Retreating Cover 2The Bible tells us in Proverbs 4:23, "Above all else, guard your heart, for button paperbackeverything you do flows from it." This book is the story of the author's adventures as he learns to guard his heart while backpacking in the Guadalupe Mountains of west Texas. Simpson writes, "I've learned to be intentional about searching for God, intentional about loving my wife, intentional about rehabbing my bum knees, button kindleand intentional about guarding my heart. As I've gotten older I've realized I can't separate my understanding of God from my relationships and from my heart; especially my relationship with my wife, Cyndi. It all get mixed together, just like my stories. Feeding my heart has become a constant process of stepping deeper into those critical relationships. That first hike up Tejas Trail was a deliberate move toward my own heart, and I am a better man because of it."

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Chapter One: Tejas Trail

I started hiking Thursday morning in the rain. The parking lot at the Pine Springs Visitor Center at Guadalupe Mountains National Park was empty, which seemed natural because who would go to the mountains on such a dismal rainy day? It was March, Spring Break, and my wife Cyndi was enjoying her days away from school by visiting our daughter in Dallas. The timing was perfect to do something I’d wanted to do for so long. However, I never expected the weather to be so cold and wet in the desert mountains of West Texas.

For years I dreamed of going backpacking, going up into the mountains all by myself with everything I might need hanging on my back, always planning but never actually doing anything about it. I would be more accurate to say backpacking had been howling in the back of my brain for 40 years. I had wanted to be a backpacker since I was a youngster, but ‘never’ seemed to always get in the way – never able to work out the details, never seemed to have the right gear, never had enough free time. I hoped this first trip up Tejas Trail marked the next phase of my life; one that I hoped would be a long phase.

About two-thirds of the way up to the crest of the mountain, where the steeply climbing trail finally flattened out a bit, the rain turned to snow flurries. The snow melted as soon as it landed and wasn’t accumulating on the ground, but I knew snow in the air down here meant it was snowing harder up on top of the mountain where I was headed. It was beautiful, but it was also a little frightening. I was backpacking with a cobbled-together kit, and I knew I didn’t have anything sufficient for camping on top of snow. It made me nervous to think about sleeping all night in a cold tent pitched on a snow field, but I kept going up despite my concerns. The only thing worse than camping on snow was turning around and going back home.

I’d already done too much turning around in my life. While it’s true that I’d completed seven marathons by then, I was haunted by the two other marathons that I’d attempted but couldn’t finish because I couldn’t handle the discomfort. And there were many more attempts that I backed away from before race day because the long training runs were too painful or inconvenient. I also knew that running marathons was just a metaphor for other things in my life that I’d backed away from when they got hard. I was tired of backing away from hard things.