The long awaited Friday arrived for my first backpacking trip. The responsibility for our parents had passed into God’s hands. My gimp foot was repaired, and I built endurance by walking more each week. I borrowed or bought equipment, and Mike squinted over maps, adding miles and noting water sources. He reserved shelters. We readied and headed to Georgia and the Appalachian Mountains.
The early morning sky was heavy with clouds, but seven hours of driving lay ahead of us, plenty of time and distance for the sun to take over the skies. Greens, golds and oranges painted the trees along the interstate. We pulled into a Georgia rest stop and picked up a map. The Georgian drawl of the volunteer behind the counter charmed me with his own Southern mix of vowels. The breeze was crisp and met every expectation of fall. My excitement built.
I leaned into the curling roads cut into the mountains, staving off car-sickness, and rejoiced when we crunched on the gravel of a crescent shaped parking lot at the trailhead. The clouds, wanting to come with us, cried small tears of joy as Mike and I double-tied boot laces and adjusted our backpacks on our hips. Mike clicked my photo in front of the trail sign, and we headed up the mountain.
Half buried rocks and humps of tree roots poked above the hard-packed trail which skirted trees, boulders and bushes growing at sharp angles to the mountainside. My heaving breath so soon into our journey surprised me, but I told myself that my body would adapt with patience. After all, our day began hours before at sea level and now we labored upwards from 1,600 ft.
The stones and roots quickly taught me to keep my eyes on each step. The rain slicked them, and down I went onto hands and hip. Maneuvering back on my feet with a 33 pound pack on my back felt like a turtle trying to stand up on his hind legs.
“Let me give you a hand. Are you okay?” Mike lifted my pack, and I came up with it.
“Thanks, partner, I’m fine, just bruised my pride,” I replied.
“Here, use my hiking poles,” he said and extended the poles to me.
“But you need them,” I protested.
“Nah, I’d rather use a good walking stick. I’ll find one on the way.”
I gratefully took the poles, and they caught me from falling many times throughout our journey. With the steady cadence of the poles’ click, click, click, click on rocks, a song took up chorus in my head, “Everything is Awesome.”
The week before our hike, we watched a Lego movie with that theme song, I don’t pick out words to songs easily. As a result, I mentally sang “e-very-thing-is-awe-so-o-ome” through eight steps, then began the chorus again. The song simultaneously distracted me from the upward climb and fueled my attitude with positive words. I started thinking, despite the rain and puddles, “Everything IS Awesome.”
“Sorry the rain has knocked all the leaves off the trees and ruined the fall colors for you,” Mike commented.
“Not at all. The leaves are under our feet, and since my eyes are glued on my feet, I get to see them. Oooh, like this red one I just stepped over. The rainwater makes it shine just like a garnet. This is awesome!”
“Well, I wish it weren’t raining for your first backpacking trip.”
“Are you kidding?. It’s chilly, so we aren’t sweating, and my new hiking boots really are waterproof as advertised. This is great. Hey, by the way, do you remember that Lego song?”
His brain has super story and lyric powers. He began singing it with all its verses, and I joined him, fudging the words.
“That’s it, that’s it,” I yelled. “This hike is awesome. I’m having so much fun.” I wasn’t making it up. I was the happiest I had been in five years. I had forgotten how wonderful it was to feel happy. “Everything is awesome,” I repeated.
We hiked four miles in the rain until dusk, then set up our tent on the soaked ground, since the shelter was already packed with soggy people and gear. We woke to rain and hiked all day with it dripping off our fingers and running down our cheeks. We climbed and descended and climbed more the eight miles to our next camping site, another shelter. It was mid afternoon, but someone else had arrived ahead of us, so we’d have to share the shelter for hours before it was dark and time for sleep.
“Want to go on to a primitive site? Mike asked. “There’s one a mile ahead.”
I shifted my pack and watched the fellow hang up dirty, wet socks.
“Sure. We have a lot of day left,” I replied.
Half an hour later, we stopped and stared at a glade of water.
“Is that it?” I asked.
“I’m afraid so. Let’s keep going and see if we can find another.”
My hips ached from the pack riding on them and from them bearing most of my weight as I tried to sleep on the ground the night before. My toes had been sliding into the fronts of my boots the last two miles, so I bent over to tighten the laces.
“Ready,” I announced, and started down the trail. We hiked another mile and came to another cleared level plot where our tent could stretch out, but three inches of water flooded the area. As we stared at the pool, a man dressed in an orange jacket and a rifle slung over one shoulder came from the direction we were headed.
“What’re you hunting?” Mike asked.
“Bear,” he replied.
“Oh. Well, good luck, I guess.” Mike said, and the hunter trundled off
We stood in the dripping forrest, thinking of bears, bullets, and puddled campsites.
“What would you think about hiking two more miles to our takeout spot instead of trying to bed down in the rain? We’d have to keep up a good pace to get there before dark. It’s ok, if you don’t think you can do it.”
Twelve total miles covering a thousand feet of elevation carrying a pack in the rain was asking a lot of a fifty-five year old woman with two screws in her foot on her first backpacking adventure.
“We could get a hot shower and eat a real meal,” I thought aloud, “and sleep in a bed. That sounds awesome. Let’s do it.”
Just when the sky deepened, we broke through the forest at the end of the trail. We feasted on hot pizza and steamed in the shower. I earned the bruises on my hips and lost a toenail, but that trip ranks high in my memories. My attitude truly affected my altitude.
The song which stuck in my head resurfaced after three months of Covid and again this fall after Hurricane Sally walloped us. Another song now sometimes takes its place. Its lyrics come from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, and I can remember them. “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances.” It is sung in a round and loops back over and over, renewing my mind and lifting my spirit..
Even with careful preparation, difficulties arise, and no song can prevent or cure their trouble. Looking for and giving thanks for the gems hidden in the turmoil, though, can lift my spirit up and over many of the obstacles. My joy does not have to hinge on circumstances which are out of my control, a great reminder for this season. When I force my eyes open to all that’s around me, everything is awesome.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28