By Katie Mumper
“Good morning. How are you?” A hiker with official-looking hiking poles greets me as I pass.
“Good, thanks. How are you?” I return the greeting, wondering if he can tell this is my first time hiking this trail.
He’s just completed his trek as I set off on mine. I glance at the wooden display boards at the trail’s head. One warns me not to cut my own path and to pack out whatever I pack in. The other holds a faded map of the area and the trail. I don’t bother to look closely. The trail consists of two loops, so there’s no way to get lost. Who needs a map?
The day is already warming up, but it’s still cool under the trees where the sunlight is filtered through leaves. I set a steady pace, breathing deeply and reveling in the natural world all around me. My AirBnB host’s voice interrupts my thoughts as I recall her warnings about snakes. Suddenly I’m paying much more attention to the ground in front of me. I prefer to see animals of the adorable variety, like deer or bunnies, and I honestly wouldn’t know what to do if I encountered a snake.
I reach the first fork in my path without mishap. I stop for a moment before I decide to turn right. A sign tells me this is part of the West Loop. I can hear voices ahead of me, but I’m far enough behind that I can’t see the people they belong to. Enjoying the feeling of being alone with my thoughts, I let my mind wander as I walk.
My cell phone is turned off and tucked away in one of the pockets in my backpack, so I have no idea how much time passes. I come to another decision spot and follow the sign directing me toward the East Loop. The path meanders up and down, but then climbs steadily uphill for a good stretch. Despite the shade from the trees, I grow warm enough to remove my jacket.
By the time I reach the quarry path, I’m ready for a break. Have I mentioned this five-mile hike is the first I’ve made in years? After eating a granola bar and drinking quite a bit of water, I set off to finish the East Loop. It eventually connects back to the West Loop, and I turn right to begin the last section of my trek.
It doesn’t take me long to realize I’ve managed to leave the most strenuous part of the trail for the end. My lungs and the muscles in my legs burn as I climb a seemingly unending series of steep switchbacks, stopping often to try to catch my breath. I keep pushing forward. I have to reach the top at some point.
About the time I’m ready to give up and hope someone comes along to carry me the rest of the way, the path levels out and then begins to slope downhill. My breathing returns to normal, and my pace quickens as gravity provides some momentum. I pass a few people heading the opposite direction. I want to congratulate them on choosing to start their hike on this section.
When I get back to the trailhead, I take a closer look at the map. Lo and behold, the line marking the trail is color-coded to show whether a section is easy, moderate, or strenuous. If I had just taken a minute to examine it before I started, I could have saved myself some pain. I still would have had to climb the hill, but starting there instead of ending there would have made a big difference.
I wonder how God reacts when I make these kinds of decisions in life. In my mind, he’s rolling his eyes as I set off on my own with total confidence in my knowledge of the destination and the best way to get there. He knows the journey would be easier if I consulted him first, but he’s also willing to let me figure that out the hard way. God knows the memory of a strenuous climb is a better teacher than words ever could be. After all, if I’d gone the other way on my hike, I wouldn’t have realized the limits of my knowledge and the necessity of reading the map.
Katie Mumper is a daughter, sister, friend, writer, and singer. She loves Jesus, music, books, and great TV shows. Because she’s far from perfect, she is grateful for God’s grace in her life. She writes with the hope that others might be encouraged to let God make them new as well. You can read more of her work at beautyrestored.me.
Photograph © Micah H, used with permission