In 2022, I set out to hike 600 miles. You can read the story below: "700 Miles Later."
In 2023, my goal is to once again average around 50 miles a month of hiking. But this year I want to make sure those hikes include more people outside of my immediate family as connections to nature and connections to others are both so life giving. God gifted us with the beauty of creation and community. If you are interested in hiking with a group of us - once or more than once - let me know and we will put you on the hiking mailing list.
700 Miles Later
As the common shared story goes, Covid was not easy on my children. My oldest son who had gone half way across the country to begin college, came home in March of 2020. In the fall, he decided to take a gap year as he struggled to find a new path. Beyond the realm of Covid, I had been pastoring my faith community through some great heartaches and tragedies, including the deaths of two young brothers who were killed by a reckless driver, the death of an alumni student from Covid, and the death of one of my colleagues and dear friends from stage four colon cancer at the age of 42. It was hard times.
My oldest son suggested that in January of 2021, we go on hikes together. We had, for the most part, always been a hiking sort of family. A child carrier hiking backpack was on our baby registry when we found out we were going to be parents. Our first born’s first words were “outside” and “backpack.” I kid you not. He would stand at the kitchen sliding door, baby-pounding the glass, and calling out, “Outside! Backpack!” I would scoop him up, strap him in, hoist him on my back, and away we would go. At the end of our block was a little trailhead to a city foot path. We would ascend up the hill. There was a point where I would always pause to look at the distant mountains.
When we moved to a new town, we hiked frequently at a place called Wildwood Park which has 1700 acres of open space, miles of trails, creeks, and a waterfall. Back then, hiking a mile seemed a challenging endeavor because before long, I had three little kids in tow. Eventually those kids became teenagers. My oldest who had once exclaimed “Outside! Backpack!” changed his tune and instead said to me one day, “I hate hiking.” I felt sad.
It turned out to be just a phase. In January of 2021, per Aidan’s lead, we set out hiking together as a way to heal from tough days we had experienced as well as to grow and discover some goodness and wonder. We had no mileage goal. We were simply committed to hiking every week. Then in February, a nasty curb jumped up and tripped me. I broke my foot. My orthopedist told me the good news was that I didn’t need surgery. However, I would need to be in a boot and bear no weight on my foot for eight weeks. I cried later that night. I just wanted to hike.
Nearly every day of my recovery, that eldest son of mine and I went to the park near our house. I would take out my scooter and scoot around the paved park trail, trying to feel a bit free, a bit in shape, and a bit restored with a little sunny vitamin D and some fresh earthy air. He would run a mile or two.
When I could finally shed the boot, it was several weeks of physical therapy. I felt my progress was two steps forward, one step backwards. It wasn’t until autumn of that year that I felt I had finally regained my hiking strength.
Before I knew it, the calendar rolled into January 2022. At this point, Aidan was teaching outdoor school at a Christian camp in the mountains. Part of his duties included leading hikes. As for me, I figured it was a reasonable challenge to hike around 50 miles a month, thus setting a goal to hike 600 miles in the next year. This wasn’t just a step count. Hiking meant mostly dirt trails and nature connections.
The first five months of the year, I hit at least 50 miles every month, some months being more of a challenge than others. But having a goal kept me inspired and disciplined.
School ended in mid June. My campus ministry duties went mostly quiet. With the increased time that opened for me, I hit the trails. On the longest day of the year, I decided that I needed to do a long hike, so I trekked 9 miles. In July, I hiked a total of 105 miles. This was a large number for me, though not a large number in comparison to my eldest who was hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain with his best friend since childhood. But I realized that at summer’s end, I was ahead of my goal. I decided to up my challenge to 700 miles. September, October, and November were not easy and I found myself second guessing my decision to go for 700. With the return of the school year, my days were very busy as a campus pastor. When daylight savings came, it was even more difficult to find time to hike. On most days, I was at work early and did not finish until the sun was setting. I was able to achieve about 40 hiking miles a month during that time - with a lot of self-pushing and shoving. When I could squeeze in a hike, the majority of them were in the open hills near our home. At the end of the school day, right before dinner, I would quickly change clothes, grab the dog, and head to the closest trailhead. Sometimes I could only get to a mile before the sun set and the coyotes came out to prowl. My son and I have both said that even though sometimes we are ready to make excuses and say “no” to a hike, we never regret when we get out on the trail.
Christmas vacation was a time to do some longer hikes and explore a couple of new places. I was at 698 miles as we gathered for our annual extended family time in the mountains. One of my nieces suggested that I imagine my last little hiking stretch as the closure of a long journey that ended at a pub.
I took her suggestion. I hiked my last miles around a mountain wooded lake. I found this very fitting as I fell in love with hiking by water and woods when I worked at a camp as a young adult in Minnesota. My destination was Lake Arrowhead Brewery. I had thought of who might be with me on that last hike. It turned out that I was just by myself. At first, I felt a little disappointed to be all alone. Then I began to feel gratitude for the opportunity to have my own contemplative hike, reflecting on the many miles of trails I had travelled. I also wasn’t really alone, as God and I had a good conversation on the way to the 2022 finish line.
At the brewery, I toasted 700 miles with an IPA and my very encouraging family. It is hard to sum up an experience that has been so meaningful and personal. Yet 700 miles later, I can say that all those dirt trails have been a gift of connection, reflection, prayer, healing, and hope.