Journal entry 093010: Exposed

It wasn’t easy to be the man down. Having David carry my pack for me wasn’t as embarrassing as I thought it would be, since I knew I was in trouble and wouldn’t have made it to Pine Top before dark without his help, but it certainly wasn’t what I had in mind when the day began.

The climb up Tejas Trail is approximately four miles long and 3,000’ elevation gain. It is tough under any conditions, and very hard work under a heavy backpack. This trip I was carrying 62 lbs., almost half of that was water (my pack weighed only 35 lbs. coming down two days later without the water). But I have made the climb a dozen times with a similar load; this trip was nothing out of the ordinary.

David Nobles and I left the trailhead at 12:30 noon and finally made it to our camp spots at Pine Top at 6:30 PM. I typically take about four hours to make this hike, even with a fully-loaded backpack, but this time I bonked. We spent an extra two hours on the trial because of me.

I felt short-winded the entire day, even at the beginning where the trail is relatively flat. I have never had so much trouble breathing before, even in the Rocky Mountains National Park last summer. It was impossible for me to set a steady hiking pace because I was continually stopping to catch my breath. I often revert to a pattern of 200 steps & 100 breaths when I get to the steep switchbacks near the top, but this time I was using that pattern almost the entire trail. Nothing like that had ever happened to me before. It was discouraging and disappointing; and irritating.

At one point I started feeling queasy in my stomach, which eventually turned into nausea.  As a precaution I moved my camera into my cargo pocket. It had been hanging from a lanyard around my neck for quick access and when I bent over at the waist it hung strait down. I moved it so I wouldn’t throw up on it if it came to that.

About three miles into the climb I found a rock and sat down and loosened my pack. David sat with me awhile until we worked out a deal. He hiked the rest of the way up to the crest, dropped his pack, then came back to help me. While he was gone I pondered my sad state of being: how did it come to this. I remembered something Erwin McManus said on a podcast, “Everything looks like failure in the middle.” Even though I knew better, this felt like failure.

Why was I so short-winded? True, I’d run 15 miles four days earlier (marathon training), but that should’ve left me sore, not breathless. I knew I wasn’t dehydrated. And I wasn’t hungry; I’d eaten a similar lunch and breakfast on all my hikes. Was the altitude affecting me? That seemed unlikely since I’d made this exact same trip with a heavy pack at least a dozen times and never experienced nausea or extreme short-windedness.

Realizing you are mortal is not pleasant. It’s hard being the one who needs help. It didn’t seem very leaderly. Of course I would’ve done the same for David had the roles been reversed, but I’m not used to the roles being reversed. I like the roles the way they usually are.

Later, back at home, Mark asked if I thought it was some form of spiritual attack. “Maybe,” I said. “It’s hard to know about those things in the moment.”

Back in 2005 when Cyndi and I walked all those miles in northeastern Uganda with John Witte, I was prepared to be the weakest link on our team. I had a bad left knee and I hadn’t yet learned how to make it stronger. My weakness was exposed by the long miles.

This time, however, on Tejas Trail, one of my strengths was exposed. I’d rather keep my strengths under wraps unless they are going to come through for me.

What about my other strengths, the ones I count on every day? Will they let me down, too? Am I about to throw up on my boots because of them, too?

As David carried my backpack up the trail I thought about something that Jesus said, as recorded in Matthew 5:41 … “If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles.” (KJV says “go with him twain.”) Jesus was telling us to serve each other, to give more than is asked of us. That’s what David did for me. He did more than was expected or asked, and he got me to the top. Through the years I’ve done both: I’ve carried packs for others to help them, and now I’ve watched someone carry mine. The fact is, carrying is much more satisfying than watching.

But if all we do in life is carry for others, never watch them carry for us, that really isn’t relationship. If all we do is give, never receiving, we have to wonder about our motives. Are we truly serving the needs of others, or feeding the needs of our own ego? We must be willing to receive if we expect to know the grace of God. Only empty-handed people can understand grace.

Follow Up #1: My problems didn’t linger. I was fine afterward, and hiked cheerfully the next two days. And now, back home, I’m thinking about my next trip.

Follow Up #2: I’m blessed to be surrounded by friends and family willing to hoist my pack on their own shoulders and help me up the mountain. That is good news; that is grace, indeed.

To see photos from the trip:

2010 Sep (12)

“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32


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