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Lessons from the Trail

Dinosaur Valley State Park
November 5, 2022

It's been a long time coming to this place: Joel and Ella have been on numerous backpacking trips over the years. Jack and Lucy have had their turns, but I haven’t carried a pack to camp since before the children were born.

Lots of reasons have kept me from these backpacking trips. Work and family life and schedules, but I guess the biggest reason I haven’t been in forever is that my physical stamina is not where it needs to be to go the distance. I wish it was, but the only way to get there is to get there, right? Even the two miles, carrying a pack, along even the slightest elevation changes, was challenging. But I did it. Joel said the sweetest thing as we were starting out down the trail: “You look like you know what you’re doing.” What a boost to my confidence!

We set out from the trailhead at about 2 pm, and right away, we had to cross the Paluxy River. We had to wait for a family to cross on the shortest path, but I spotted another line of rocks that I wanted to try. I was going along pretty well until I hit a wobbly rock. I nearly lost control, but I was able to save my balance and not fall into the water. My confidence was a bit shaken, and my husband, ever the gentleman, talked me through the rest of the way with his hand extended in case I needed it.

Once we were passed the river, it was a matter of following the Cedar Brake Outer Loop trail to #7. It was then that I began to think about the metaphor of the trail as life. I realize I’m not the only one to make this connection, but it helped to keep my mind occupied and remember all these revelations so I could write them down once we set up camp.

At the beginning of the trail, one feels INVINCIBLE.

I’ve said it for years: I’ve never known so much as when I was 18. This entire trail, I was never as ready for adventure as when we were loading up in the parking lot. Little setbacks, like the test in the river, or hard stretches, like a big elevation gain, slow one’s readiness, eagerness, and pace.

In difficulty, focus on the next, right step, not how far there is to go.

On one of the first big inclines, I wondered if I could make it. I found myself checking the trail ahead and convincing myself that this is hard. But when I focused on the next, right, stable step in the general direction I needed to go, I surprised myself with how far I had come when I looked up again. I started to look ahead far enough to pick out a landmark and then refocus my attention on my path. Before I knew it, I would hit the goal and need a new one. Baby steps.

Breathing is everything.

There was a lot to think about already, but I found if I didn’t intentionally breathe by inhaling through my nose and exhaling through my mouth in a very controlled pattern, I would lose the control I needed to endure. I found as I did this, my mind found a rhythm of peace, and I was able to have space to focus on my journey. Much like prayer, it became easier to just breathe without having to focus on breathing.

Watch for beauty and joy along the way.

All along the way, just about every time I looked up, there was a beautiful view of creation. If I focused too much on my steps, I would miss it. Like once, when we stopped to rest, Ella was standing in a glen, and loads of little butterflies lifted up from the grass and flew all around her. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that image. Recognizing trees along the path and remembering the names of plants reminded me of their value and beauty. And the joy! Miscellaneous conversations about all kinds of good things all along the way, reminded me of the Torah instruction of talking about Scripture as you walk along the path. Each of my family members and his or her unique perspective on life brings me great joy.

Who you walk with makes all the difference.

Just like the day I met Joel, twenty-seven years ago, he looks out for me. His care and attention to my needs make me feel valued and special. Not only Joel, but the encouragement of the children when the trail got difficult was so important. I know that the journey would be harder with anyone else. But these people know me and understand me and love me.

Don’t underestimate the tiniest amount of light in the darkness.

The bright, full moon lit our way as we walked after we set up camp. Sometimes, it messed with what I was able to see, and it was hard to distinguish the light and dark of rocks and dirt. But when the path was clear, it was as if it was lit up, especially for me.

Rest for the weary at the end of the journey is a great reward.

Both at the end of the first hike, when the hammocks softly rocked me to a gentle nap, and also at the end of our moonlight hike, when the super comfy sleeping bag was waiting for me, knowing that my body could rest and restore was like the hope of heaven.

Intentional steps, deep breaths, enjoying the journey, finding joy.

This is hiking.

This is life.

Rebecca Edwards

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