With my feet and arms spread out from under me and feeling a bit like an awkward starfish clinging for dear life, I am paralyzed. One more move and I’m pretty sure the only directions I’ll be going is backwards. The summit is just within reach, but my muscles are strained from the athleticism I have suddenly required of them and I am so unbelievably tired. The loose rock under me starts to shift and I am taken over by gravity as I slowly slide down the steep incline.
Tying our shoelaces for the morning, my brother and I were getting ready to hike up one of the easiest trails to reach the summit of Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales. As official N.A.R.P.s (non-athletic retired persons) we are the first to admit how out of shape our bodies have become since our college days of swimming 20+ hours a week. This backpacking trip through Wales was a holiday for both of us, and while we wanted the views of the majestic mountain peaks, we were going to take the easiest way to get up there. No shame.
All set and ready to go, we met a fellow traveler who was staying in the same hostel as us. We mentioned the trail we were going to take, and he looked back at us with surprise. “Don’t you want a challenge? I like to feel accomplished when looking back on the journey I’ve climbed.” Well, what were we supposed to say to that? Our competitive spirits taking over, suddenly we found ourselves starting our hike on a much different trail than originally planned. One of the hardest paths offered, based on the extreme elevation change and loose scree (broken rock fragments) towards the summit.
As the morning sunlight blanketed the mountains of Snowdonia, we set off. We basked in the rich vitamin D soaking into our pours as we crossed through the farmlands and ascended up to the slate quarry. We paused at the beauty of the gushing waterfalls and gave our heartbeats a chance to slow down with the rapid incline. Our thighs burned, our backs were sore, and our cheeks were sunburnt. And we were loving every bit of it.
Right before leaving, that fellow traveler had asked me how experienced I was with “scrambling.” My brother responded to my confused and blank stare, saying I have never done it before, but I would be fine. It wasn’t until we were halfway up the mountain that it dawned on me to ask what scrambling meant. Not a big deal, he replied, you’ll just have to use your hands and feet to support your weight because there will be a bunch of loose rock under you.
Right, no big deal.
I am apparently not the best with this scrambling business and suddenly I am wishing for some solid ground under my hands and feet. The loose rock under me starts to shift and I am taken over by gravity as I slowly slide down the steep incline…but as I start to slide down, I am desperate to go forwards. So like a dog on a frozen pond with ice skates attached to her paws, I literally scramble to the summit.
Hiking has always seemed to carry significant parallel journeys of the happenings in my life: a descent down the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho birthing a beautiful friendship, a calm stroll through John Bryant days before graduation. It all holds special meaning and allows the opportunity for reflection on how Christ is alive.
On this particular Good Friday, I am able to lie down and close my eyes on the top of the mountain. I reflect the struggle, the weight, and the paralyzed fear this day holds for Jesus. I think of the struggle, the weight, and the paralyzed fear this year has held for me. I think of the new trail I will take to descend, my hike not yet finished, and the unknown trials and gifts it will bring. I think of the new journey I will take when this year is finished, and the unknown trails and gifts it will also bring. My brain is spinning, but eventually the stillness of my body with the calm presence of mountain air takes over, and for a moment, I am just present.
Looking back on our journey climbed, it was definitely a challenge, but I wouldn't use the word accomplished to describe my feelings.
Grateful. Awe-filled. Loved.