My dad was leading our family on a short one mile nature hike to Marymere Falls in Olympic National Park. The trail was near my childhood home of Port Angeles, Washington. I was about seven years old and enjoyed racing ahead of my younger siblings. I sometimes hid along the trail in an attempt to scare them. It is no wonder therefore that in the confusion of children running up and down the trail, we missed a critical trail junction and plunged deeper into the forest of Barnes Creek.
We probably went an extra mile or so with no sign of Marymere Falls. As a child I thought we were deep in the jungle, all alone. Then around a corner came three individuals, carrying large bundles on their backs. They told my dad that he had missed the junction and that we should probably turn around. “The trail gets pretty rugged up ahead.” In a moment, the three were gone.
But their memory stayed with me. I asked my dad what they were doing. “Oh they were backpacking. Did you see those large packs? They carried all their own food and tents to stay in the mountains.” Wow, I thought. To camp out in the woods, far from roads and car campgrounds –that is a real adventure!
Ever since that hike, I wanted to go on a backpacking trip in the mountains. Then in the spring of 1969, a high school friend invited me on a trip to Lena Lake in the Olympics over Memorial Day week-end. I immediately said yes. Even though it rained the entire two mile hike to Lena and I was soaked to the bone, even though I had a borrowed pack that did not fit me, and even though I made a fool of myself trying to light a fire, I fell in love with backpacking. I experienced a sense of place and belonging. I was hooked.
Over the decades I have completed scores of overnight backpacks, each unique and rewarding. Last year I blogged about completing a section of the Pacific Crest Trail in northern Washington state. Tomorrow, I start another hike along a section in southern Washington.
Backpacking has become a kind of spiritual refuge for me, a time and method to be centered in God’s grace and love. I am reminded of one on my favorite prayers from the Lutheran Book of Worship:
Lord God, you have called your servants
to ventures of which we cannot see the ending,
by paths as yet untrodden,
through perils unknown.
Give us faith to go out with good courage,
not knowing where we go,
but only that your hand is leading us
and your love supporting us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I will be carrying good maps (and an extra pair of glasses – see here) so I don’t expect to become lost. But if I do, I am confident that God will provide me with three strangers to guide and inspire me, just like he did years ago on the trail beyond Marymere Falls.
Where do you find your spiritual refuge?
Lord Jesus, guide us.