Straights and Loops

IMG_0638The hike wasn’t a particularly arduous one.  There were changes in elevation totaling 680 feet as we worked our way up and down the hills, but few were very steep on the North Kettle Moraine Trail in Wisconsin.  Westyn and I decided that we would take a short trip for spring break and do some backpacking and get some R&R.  I use the term “backpacking” very loosely as we only hiked about eight miles.  But, I was wearing a trail-rated backpack, so I’m technically not exaggerating when I use the term.

The first part of the hike started with a 2.5 mile loop that began at the lookout tower giving views all the way to Lake Michigan.  Once we completed the loop, we took the Ice Age Trail that ran adjacent to it and started heading north on a straight trail that went for some 32 miles.  Our intention was to walk about six miles of it before turning around. 

It occurred to me as we were walking just how much more difficult it was to walk a straight trail than a loop.  While there isn’t the great sense of anticipation that you get with a straight trail as you wonder what you may encounter ahead, the loop gives a certain feeling of comfort knowing that you will eventually come upon familiar ground and know you have completed your journey.  When you are walking a straight trail, you really have no sense of how much farther you have to go and there is the constant desire to turn around due to the nagging reality that the farther you go, the farther you have to return.

I was telling myself to keep going and resisting that lazy instigator in my head that gave me every reason to turn around: It was supposed to rain later.  We might get hungry.  A herd of deer might rush out of the woods and run us over.  We could get attacked by wild rabid rabbits and the nearest hospital was miles away.  You know, all of those perfectly rational grounds for giving up.  Ok, so I may be a little facetious here.  As we made our way past a bog and heard the distressed cry of a heron, the muses broke through the chatter and spoke to me showing me what a great metaphor this trail was for life.  I pointed out to Wes that I had just a momentary stroke of genius – he wasn’t impressed.

Genius or not, the sentiment is true.  We are much more comfortable taking a route in life that will lead us back to where we started.  It might not be a healthy place or one that is in our best interest, but at least it is familiar.  If we dare to take the straight trail and foray into new territory, challenging ourselves, and taking risks that lead to unknown possibilities, there is the disconcerting possibility that we may fail.

But so what?  What if we do fail?  We get up, dust ourselves off, and try a different way.  What’s the worst that can happen?  What are we afraid of?  Some may worry that not enough people will support our endeavors.  If we do what we know we should be with conviction, the right people will follow. 

If God has made us for a certain purpose, aren’t we going to succeed in fulfilling that purpose?  Too many of us are living in fear and timidity because we are uncomfortable with the unknown.  Well, take a chance anyway and see what happens.  See that trail there running alongside the loop?  Take it.  Go as far as you can, and should you stumble, get back up, laugh it off, and keep walking.  Because that trail was made for you and only you can walk it.

The wet touch of a cool, light rain on my head brought me back from my epiphany.  Wes and I looked at each other and nodded as if to say, “Yep.  Better head back just to be safe.”  After all, everyone knows that a sprinkle is just God’s gentle warning to turn around and get back before the Noahic deluge begins.  In the end, I wasn’t really tired at all.  By the time we got back to the campground, the rain had stopped and we played a couple of one-on-one basketball games.  I had all this energy, not even being fatigued and all.  So when he suggested we play a full court game and called me a lazy old man for protesting, I gently reminded him that it would be a long walk back to Chicago.

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