Summer Pilgrimage

       In ten days I’ll begin my summer odyssey, a 486-mile hike from Durango to Denver on a route called the Colorado Trail. I expect to live out of my backpack at least forty days, which is a 1200% increase over my previous backpacking experiences.

       I’ve wanted to complete an epic adventure like this for a long time, maybe my entire adult life. A friend was asking about my plans and wondering if it was possible for him: “How old are you?” I said, “I just turned 61. But next year I’ll be 62 and that might be too old.”

       Leonard Sweet wrote that all stories fall into two categories: coming home stories, and leaving home stories. I wonder which this will be: leaving home to go to the wilderness, or coming home to what I love to do? What I hope this will be is leaving behind the debris of life, age, and distractions I’ve accumulated during 61 years, and coming home to a fresher and deeper life with God.

       What do I think will happen? How do I expect to be changed by the adventure?

       I expect to learn new survival skills, how to make myself comfortable and civilized. I think I probably know most of the skills I need, I just need to trust myself. But maybe more important than learning survival skills, I hope to come away with confidence that I can improvise and survive on my own, make good decisions, stay healthy and engaged, and keep moving no matter what happens.

       I expect personal depth, a broader view of life, an I’m-beyond-the-trivialities kind of thinking. I expect spiritual insight from so many days living inside my own head. I’m carrying Bible verse cards with me, and plan to use them daily to open my mind to God in a new way. This practice shaped me during my formation years at the University of Oklahoma in the 1970s, and influenced everything I teach and write today. It’s time for another round of influence.

       I’ll have a generous dose of solitude, maybe too much, even for a solitude lover like me. I’ve often said I tend to go to seed after three or four days by myself, but I’ve always wondered what lays on the other side of those three days. What happens after, five days, or a week? Will I go crazy, or will I break through to a new ability to see and understand.

       There is a tendency in life to shrink our world as we get older. Mostly it’s a good thing to narrow our focus and put our time and energy into our most significant places. But often we just stop doing things because they are too much bother. Things we used to do, like going to movies or plays or concerts or church or parties. Personally, I tend to withdraw from things where I have to interact with lots of people; I have to constantly fight against that. I want to increase, not decrease, my exposure to new ideas and influences.

       And so I hope this hike is part of that. It would be easier to stay home and think about hiking and read lots of books about backpacking. It would be easier to take a handful of weekend hikes instead of staying on the trail for six weeks. But I don’t think either of those would open my world in the same way.

       I also hope this hike brings some clarity about our next steps. I’ve been feeling squishy and uncertain what to do next in ministry. Should I continue teaching every week like I’ve done since 1990? Some members of our class have been in the room listening to me for ten years. Surely they’ve heard what I have to say, how I say it. I wonder if they need a new voice in their lives. I’m not looking for a reason to bail out. I can’t imagine a life without teaching, without giving back, but I sense change in the air, and it may be something I haven’t even thought of, but  I hope God will speak to me about that somewhere along the trail.

       I’ll start hiking early Sunday morning, July 16, leaving at a trailhead just north of Durango. I’ll be what they call a NOBO (northbound hiker). I’ll have opportunities to check in with Cyndi and update my progress; I plan to use a Facebook page Colorado Trail 2017 to post photos and writing.

       Pray for me, that I will be safe, make good decisions, and come home to Cyndi. We haven’t been apart more than a week since 1981.


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

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