The Last Day and Conclusion
We learn more about what is inside of ourselves when we push ourselves, or are pushed, out of our comfort zones. I found out that washing socks in cold river water is not sufficient to get them really clean and that wearing ones that aren’t 100% clean results in bad blisters! I also found out that I need people more than I knew and that I need to say so.
Julie woke everyone up about 4:30 with a gentle rise and shine around the camp. I got up in a flash and took the tent down in record time. I got myself ready and put the last few finishes on my pack more quickly than ever. But not quickly enough. Before I was quite ready I saw all the campers, except for “the sweep”, lined up in military formation in the dark and heading out behind Julie. I was ‘gobsmacked’- dumbfounded. Devastated. I had thought there would be a few leaving a little bit later. I didn’t think I’d be the last one – again. And I had no idea whatsoever how much it would bother me. I’m sure now that others had no idea either.
Feeling sucker-punched I somehow rebounded enough to finish packing and then drag the pack to a log of the right height in order to strap that ape on my back again. I hesitated before doing so causing ’S’ to wonder if I needed help. He was casually taking his tent down and in no hurry. I reassured him that I was just catching my breath and waiting for it to get light enough as I, for one, didn’t want to hike in the dark. The truth was that I didn’t really want him – or anyone at that moment – to know how I really felt.
Finally, with a heavy heart, I got my boots moving down the trail to the bridge over the Tuolumne near where I’d happily swam that day rest filled day before. It was a gentle trail to begin with and I would have enjoyed it if I hadn’t been reeling from shock. I felt like crying but wouldn’t because I thought that would make it all worse. After I‘d gone on for 1/2 mile or so I stopped and put my iPod on. The music both helped and hindered.
The trail gradually began going up away from the river getting steeper. Eventually I gave voice in my thoughts to my feelings as the music ministered to me forcing unwelcome tears. Like an infected sore it all had to come out – that anger, that senseless sense of abandonment and betrayal. So much for community! As Richard has spoken of in a discussion of community referring to Henri Nouwen’s book, Spiritual Direction, we need community for growth, but community is far from perfect and hurt is inevitable. Our woundings, from our too often painfully imperfect childhoods, may be broken open again. Abandonment was one of mine and that wound was screaming things about the group which weren’t really true, although they felt it then. I said to myself I’d never sing again and certainly wouldn’t ever tell anyone how this early morning being left behind ‘alone’ was affecting me!
After a few miles S caught up with me. It was good to see another familiar face despite the state I was in. I had come to think of him affectionately as a faithful sheepdog making sure I didn’t stray. He stayed reserved and let me go on alone after a brief rest and chat assuming, I suppose, that I wanted to hike alone. He had no idea of the storm raging inside my heart and mind.
The positive aspect of those miles was that I did not feel abandoned by God. My music was gently reminding me that Christ’s love is faithful even when we behave and/or feel wretched. Human love fails. Christ’s love is perfect and He promises to “never leave us or forsake us”. We can only trust in Him 100% alone. I don’t doubt that many people would say that they have felt forsaken in dark moments, but later realized that they were not. But I felt His comforting presence and also gradually began to realize how ridiculous I was being to think so badly of the others. They were afraid of hiking those switchbacks in the hot sun and of not being able to do it. They had chosen to be together. I had not told anyone when I was leaving and only assumed that there would be a few others leaving at the same time. Assuming things makes an ‘ass out of U and Me’ (ass u me).
It was probably only about 2 hours before I caught up with the last two of the group by which time God was whispering to my soul to stop being silly and walk with others as I realized I needed to do. So, after passing them once, I stopped and waited for them to catch up. Then I found out that one of them was having difficulties and the other was helping her. I felt bad for not seeing this before and my sense of loyalty overcame my self-centered focus.
I stayed with them the rest of the journey. Helping someone else, or at least wanting to, helped me. We played 20 Questions as we walked and actually had a little fun! My loneliness subsided and my soul became more balanced again. The rest of the climb was still very hard, but there was beauty helping us too. We passed through a wet, sloped meadow of Quaking Aspens such as I’d never seen before. The hard switchbacks were behind us and we hoped the hardest part had been overcome. Wild flowers were everywhere and the air was becoming cooler. The higher elevation changed what we could see around us. The sense of accomplishing this dreaded part of the trip buoyed me up.
The rest of that climb was still quite a challenge and we had to rest often, refill our water bags, take in snacks and deal with our infirmities. Out troubled companion got help from S and John who carried some of her stuff. We 5 became a group and I was grateful for that.
Harden Lake was a turning point for me when I sensed that we didn’t have so much farther to go and were already at quite a high elevation again. As it turned out the last few miles were quite a slow slog along a gravel road that seemed to never end.
But finally there was Richard’s rich red truck welcoming us back to White Wolf. Oh the joy of that moment! I’ll savor it always. Getting into his truck and sitting on a comfy car seat again. Ahhh. And he’d already been to the store, bought a burrito and saved a half for me! I had been looking forward to ice cream but this somehow was even better. Oh, and Julie had a few beers to share one of which I exultantly enjoyed. My blisters still hurt but those first moments back in a little bit of ‘civilization’ were so special I could easily ignore the little bit of pain.
The rest of the evening was similarly special as we all enjoyed real showers and clean clothes along with food that wasn’t previously freeze-dried. I slept in a big soft bed that night with clean sheets and the sound washing over me of another friend, the Merced River, just outside the balcony door. It was heavenly.
The next morning I realized how much I’d missed my Bible too and gave thanks for the Gideons. Gideon Bibles are often still kept in motel nightstands and I hope they always will be. The one I found spoke volumes to me as I welcomed familiar the passages jumping off the pages into my sore soul with The Spirit’s energy rejuvenating me. More unexpected tears flowed which then I welcomed. I felt like my soul had been freeze-dried too and was now becoming full-bodied again, restored. I had an unplanned mini-retreat right there.
The end of the group experience was a great breakfast at Julie’s comfy ‘Casa del Sol’ Cabin. She graciously hosted us once again after leading us all week with such care. After eating, still gathered around a real table seated on cushioned chairs, one of the group shared her essay on the book of Job and suffering. Not exactly celebratory, but for this trip and my own experience it was quite fitting. A lively discussion followed which I didn’t jump into. But then I realized I needed to share something of what I’d gone through the day before as a way of ‘repenting’ my somewhat childish, emotional thinking and saying that I would never sing again! Having been so enlivened in the motel room I felt The Spirit’s prompting to express my ‘take’ on suffering – it’s ‘purpose’ – at least as I could see it especially in my life from that somewhat traumatic trip coming then to closure. So I shared of my pains throughout the week and what had happened the morning before as well as a little about a close friend’s Stage 4 cancer. I quoted Romans 8:28 AND verse 29 as explanations for God’s purpose, which I see as: Conformity to the person of Christ – not Comfort.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” Romans 8:28-29 (New International Version)
This seemed to be well-received and I was thankful that many prayed for my friend afterwards. We also brought the table-time to an end with prayer. This was a great way to conclude the trip.