the journey’s end

March 23, 2006

It was no walk in the park. It was not even a “challenging” trip. It was a grit-your-teeth-and-survive sort of excursion. More so than any other outdoor trip in my memory, this one was so much more difficult than any of us expected. Part of this was due to the cold front that blasted us with biting winds sideways blasts of sleet. Part of it was due to the downpours that left numb fingers to fumble with cookware and tent-stakes when all we saw to look forward to after a day of sodden-shoed trudging was a wet sleeping back and another day of the same. And part of it was due to the patience-trying nature of differing levels of fitness and fortitude and impeding injuries.
But it was not all bad. We had moments when the sun burst its way through, making us squint through rain-darkened lashes. And not every night was a cold one: one evening I crawled into a sleeping bag that shocked me with its welcoming warmth. That was a long night of deep slumber and rambling, fit-less dreams.
The best part of it all, however, was getting to watch the troops rally: I felt proud and parental when I saw how these teenagers—none of whom had even been on this long of a backpacking trip—stepped beyond their own levels of comfort and fatigue in order to cheer each other on. I was both humbled by my own weakness of body and spirit, and buoyed by their youthful optimism. And every once in a while, God even saw fit to grant me the precious gift of internal strength—when I knew that none of my own strength remained—that allowed me to encourage another traveler along the way.
Perhaps I chose to step out into the unknown of this voyage, at a time when my life was a swirling mass of unknowns, in order to reclaim my life—to choose my own terrifying “unknown.” And that it was. It was terrifying, in that [as with many of life’s experiences], had I known what I was stepping into I would probably have never accepted the challenge. But I did it. We did it. We did it. The future, in all its unknowns, can hold nothing that our Maker cannot more than adequately equip us for. And experiences such as this one, though extremely short in the grand scheme of it all, are intensely significant in their life-changing capacity. We all need such times, I suspect, to shake us out of our complacency and ease, and to remind us that strength comes when we need it, not a moment earlier and never too late.

gaiters and gorp

March 11, 2006

I have recently discovered that the internet world is not terribly friendly towards a librarian who is planning to lead an outdoor excursion. Somehow, my library science training has not adequately prepared me for navigating the online presence of outdoor enthusiasts. Or perhaps it has been helpful, and I am just impatient . . .
Either way, it took me longer than I expected to compile and create detailed “plans” for my upcoming week-long excursion on the Appalachian Trail. But I persisted, neglecting my library this week while I tracked down caloric expenditure charts, teen backpacking tips, packing lists and checklists, sample menus, backpackers recipes, carrying-weight charts, per person guidelines, and shopping lists.
Finally yesterday, satisfied with my work, I collected my final versions of a packing checklist for the students, menu planning chart for the week, corresponding recipes divided into Breakfasts, Lunches, and Dinners, “cheat sheet” tips for cooking all manner of trail foods [dehydrated eggs, rice, milk powder, etc], and a shopping list in chart format, to be completed with per person/per meal amounts.
Hunting down my co-leader for the trip, I found him as he enjoyed a leisurely lunch in the teacher’s lounge. Probably interrupting his bantering conversation with another teacher, I presented him with each document, explaining my thoughts concerning each one. Then I waited. He humored me, thanked me for all my work, and kindly looked over it all.
Reading between the lines, though, I came away pretty sure that he, with years more leading experience than I have had, surely [and rightly] must think I am overdoing it. When it comes to outdoor trips of this length, I do have enough past experience to know that the planning I do is more for my own peace of mind than anything else. There is something comforting about “preparing,” even though once out on the trail it is difficult to really be “prepared.” Prepared for the nitty gritty realities of being out there, at any rate . . .
Well, who knows: I guess we’ll find out next week how much help my extensive, librarian-ish preparations have been “ :-)


March 2, 2006

What is one supposed to make of two intense and markedly near-death experiences within the span of the same number of weeks? Who knows what one is supposed to make of it . . . but I can tell you what I make of it. I think I can, at least.
Perhaps before I do so, however, I should tell you the second of the experiences [the first having been relayed quite recently already on this blog]:
This week I had the privilege of representing my school, and county, for the Annual Library Legislative Day, held in the state capitol. It was a wonderful whirlwind of a couple of days, filled with inspirational moments, inspired brainstorming, and spirited conversations. While driving back home, contentedly peaceful in my Barbara Kingsolver book-on-tape reverie, my world was suddenly shattered. Or at least, my windshield was.
I watched the scene unfold in slow motion before me, as the 18-wheeler met with the 2 x 4, which cracked in half. One half of the wooden beam careened in, hitting my windshield squarely in the center and shattering it in what I later discovered to be a lovely pattern of ripples-in-water-like concentric circles.
As I do when instantly terrified, I began to hyperventilate. And my heart quickened till my ears rang with the clanging of my internal beat. But I stayed squarely on the road, made it the rest of the way home with only the delay of a state trooper report, and the only casualty was one windshield.
I still have to catch my breath when I replay the scene in my mind. But moving past the fear, I realize what I know to be true . . .
I know that I am loved by a silver-haired and golden-hearted couple. When my grandmother offered to bring me dinner upon my arrival, I accepted, knowing I would not have time to cook before class started that night. This rapidly-moving woman who is always quick to declare herself “unsentimental,” delivered my meal in a carefully packaged box of individual containers enough for a week of dinners. On the top she had placed 2 brilliant Camelia blooms, clipped from her bush and carefully tied together. She did this not out of any aesthetic inclinations of her own, I know—it was simply a gesture of love. She knows me well enough to know the great pleasure that simple blooms can bring.

I also know that, for whatever reason, my time here on earth is not yet done. It was of course the sort of freak accident that happens every day. And we all could die, at any given moment. But I cannot let slide the tangible closeness of death that this, and last week’s incident, have given me a taste of. I cannot not be more mindful of this precarious life that only I can claim as my own. I do choose to own it. Whatever it is that I am meant to do yet on this earth, I choose to do it well. I choose to live intentionally.