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

Rob Hunttrail friendsComment
It's just Walking

What are you doing?

Just walking.

Whatever I envisaged, this is the task. This is the activity. This is it. All of it. Just walking.

As you can imagine, the pace matters. Finding fast enough matters, but "don't burn yourself out or injure yourself" matters too.

Every day we wake up and grab something for the go. And walk. We hurry stops for water (we call it the dip and dash) so we can get back to walking. We eat a short lunch to rush the walking, or a long lunch to recover for walking. And we walk into camp late as we can, to get as much walking in as we can.

Step by step, 2650 miles is a long way, and these miles don't walk themselves.

We aren't fast.

We have three gears:

Toddleberry - Inspired by Tim Conway's sketch, Mr Toddleberry, this is the slow slow. It is excruciating to endure these hours. It is inspired by pain, tiredness, difficult terrain, or protest.  Anything under 1.5 miles per hour qualifies.

Toddlebooster - This is a slow walk with something of the illusion of an acceptable pace. It's not Toddleberry, and it doesn't feel like it. You don't even know you are in this zone until you glance at your watch and realize, "at this rate we will make it to Mexico in 2019." Anything between 1.8 and 2.2mph qualifies for this category.

Making Hay - Make hay while the sun shines! Ahh. This is when you are cruising, gobbling up the miles, the wind at your back and a song in your heart. You look at your watch, and there is still so much time. At this rate you'll make 30 miles easily! It is anything over 2.7mph.

There are culprits for each category. We all have our own preferred pace, our own senses of urgency (or not).

Henry is bored  His stands on top of a couple of toothpicks and would effortlessly keep 3 mph if we'd get out of his way. He  marches to the music. He kicks his toes out and swings them in just to have something to do. He refuses to use trekking poles and hunches over to lean into the climbs. His hands are always on his shoulder straps, so he wears a dirt triangle at his elbows.

Aiden is no less speedy, though she is more patient. Her stride is calm and assured. She prances a little, but it is relaxed enough that it says, "I can do this all day." Her walk is efficient.

Georgie has a lazy looking stride. She flirts with being a bit knock kneed. She is all over the path, right to left. Partly, because her eyes are on the flowers, berries, and views. She stumbles a lot, twists her ankles, and will not learn the lesson. Georgie has every bit the look of being out for a stroll.

Monica has a careful and determined walk. She is walking with almost constant foot pain and assuredly has some degree of plantar fasciitis. She steps gingerly and carefully. Most of her walk can be explained by the awareness of pain, but she has also to be wary of falling. Let's just say, she is not a near relation to sure footed.

June is a plodder. She walks like a stocky Irish coal miner. I think you must know what I mean. The trouble is, her walk has a bit of a poker face. She can be in the Toddleberry zone and it looks and feels exactly like her Making Hay. One day in great frustration I asked her to speed up. She was devastated. I looked at my watch and we had been going 2.5 mph, uphill.

It's 5:15 now, time to wake them up for the walk.

Vince StrawbridgeComment
Why we are doing what we are doing!

so hiking with the family is amazing..... but lets not lose sight on why we are doing what we are doing.  Visit our page, research the ministries and non-profits we support and then make a pledge per mile to support them and to encourage us to keep moving forward!

Rob Hunt
Yesterday was plain awful...

You can say that again!


We were n the Sisters Wilderness, 4.2 miles from camp...

"I'm not going any further. I'm staying right here," June sat down and she meant it.

The first I heard of the altercation was Monica yelling June's name, "June Marie!"

June had fallen, and cut her elbow. Monica had tried to help, but June had angrily pushed her away. Monica, having confirmed June would be okay, hurt by the slight, went on with the other three at my urging.

"June, we can't stay here, but we can walk in to camp as late as you want, I will wait here with you." It was a little more than two and a half hours from darkness.

"You go."

"How can I leave my fourteen year old daughter, that I love, alone in the woods?"

"You can stay with me if you want."

"How can I let them be nervous and scared for us all night? We can't stay here and leave them out there without knowing."

Nothing was working. We had walked from 5:30 am to beat the heat across the lava beds. 23 miles for the day so far. June had a point. It had been a long day.

There is a saying on the trail: "the trail provides".

I believe it to be true, if by "trail" we mean the intensely personal and interested Provider. In the tradition of Paul among the Athenians, sure, let's say "Trail".

