Beauty, Blisters & Trail Oddities

Myself, Dustin Prickett (photographer) and Grandy Streets hiked a stretch with Team Strawbridge last week and here are some random reflections on a great journey.  All photography comes from Dustin's keen eye (he carried his 3 lb. camera)...

Beauty Everywhere. The world God has made is truly remarkable. To see his creativity from mountain peaks after 2 (or 5) mile uphill climbs really is breathtaking (in both senses of that word). There is something about waking and sleeping within the mountains that pulls a wonder and awe (as well as a, "What am I doing here?") out the human soul. The simplicity of backpacking slows a busy heart to see the Maker's fingerprints are literally in the peaks and valleys...everywhere.  But that's not all there is to see on the trail. There is beauty in the people and the journey you take with them. Joining the Strawbridge's not only pulled us into a view of God's glory in the world, but it pulled us into the good of doing life with friends. I'm frequently humbled by Andrew Peterson's words that, walking the hills of a human soul  is where the adventure really lies. I'll be honest, the idea of backpacking was exciting to me, but perhaps the greater, soul-awakening beauty was walking with friends, all 8 of them. Friendships, people...I can look past them and God's stories in them in search of myself all too often. It's not easy, I didn't really want to keep pushing forward, listen to Vince yell at everyone to eat pop tarts at 6:15am or even share my twix bars.  But the true wonder really did come in walking with the people around me. You see more of your need, your frailty and the goodness of God in people that love, struggle, and walk with you than in a thousand mountain tops. It sometimes takes a few mountain hikes and a parting prayer to help you realize that. I think I can say on behalf of many following this crazy crew, thank you Strawbridge's for walking with us, not on a trail but in so much of our lives. We love you guys! 
Oh and if you want to enjoy the "beauty" without traveling the miles, you can do it!  The best way is to hop on to some of the sponsorship opportunities and encourage them by helping the ministries they are supporting (   Don't let this opportunity pass you by.

Blisters Everywhere. Well, at least it felt like that. I typically consider myself to be at least in the front half of most endurance competitions, but it was a rude awakening to get after a 20 mile hike in one day. If you're in search of humility consider a visit.  Getting carried along by Aiden, June, Henry and Georgie will do the trick.  When stopping for breaks I'm taping aching feet, while they are bouncing around for some "packless" rock climbing.  Truly, the mileage and speed they are covering really is HARD took incarnation to a whole new level.  Grandy's perspective here is pretty enlightening:

Backpacking, trekking, camping, hiking, outdoor living, or whatever you define as one family’s pilgrimage, a person can not surmise the difficultly without actually experiencing it. Hence when asked to visit my neighbors on the PCT, I enthusiastically embraced this wonderful opportunity. Failure, Pride and Grit: I literally knew I was in trouble the first mile. I felt in shape as my legs were strong and Cabellas had provided me with the finest equipment to venture the Strawbridge goal of 25 miles per day. What wasn’t in my official PCT hiking guide, was the strong affect the altitude would have on my body at 8000 plus feet. Nausea, migraines, dizziness, insomnia, dehydration, isolation, loss of appetite, and beyond labored breathing overtook my body. However, my pride would not allow me to stop and of course Vince, the eternal optimist, convinced me it would only get better. You know it’s hard to fall from the floor!  
Day two was worse. 18 miles that I literally don’t remember. My back pack was filled with cliff turd bars and faux meals that magically appear with hot water. They completely weighed me down. It was literally like giving an angry elf a piggyback ride all day long! I hated that pack. Day three we woke up bright and shining. This day we did 20 miles, most of which was uphill. Now for the embarrassing realization that I was obviously far behind. And then came the final blow. June bug offered me her walking poles. Really? Her pansy poles? (Yes I took them). Vince’s entire family now looks like a pack of pure bred walking stallions. War admiral, Secretariat, and Sea Biscuit all racing mile after mile with songs in their hearts. I felt like Eeyore who just entered the Kentucky Derby, and the only song in my heart was AC/DC’s song “highway to hell”. In the evening, I arrived at the campground exhausted, sick, broken, and harboring a new defined mission. Survival! How in the world do I get off these mountains?

