For some people, hiking 12 miles whilst carrying approximately 75 lbs (Is that an exaggeration? I’m not sure.) on your back is not difficult. I know this, because a few of you passed us on the trail last weekend. You were cordial and saved for later any eye-rolling or disparaging comments about our slow progress at the end there. And my sister and I appreciate that.
During the four mile span from Chapel Beach to Coves Campsite, I asked myself a number of times why, exactly, I had decided on 12 miles for our first big day on the Pictured Rocks trail. After all, neither of us is in stellar shape. I hadn’t been hiking in probably ten years. My job entails sitting, reading, typing, and, very occasionally, talking out loud. My sister also sits a lot in her job, though she has certainly been to the gym more recently than me. Still, why 12 miles?
I kept coming back to the inevitable: we had to end our hike where we began it because we didn’t have anyone picking us up. We had to get back to the parking lot at Miner’s Beach. So in order to make the 7+ hours drive to Pictured Rocks from Lansing (via Elk Rapids) worth it, we had to camp more than just one or two nights. And so we needed to get as far away from the car as possible that first day so we could make our way back at a more reasonable pace. This makes sense, right? Right?
In my infinite wisdom, I figured that doing 12 miles the first day, rather than leaving the big hike for the last day, would be smarter. We’d be more energetic, fresher, more excited about hiking. Also, we would be without injury, pains, blisters, bug bites, etc. that might slow us down near the end of the hike.
So it was that I found myself trudging (it can’t really be called walking at that point) through the hardest terrain of the entire hike, glancing about now and then for a clearing we might collapse in should we fail to reach the campsite before sunset (or before one of us expired). During these four miles, which felt to both of us like far more than four miles and I’m simply trusting that the National Park Service isn’t lying outright to us all about the distances between sites, I had a little talk with God.
Now, I’m of the belief, first of all, that there is a God, that he can and does hear prayer, and that he is all-powerful. I reasoned with myself that God could, if he so desired, physically move the Coves campsite so that it was closer. He could make it appear around the next bend or up the next cursed flight of “stairs.” (Is it just me, or is it way easier to climb those inclines without the aid of stairs?) However, if some other person was hiking toward Coves from the east, and if that person was praying that God would move the Coves campsite closer to them, who would God answer?
God could move the Coves campsite, but I knew that he wouldn’t. What purpose would it serve? Nothing but my own comfort. And I don’t think that God is particularly interested in my own personal comfort. I know he is loving, but so is my father, and I can tell you there were times when Dad wasn’t terribly interested in my own personal comfort. (For instance, I would have been comfortable with a later curfew but I think he disagreed.)
So, I knew that, despite his love for me, God would not move the campsite. What then, might I say to God as I stumbled over roots and leaned away from the edges of sandy cliffs? Between my heavy breaths and occasional grunts I asked for endurance. I asked for the strength to make it as far as I knew I had to go that night. I asked that my sister, whose hip and heel were obviously in pain, would not be injured and would feel well enough the next day to hike again. I asked that he help us keep pace to make it there before dark.
You see, there are many struggles we cannot escape in life. God does not promise us a life of happiness and comfort. We do not deserve a certain level of prosperity simply because we are on this planet. We are not entitled to a certain level of education. We were not all born for great things. Most of us are just normal. Some of us will have health problems. Some of us will have trouble finding work. Some of us will do worse than our parents. Some of us will fail. But God doesn’t move the goals closer to us simply because we are weak and tired and in pain.
My husband and I recently had to explain to our four-year-old son that we will not let him win games simply because he wants to. We’ve been playing Sorry!, a game that is almost entirely determined by chance rather than skill or wit, and when the boy finally lost his first game, there were lots of tears. We had to explain to him that when people let you win, either by letting you cheat or making the game easier somehow, it doesn’t feel as good as you think it will. Winning because someone feels sorry for you is no victory.
In the same way, God does not make the game easier. He doesn’t move the campsite. But, if we ask, he may help us become a more graceful loser. He may give us the mental push we need to push through the pain and make it to Coves after all. We don’t grow when the bar is lowered. We grow when there’s no choice but to reach the goal as it stands.
We did reach Coves campsite before sunset. We pitched our tent, lurched down to Lake Superior to filter water, ate up some of the weight from our packs, and went to sleep. And the next day, though we were both very stiff, we started out. And you know, once you start walking again, you find that you really can do it. Your muscles stretch back out, your joints aren’t so angry with you anymore, and you can finally enjoy the scenery that you were silently cursing the night before. You can even laugh at the “stairs” which you must now traverse a second time.