This coming Sunday I will be embarking on my 3rd annual Finish Line Hike of the 14 mile Tanawha Trail. To inspire me, and my fellow hikers- here is what I experienced the first time! *forgive me, this one is long! Original post was broken into 3 parts!
The Tanawha Trail- from bottom to top. Part 1
The whole week before my big event is now just a blur of memories of checking the weather! All the weather reports kept giving me a 60-80% chance of thunderstorms throughout the day of my hike. I was beginning to panic and question and doubt, when that still small voice said once again, “I got this”.
I don’t know what it is about those 3 little words. They seem just as impactful and powerful as “I love you”.
With the phrase “I got this” whispered in my soul from my beloved…. I rested in a deep shalom knowing that no matter what happened it would all be okay.
As Saturday morning arrived, one last glance at my weather app showed me that overnight, much of the bad weather had turned north or dissipated and while the clouds still remained… my chances for rain were much smaller. Before the sun even rose, I knew that God was working things out behind the scenes all along.
With excitement stirring in my belly all the way up the parkway, the fog lifting off the mountains seemed to paint a picture for how I felt at that moment. It wasn’t butterflies in my stomach, but a cool misty fog rising up from within that would soon lift away making room for the adventure of a lifetime.
The 3 of us started off with prayer and some stretching and it wasn’t long before we were surrounded in the tunnels of the rhododendron. How fitting that the beginning of our journey symbolized a birth. Like a birth canal, the tunnels urged us forward into a new life. We began noticing the extensive root systems under our feet, and even over our heads in these tunnels. How fitting that these roots became the stepping stones that gave us the strength to push upward and onward thru the hills. Occasionally, we would stumble on these roots though, and our feet would get caught in them… usually it was a quick kick that propelled us to stay on our feet, but it occurred to me that if we weren’t careful, these roots could cause one of us to fall.
This is so true in life as well. It’s our roots… our family... our history… our past…. That gives us strength sometimes. We can use those roots to propel us forward and rise up to new things. OR, we can trip on them, get stuck and never move on from them.
I believe I’ve spent much of my life up til this point, sitting on the forest floor with my foot wrapped around a root system.
But no longer.
Now I am able to allow most of my roots to give me a step up, and I’ve got friends and loved ones who will take my arm and balance me when other roots try to trip me up along the way.
As we continued on the trail, we moved on from the tunnels and out into beautiful open pastures. Graceful hills, distant trees, tall grasses and wildflowers beckoned us to dance and skip like little girls. Reminiscent of the Little House on the Prairie views…. I felt the beginnings of freedom rise up within my heart. The fog had lifted by now and the birds were singing fresh morning tunes inviting us to continue on. From here we could see Grandfather Mountain in the distance… a glimpse of our destination. It looked so far away, but at this point, only encouraged us to pick up the pace… excited that we were actually going to go that far!!
The next few miles took us back into the woods, with steeper inclines and beautiful quiet streams. Every quiet stream always reminds me of Psalm 23. Now that I mention it, the scripture was a perfect description of the trail so far…
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
Before long, we started to hear the rumblings of thunder and we trudged on knowing that when God said “I got this” that he meant it no matter what it looked like to us. The rain came down, slow at first, and we put on our rain gear. Then the skies opened up and just poured out the waters upon us. All we could do was just keep putting one foot in front of the other. With our heads down the path was our main focus. Always on the lookout for slippery spots, we took special care not to trip on roots here, especially where the path was skinny and the soft edges would have sent us tumbling downhill. I took comfort in the scriptures that I searched out during the week prior to this moment. Scriptures that showed me that when the Lord sends rain- its purpose is to cause fruit to grow.
I thanked the Lord for his provision, for his rain. And we kept walking with good spirits and without fear. The few claps of thunder in the distance were not cause for concern.
I also remembered this section of 2 Samuel that I had prayed over our journey just the night before.
“He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy, with great bolts of lightning he routed them.”
2 Sam 22:15
I imagined my enemy (in the spirit) along the trail being scattered away… so that the rest of my journey would be clear and I would not be ambushed. I thanked him for his protection.
And the rain stopped. Our way was clear now.
In a normal half marathon setting, as you move along you are encouraged by supporters that cheer you on and offer you water. My 14 mile hike was not quite the same experience, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have supporters along the way.
I can’t write about this journey without mentioning how awesome my husband was during it all! We started off arriving at our “lunch” point quite a bit early and he rushed up the path all alone with a cooler, bread, peanut butter and jelly, snacks and a gallon jug of water to refill our camelbaks while we sat by the Boone Fork River with our feet in the water taking a break.
Originally I had posted about this hike asking supporters to come and meet us at spots along the way to give it the “race” feeling, but up until Mile 11.5… my husband was the one who was there. He gave his entire day to drive up and down the parkway getting us supplies and meeting us for water refills and offering encouraging smiles. His support is appreciated GREATLY!
