Our church has a weekly, summer hiking group. Every Wednesday morning six to fifteen hikers meet at a designated trailhead with appropriate clothing, trekking poles, and a sense of adventure. For the first five minutes on the trail I am enthusiastic, then I start to mind-mutter. “How long does this trail go straight uphill?” “When are we stopping for lunch?” “What’s for dinner in eight hours?” “I’m the youngest person here and the worst hiker.” It’s almost as if the imposter-syndrome demon shows up to spoil my hike and tell me I am a big fake.
A couple of things bring my mind back to the trail and the glory of the day. One is the community of hikers. Our trek is about exploring and enjoying the grandeur of God’s creation together. It is not about who can make it to the top first or who has the best skills.There is solidarity and a mini pep rally feel about the group. Some of us move ahead or lag behind but often in changing and supportive small groups. In these groups I have wonderful conversations with people I hardly know. We touch on the basics like “Where are you from and who are your people?” but we also tackle subjects like capital punishment, aging, healthcare, addiction, and Church. As we hike, there is a lovely ebb and flow between conversation and silence.
I don’t often get to share this way with people in my church. Hiking is one of the few church social activities I attend that does not focus on food and drink–except for lots of water and an occasional granola bar in our backpacks. Maybe both the precariousness and the beauty of the terrain make us more vulnerable than we are inside of a church building. Hiking with this group feels like a mini pilgrimage where strangers meet and the surroundings amaze. As the community and the vistas take over, the chatter and complaints in my head grow quieter.
On yesterday’s Continental Divide hike with a 1000 ft elevation gain in less than a mile, the mind-muttering was escalating rather than dissipating. “With all of this scree and loose stones, I might just trip and roll down the mountain,” I thought. I was walking alone at the time. But I guess I wasn’t really alone because a 5-word prayer/meditation came to me. “Step, Breathe, Gawk, Praise, Smile.” I said it over and over again. The prayer reminded me to focus on just those five important things.
By the time we all reached the top of the straight-up trail, I wasn’t even tired. I had Stepped and Breathed my way up the mountain. I had Gawked at and Praised the vivid reds and golds of the autumn tundra at 12,000+ feet. I Smiled and said, “Let’s go to 13,000 ft!” And we did.