Last Saturday I stood on top again, a happy man. We were at the summit of Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas. In my old life, I summited sixteen times, usually with a posse of friends. But since May 2012 I haven’t been able to complete the climb even with multiple attempts. My original stock knees couldn’t do it, even when I was mainlining Advil.
The Iron Men group at First Baptist Church hike at least twice a year (unless we get weathered-out), and even though we continue to hike the same three trails over and over the men keep coming back. Why? The trail turns men into brothers. Once a guy spends that sort of time with friends it changes all their future conversations. They learn to trust each other. They’re more honest. I don’t know any better way to get to that point in a relationship. There are plenty of other ways to bring guys together and commune with God, but for me hiking with my guys has become a prime ministry. It may be the most effective thing we do.
A year ago I thought my hiking days were behind me. The last time I attempted this same hike up Guadalupe Peak was two years ago and I struggled painfully to make it even halfway up. Sometimes, willpower isn’t enough.
And so, last Saturday was a big test for me, only nine months after double knee replacement. I’d been walking and cycling about two or three times a week, pushing the pace and trying to rebuild the strength and endurance I once took for granted, training for this hike.
It was a great day. My legs felt better than I expected. My knees felt better than they should have. I was short-winded most of the day due mostly to poor cardiovascular fitness. I have a lot more training to do. And my feet got sore and ached by the time I got to the bottom; I’ve lost the marathon-running toughness I used to depend upon.
I felt strong the first two hours of hiking as long as we stopped every twenty to thirty minutes to breathe. But after the bridge I started to fade. I was weary and lightheaded. My post-surgery workouts hadn’t been enough to prepare me for this level of stress.
I’d been hiking with Cory for about an hour, but I let him slip off ahead of me. I was slowing down so much I was afraid he’d miss the turnaround time because he was staying back with me.
Finally, I’d had enough. I couldn’t imagine going all the way to the top as bad as I felt. I was about halfway between the bridge and summit when I pulled off my pack and sat on a large flat rock. I’d just wait there until the rest of the group came back down. It was easy to make reasonable arguments why I should give up for the day: I had been up on top plenty of times and had nothing to prove, I’d already hiked further than most people expected, there would be plenty of chances to try this again after more training, I don’t have to touch the top to hear from God, I don’t have to touch the top to be a man. And, like that.
But I remembered something I read in Martin Dugard’s book, The Explorers, how the Navy SEALS believe once someone comes to the conclusion that giving up is an option, there is no turning back. Their mind transitions away from managing the discomfort and begins to imagine how good it will feel when the discomfort ends. Once quitting seems noble and reasonable it becomes inevitable.
I was deep into that scenario when I prayed, What should I do?
The thing about prayer is you often know beforehand the right answer. So I stood up, put my pack on my back, and shuffled the rest of the way to the top.
From trailhead to summit it took me 3:20 to make the climb; I was happy that I’d kept going. Most of my group was waiting at the top, and they continued to wait while I ate my PB&J sandwich. It was cold and windy and some of the faster hikers, including my loving wife Cyndi, had been up there for an hour already. Waiting for me was not a small thing.
Hours later, once we were all off the mountain, settled into our bus seats for the long drive back to Midland, the bus was filled with a buzz of stories, scars, photo sharing, and hearts joining together. That part of the trip always makes me happy. Maybe it isn’t the trail itself that makes men brothers as much as the bus ride home.
I am blessed to have these men in my life; guys who will hike with me, who will wait for me in the cold wind at the summit, who believe in me and listen to what I say. I never take for granted the valiant men God has entrusted.
I prayed, Thank you for keeping us safe today, thank you for giving us the desire and ability to do this, and most of all, thank You for giving us one more turn.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
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