After our 2nd meetup with him, we were entering the “Rough Ridge” zone of the hike. Believe me, I never fully realized the meaning of Rough Ridge up until this point. Sure, I’ve hiked this beautiful section before as a small mile out and back hike, but on this journey, the Rough Ridge became our “wall”.
Every runner or marathoner will tell you that at some point, they hit a wall when their body tells them that they can go no further. It’s actually a real thing, caused by the depletion of glycogen stores in the body that can leave you feeling fatigued and without energy.
Rough Ridge was the 9 ½ mile point for us. It was a steep boulder hopping climb to an elevation of 4773 that afforded breathtaking 360 degree views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Getting to the top of it was exhilarating!
When we arrived at the first outlook, the winds were blowing so strong I felt like I was standing on the front of the Titanic with Leonardo DiCaprio holding my arms out shouting “I’m on top of the world!!”
But the most incredible thing was the green. Everywhere we looked the color green was climbing up the mountains. Just the week before, it was still mostly brown, but on this Mothers’ Day weekend, spring was racing up the mountain right with us.
It was honestly breathtaking. I’m used to the “Blue” view… but this kaleidoscope of green felt dreamlike. Every different type of tree had a slightly different shade of baby green. The fact that we didn’t have blue skies didn’t even matter.
From up here… only the views mattered. Our tired legs didn’t even seem to care about the depleting glycogen stores.
We explored the cliffs and played around taking pictures for a while. Momentarily we felt like our journey was over.
Until we noticed that bridge over there in the pictures. That bridge is our destination, or rather, the mountaintop BEYOND that bridge is our destination.
From up here, I think the realization that we still had a long way to go was starting to sink in.
I’ve felt that way in life before too. I’m very aware of the fact that I’m FAR from perfect. I’m FAR from who I was created to be, and who I want to be. Sometimes, when I get a glimpse of just how far off I am … it can be a little overwhelming. Sometimes, it even seems pointless. And that can leave me not wanting to even try anymore.
I remember clearly sitting atop the highest peak on Rough Ridge thinking those same thoughts. Thinking, this is good enough. This is far enough. Let’s just settle here. I even felt peace in that moment and I knew that Jesus was going to love me even if this was as far as I got.
Then I stood up, stretched, and said, “let’s do this!” and started down the steep descent of this current mountain crest with my friends by my side. We didn’t talk much at this point. I think we were all sorta lost in our own thoughts… and we continued down…. and around, and down some more, and through the boulder field… each of us beginning to become aware of just how exhausted we were.
Have you ever experienced something exhilarating and amazing only to be followed by a low point… a crash?
This is what we were going through for miles 10-11. The low. The down. The “what goes up, must go down” moment.
Just when I was about to stop and give up, I thought to ask Jesus where He was at that exact moment. I was in the “lead” at that time, and noticed my 2 friends were slowing down behind me and I was starting to feel like they didn’t want to be with me anymore. (I mean, this was “my thing” and they were just along for the journey right... they were probably feeling pretty sorry they had agreed to this by now!)
When I feel alone like that, I’m learning to find Jesus with me in the moment. Since He is Immanuel, God With Us… why not ask Him to let me see where He is??!!
So, in my head, I asked Him, “Where are you now Jesus?. And I got a glimpse of Him, just ahead of me on the path, turned backwards kinda jogging backwards… full of life and energy… with a glint of excitement and love in His eyes. He was waving me forward saying “Come on!” I felt a huge surge of energy burst through my veins and my pace picked up. I felt like I was skipping along the trail, hopping over rocks effortlessly, chasing after my leader who was so full of life it was irresistible! I turned around and saw that my friends had fallen back behind me quite a bit so I shouted back to them to encourage them as well. I reminded them that we were not alone on this journey and kept pressing on.
My friend and partner on this hike posted this picture and statement on Instagram…. And I couldn’t have said it better:
“Looking at this now, it's so hard to even see the trail, even when the blaze is showing the way. Life can be like that sometimes, can't it?” @jpothatsme
Before the final climb, we got lost. Well, not really lost, but definitely not on the right trail. While walking along, we totally missed one of the signs that told us which way to go. We kept going and going, oblivious to the fact that we were heading in the wrong direction.
Has that ever happened to you before?
Along the Tanawha Trail, this was not the first time in my life when I went the wrong way, and ended up making my journey longer than necessary.
Sometimes God puts signs up for us, and we walk right by them without even noticing them.
Sometimes we discover later on that we just worked really hard only to have to turn around and backtrack for awhile.
The same was true on this crazy hike of ours. What really blows my mind is that it wasn’t just the leader at the time that missed it…. All 3 of us missed it.