Two days before that moment when June and I sat deadlocked we had come into Big Lake Youth Camp. We stumbled in is more apt. At midnight we came to the end of the mile long spur trail after leaving the PCT 28.4 miles from where we had started that morning.

Monica's feet had been hurting badly all day. We had spent the day walking three to four hours till she was near or beyond tears then rest for an hour to an hour and a half. She would massage and rest her feet and we would get a few more. Brian and Jana and family gave us a happy surprise near days end, driving two and a half hours to meet us with chicken, French fries, pie, and toilet paper. We left near dark to finish the five to seven miles.

Feet are primary. And the shoes need to fit the feet. Altra is the most popular shoe on the trail. I started with Altra's, they just fit. Well, not really a fit anymore. Fitniche found me the only remaining 2017 size sixteen Lone Peak 3.5's in the country (you have to size up on long trails for toe strikes and swelling feet), and I loved them. When they couldn't find any 2018's I was moved to New Balance, and... shin splints. Monica's feet, on the other hand, do not like Altra's. When we stumbled into Big Lake she had one job. Rest. Thankfully, just like her mother, she refused and went to the hiker hut to help with laundry. It was a madhouse. The northbound and southbound hiker's bubbles are colliding, and the hiker boxes are brimming (many trail stops have a "box" for hikers to leave unwanted items potentially useful to other hikers). In this box, a pair of Hoka's just like Aiden and June's caught her eye. She spent the day testing them.

The shoes were almost worn out, but a far better fit for her feet. She crossed miles of lava beds the next day without pain.  Have you walked on lava rock? Without pain?

"Trail" provides.

It was after this long lava walk, after a spur trail overlooking a glacier, after too long a day that June and I sat, stuck. She, crying on a log. I, across the trail from her, out of hope to persuade.  Several hikers passed.

"How are you doing?"

"Good, how about you?" I lied.

I got tired of lying after we sat for more than an hour.

"Not that great. We are having a cry, how about you?"

"Oh, I have at least one of those a day," said one northbounder giving her hiking partner a knowing look.

As it stood we would arrive in camp after dark IF we started walking then, and fast.

After a few more long minutes, around the corner came So Good, a hiker we had met in Big Lake. She asked "Is everything okay?" with sincerity in her voice.

"June is having a tough day," I responded.

 "Your name is June? Okay, you are going to have to forgive me, because some people don't take this as a compliment, but I really mean it that way. June is the name of my favorite goat. I used to keep 35 milk goats and she was the Queen. She's was a handful, but she was my favorite."

If you know my June, you know she is a handful, you know she loves goats, and you know she is the Queen goat.

Five minutes later we were up and walking at a pace that brought us in just under the fading light.

During the walk I tried to pontificate June to perfection. It wasn't working and I thought, "Of course not, she is not a project, she is your daughter, her heart and soul are more important than your getting her to do your bidding you selfish jackass."

I began to listen, and she began to talk about not being able to forgive her mom for a car accident. She said she has a hard time trusting God, because "Why would he let that happen?" 

We prayed before we arrived in camp that she would face her mom with the courage to repent. I prayed that Monica's heart would be softened to forgive. Monica met her at a run, it was like the prodigal come home.

"Trail" provides.

Later, I rejoiced with June and confessed that one of my first prayers for this hike has been that she and Monica's relationship would be restored. "Trail" is battering away the defences, unearthing underlying problems.

Lest you think we are swimming around in childish naivete, we know it is a process. Well, that, and 2 days later, a tired and angry June refused again, repeated the "I'm not going anywhere, I'm staying right here." This time ahe dropped her pack and ran up the trail northbound. She ran off trail into the trees, sat down, and angrily cried. I sat at a distance to give her space but make sure she didn't get lost. After a few minutes, Georgie came around the corner to announce that two hikers just said there was "Trail magic" 2.8 miles down trail. 

I walked to June, sat with her, and said "If I didn't know any better, I'd say that God is trying to invite you to trust and hope in him." She said, "Why does God have to make it so hard?"

When you are stretched to your limit over a long period of time without end in sight it can begin to scrape at the fabric of who you are.  For us, today, this trail is serving as the pressure cooker that is exposing, humiliating, restoring, and enlivening us.

Later that night June offered unsolicited repentance for the way she had acted. Miraculous.

THE "Trail" provides.