My son will be graduating from elementary school. He will move on to intermediate school. For the past 17 years, the school he attends has given the 4th graders a rite of passage as they leave elementary school a 28 mile- two day walk. Every student at this school looks forward to this. Every year as the 4th graders triumphantly return the entire school is outside (kindergarten-3rd grade) waving signs and cheering. The 3rd graders look longingly at the 4th graders and dream of their own triumphant entry next year, as the lead teacher smiles and shouts to them "this can be YOU next year"!
In an attempt to prepare the children for the two day event they have walk practice four days a week. They walk three miles in approximately 45 minutes, with the exception of Fridays, each Friday you walk an additional 15 minutes. The last Friday you walk 2 hours. I assumed if I participated in these practices I would be more than ready. The first two practices were very eye opening to me. I assumed "walk" meant like how I walk in the neighborhood with the dog. I was wrong. Walk practices were fast paced and intentional. I knew it would important to go to as many practices as possible, and I did, although I would soon realize these practices would not fully prepare for me for what lay ahead.
There was speculation that the walk may be postponed due to the severe rain we had the past several days. The morning of the walk it was not raining and it was decided we would go ahead with the plans. We started off at a nice pace walking on the road. My husband and I were walking along side our son and enjoying our time together. We walked several hours and then we stopped for lunch. After lunch the group ventured off the road and into the trails. At first it was wonderful. The views were breath taking. The colors, fresh air, the scenery and even the colorful insects....but somewhere all of that stopped. We had to leave the trail because of flooding. We were now in areas that were filled with gooey mud and very narrow "paths". We had to climb uphill in the mud and rocks. Our group got way behind the main group because of the challenge of climbing over dead trees, going down hill in steep mud and complete inexperience (us as well as the most of the children). Before I knew it the teachers who were behind our group were now directly behind us telling us we had to move even faster to catch up! I asked them to please tell the lead teacher to slow down and wait for us...their reply was that we have to push and keep moving faster. While I understood that we needed to be out of the woods before it got dark, I did not understand why the sudden turn of events. How did we get so off track. We apparently needed to make up time and the only way to do that was to move faster. We were already moving as fast as we could. Our eyes stayed fixated on the mud as we looked for the safest best place to step, trying to move FAST, trying to stay safe, all the while going up and down hills in mud. At this point it was no longer enjoyable. Eventually one of the experienced dads realized we were very far back and he came back on his own to lead us to the group. I felt like we were in boot camp. No sympathy, no stopping, no enjoyment, just push through until the end. We continued to climb and slosh in the mud walking in areas that I am sure were never intended for 100 people to walk through. Eighteen miles later and we finally made it to the destination. I have never been so relieved to see a road and waiting vehicles. We were driven to the school that we were staying overnight in. Everyone was exhausted and sore. My right leg was very sore. Even though I was tired, sore, and the day did not at all meet my expectation of what I thought it would be like, I was proud of myself, my husband and our son, we made it....we walked 18 miles, surely the next day with only 10 miles would be a piece of cake compared to today.
After a good nights sleep we were ready for day two. The reality of the last ten miles was that they were far worse than the first eighteen. Extremely narrow "paths" were filled with more mud and there were more steep inclines. Maybe it just seemed worse because I was so sore from the day before. If I ever climb another hillside sideways in the mud it will be to soon! This is also the day that I received the only injury in the family. As we were sloshing through thick mud on a narrow path that was filled with jagged rocks I lost my balance and fell forward onto my right shin. I sat down on a rock and wanted to cry. I said to my husband, " I am done!", but I had to get up and keep going there was no way out except to move forward. I kept reminding myself once we make it to the lunch destination the rest of the "walk" is on the roadway. It will be easier. We made it to lunch and then we started out on the road towards Heart Break Ridge a very steep incline that leads to a road stop where you can see a spectacular water fall. Our group was second and I was determined not to fall back. It was only a matter of minutes (ok seconds) that I realized I didn't have the energy to push hard any more. My leg was very sore by now and before I realized it other groups were passing us. We kept encouraging each other....we can do this! we can do this! but 3/4 of the way up the hill my leg was hurting so bad I was almost in tears. It was then that I knew I needed to stop, after all this was not the Sheryl Griffin walk! it was the 4th grade walk!. There is no shame in stopping. None of the teachers are even going to notice if I make it or not and what good will it do for me to really damage my body....all for what? so I told my husband and son I surrender, but please go on and make it for me! I got into the car that was tracking us and drove the rest of the way up hill into the falls area. My husband and son made it and went to see the falls. I knew it would not be a good idea for me to try to go down there, so I sat and rested my leg and dreamed about a hot shower, ibuprofen, and my pillow!
Apparently according to a few teachers who have done this walk many times, this year was the hardest most challenging walk they have ever had. Now that it has been a few days and I am rested and no longer limping around, I am so proud of our accomplishment and I am grateful that my husband and I were there to experience this with our son. It truly was one of the hardest things I have ever done but I am glad we did it.
Lessons I have learned:
1. Its important to always be prepared....taking this on a spiritual level....this is why it's important to keep your armour on and keep it well maintained-you never know what kind of condition/challenges you may run into
2. Don't be afraid to challenge yourself but also know when to stop
3. Its ok to say that I am not an outdoors adventurous person (and I am glad my husband isn't either- God put us together for a reason!) :) I don't have to be all things to anyone nor do I have to be what someone else is or thinks I should be
4. Life will always be easier if you stay on the path you are supposed to be on (and if you have to take a detour-that is ok-just get back on as soon as possible)
5. If you have faith the size of a mustard seed you will tell this mountain move from here to there and it will move, nothing will be impossible for you. Matthew 17:20 (*I wish I would have remembered this verse then! but in all seriousness...this is a verse that speaks volumes to me...two times I wanted to sit down, cry and just go home....but I pushed on and prayed that God would give me the strength and stamina to make it, at that moment, I felt like my faith was the size of a mustard seed and still God heard my prayer!)
6. Sometimes a walk really means a hike...be prepared
7. Never give up on the goal before you
8. I am stronger than I thought I was
9. It is important to take care of our body's (and our spiritual and emotional self as well)
10. Sometimes its ok that you don't know the exact way things will actually happen- if I had known this walk was going to be the way it turned out to be, I would have never agreed to go-at least not both days- I would have clearly missed out on the experience (even as hard as it was) with my son and husband-the end result was... we made it!
I will end with one of my favorite scriptures...this walk was not nearly as extreme as this verse but it is a reminder of His promise to all of us!
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you: And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. Isaiah 43:2