My spiritual highlight was to watch Vince and Monica parent their family in breath taking scenery, while residing in complete and utter filth. They are dealing with a true, spiritual grit that doesn’t seem to exist in the human soul so prominently anymore. They fight and struggle with the ugliness of family situations through exhaustion and cooperation that really resonated the gospel to me on so many levels (primarily regarding my struggles as a Husband, Father and spiritual leader within my community). 

I left the mountains at the final pass on the fourth day before the last 30 mile trek. During that long arduous hike for me, God humbled my ego. I had completely failed and broke both mentally and physically. I continuously reflected upon my struggle as my body failed me at such high altitudes. I hated carrying that pack, and in it all, I wanted to quit every step of the way. That is when The Holy Spirit forced me to think about Jesus and his 3/4 mile walk to Calvary. Every step he stumbled and was spat upon. He carried a significantly heavier load. A load much heavier than my small backpack. His journey was so much more difficult that the feeble miles I had walked. Jesus never quit! He fulfilled God’s will by providing the perfect sacrifice as a substitution for my compete and total inability.

I am so honored to have walked with Vince, Monica, Aiden, Henry, June and Georgiana. The filth and dirt and Spiritual grit they are persevering with their children is so incredible. They are teaching them to fight for their relationships regardless how ugly they can be at times. Marriage, vocation, and parenting are all difficult trails. I’m so proud of them! (Especially June) I am thankful for their place in my life and the way Jesus used their experience to impact me on the PCT trail. Am I ready to return? Absolutely not! But if I could go back and choose to do it or not, I enthusiastically would. 

Trail Oddities

  1. Breakfast starts immediately upon waking up. Vince rouses everyone from sleep between 530 and 615 with calls to start eating Pop Tarts while still in the sleeping bag

  2. No time for morning coffee...tragic. 

  3. Get your pack as light as possible.  That was the mantra early on now.  Now it's get your pack as light as possible except for food.  Extra food weight is good weight and WILL be eaten. Even if it's tuna mixed with Mayo, peanut butter, mashed potatoes, barbecue seasoning and Lord knows what else Vince ate at lunch.  Monica calls it the "middle school lunch room dare."  

  4. Feet.  Feet are a huge priority. The right shoes prevent blisters and blisters are of the devil when hiking 25 miles a day.  Scheduling friends to mail shoes for 6 when they start to wear out is a little like timing a pit stop at the Daytona Motor Speedway...much more involved than you'd think.

  5. Small bottles of olive oil in your pack?  Yep.  You put that on anything and everything just to get calorie count up!

  6. Trail names.  A handful of characters are thru-hiking and going south. They all have trail names... Before understanding this strange phenomenon we met a young German girl in So. Lake Tahoe that we were giving a ride to the grocery store.  "Hi my name is Dax." "Hi my name is Bear Hair." "Excuse me? Can you say that again?" Aiden came to the rescue and told all about this... Troubadour, Peach, Little Foot, Vamp, Blue Bear...the favorite is a couple from England whose husband leads music at a church plant in France. They're name is just the Strawbridge's...I guess that's crazy enough.  We did meet one guy going north that already knew of them as the Florida Family. 

  7. Darn Tuff brand socks! Wear em out and they will give you a free pair at the town hiking stores.  

  8. Everyone stinks. Dirt is like air, you can't live without it. The sooner you embrace your inner dirty the better. 

  9. No picking through the trail mix!!

  10. Lunch is around a 1.5 to 2 hour break and the largest meal. A little like living in Latin America... Raise your feet, take a siesta until Georgie says time's up.

  11. Filter your water from one bottle into the clean and then add the coveted flavor Mio concentrate stuff... it's like gold.

  12. If the weather is right, cowboy camp! That means no tent.

  13. Take in the views...but not too long we got mileage to make and the high Sierra's are getting colder. 

  14. Take in the views but watch your step, you might fall off the mountain.

  15. Dinner time...just toss supplies back and forth. You're too tired to get up.  

Author: Dax Gibson

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