do things the long way, the hard way, and the patient way; but sometimes He just gives us a bridge and says you’re welcome.