Be careful following others so closely that you forget to look around for your own signs along the way!
And, even more importantly, when you (or those you are with) make a mistake…. It’s not the end of the world.
Looking back at this moment of our journey, I am very aware of the fact that even though we were miserably uncomfortable at the time, we still responded tenderly to each other for our mistakes. There was no condemnation or blaming taking place, and no criticism either. So, we walked an extra .6 miles… at least we realized it before long… big deal. Staying true to who we really are meant we simply turned around and got back on track.
Reminds me of when the Lord shows me when I’m messing up something. My “repentance” doesn’t have to involve me feeling a truckload of shame or spiraling into a pit of despair. It’s more like “whoops…” and then go fix it. You know…. “go and sin no more”.
By the time we got back on track, we knew we were now behind schedule, and needing a “3rd wind” so to speak. We also knew we were probably about a mile or so from meeting up with some others who were going to join us for the last segment of the hike. We began recognizing where we were and picking up our pace in anticipation of seeing their smiling faces. Just knowing that they were up ahead waiting for us gave us this rush of excitement that we needed to break on through this last piece of exhaustion.
When we reached Linn Cove Viaduct and heard my family members up there cheering us on, nothing could have been sweeter. Add to that the presence of a toilet and we were definitely smiling now!!!
This was mile 11.8.
The last leg of our journey was now here! All day we’d looked forward to this moment. We were energized by the presence of “fresh” hikers including my 17 year old daughter who effortlessly bounded ahead of us like an elf in the Lord of the Rings through Fanghorn forest. At one point I jokingly said something to her about deserving an award for most energetic hiker or something like that.
She stopped dead in her tracks, turned to look me in the eye and said “No, YOU deserve an award for hiking this WHOLE DAY”
BAM! There it was! The truth I had not yet looked at yet along my hike. MY VALUE! MY hard work, and effort, was worth something. I had reason to be proud of myself.
It took me looking at my daughter and feeling proud, and then her reflecting it back to me, for me to really get it.
The happiness and joy I felt in this moment burst through my exhaustion just like the sun bursting through the clouds. And wouldn’t you know it… that’s exactly what happened next. The clouds began to part and the sun in the west began to shine on our path to the finish line up ahead.
The last mile was a blur really, I was fully aware that I was going to make it. There was no more doubt, no more uncertainty… only belief that continuing to put one foot in front of the other would lead me to my destination without failure.
My daughter, the elf, who was running ahead and then coming back to meet up with us, came back and said, it’s just up ahead around the corner!! You’re almost there!
Michelle turned back to me and said “Are you ready”…. And I was overwhelmed with a tidal wave of emotion that took my breath away. My eyes flooded with tears… the tears I’d heard other people talk about that came at the end of a race, the tears I had thought just 10 minutes prior would not likely be necessary…. Rushed into my eyes and clouded my vision with such ferocity I didn’t know how to stop them.
I hugged Michelle and choked on my emotions that had no words. Still now, I can’t put to words what I was feeling at that moment. Pride, relief, joy, excitement, love, passion, gratitude, and all the pain I’d carried along with me for the past 11 hours… or maybe it was the pain I’d carried with me for the past 41 years.
All of it came to the surface in that moment.
Then, we realized that somehow we had gotten here too early! My husband and other friends/family were not going to arrive for another 30 minutes or so! We couldn’t cross our finish line without them!!
So, we rested. We stopped .3 miles from the end and rested.
Never in a million years would I have pictured my ending to my Finish Line Hike like this! But God is good. And he loves to give good gifts. We stood there in the woods and soaked in His presence while we waited to take those last steps.
Fully washed in His love…. embracing the moment with all of our senses fully aware. We received His song…
“You’re more real than the wind in my lungs
You’re more real than the ground I’m standing on
You’re thoughts define me, you’re inside me
You’re my reality
Abba, I belong to you
You’re closer than the skin on my bones
You’re closer than the song on my tongue”
We knew even then, how purposeful it was that we were being asked to rest right before the crossing of the finish line.
In resting, we are more aware of God’s presence. In resting, we can connect with Him even as we are striving towards a goal. In resting, we are grounded to the reality of who we are in Him.
Resting restored our focus. Resting gave us time to breathe in the moment and prevented us from rushing ahead and missing out on that tender moment in His arms. That tender moment of love between Father and Beloved even before we completed our task meant even more than if He had just offered it at the end. This time of rest didn’t require me to finish… it was a freely given gift.
This time of rest had grace written all over it.
“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” Hebrews 4:9-10
After the time of rest, we walked arm and arm up to the finish line where we could celebrate. We didn’t need to rush forward and collapse in exhaustion because of the sweet rest we had just tasted. With eyes bright and spirits high, we crossed into that finish line together. Valued, Worthy, and full of hope.