We are arriving in Roan, Tennessee, mile 395. Another great small town on the trail. We have had many moments of wonder. The joy of climbing up another mountain, amazing vistas, the serenity of being on top of Max Patch, and having a nap alongside a bubbling creek. There are many moments of joy from being surrounded by God’s glorious creation.

By now the trail is less crowded and many have dropped off. We don’t judge those who have quit the trail, because they have already encountered and accomplished many great things. As Teddy Roosevelt once said, “It’s not the critic that counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the diet of good deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the person in the arena.”

Being out here you appreciate this quote. Those who leave, leave not because they quit, but because of unexpected circumstances. There are many things that pop up along the way that can wear you down; weather, injuries, illness, lack of money or the pull of home. It is hard to climb two or three peaks in a day. It is hard to scramble over boulders. It is hard to trip and fall, once again.

Weather is a constant companion that needs to be watched carefully. Hiking in the rain, wind or cold makes for a long day. While many days are sunny and the trail gleams with the life of spring, thunderstorms, wind, and the cold spar with those who trudge on. A shelter may be many miles away.

Injuries pop up, not just from a single incident, but from the repetitive use of muscles and tendons. Some leave because walking long miles outstrips their bodies ability to recover. Perhaps it is blisters that won’t heal or maybe a knee that got twisted and couldn’t recover. The most common injury we see is knee pain, caused by the steep downhills. Knees that got wrenched from an ill-placed step. Or perhaps some unknown structural issue that pops up on a four mile downhill littered with roots and rocks, creating pain that prevents sleep.

Illness is a constant prey, waiting for an unsuspecting victim who forgot to wash their hands. It comes in the form of a Noro-virus. Many of the hikers at some point get sick because of this constantly lurking ailment. It takes up to four days to recover. Some have to leave because of this illness. Personally, we avoid shelters and tent to avoid disease. Even with this precaution we still caught the Noro-virus.

Many, particularly the younger hikers, run out of money. Unexpected problems pop up and require money to resolve. Perhaps a failed tent or an ill-fitting backpack, all of which requires money to fix. Perhaps a freak snowstorm and freezing temperatures that force us to go to a hotel.

When we are away for 6 months our families, friends, and home are far away. There are weddings, funerals, and illnesses that can be missed. The events of our families create homesickness and obligations to return. For some this long period of being away doesn’t create a need to go home, for others they have no choice.

Many focus on the miles and not the adventure. Focusing on the miles can be daunting and overwhelming. They miss the babbling brooks, scenery and people. Focusing on the miles is a mindset brought to the trail from the outside. Creating an adventure is missed with this mindset. Sure we are proud of ourselves when we walk fourteen miles or make one last late day climb. But there is so much more to experience than just checking off the miles walked. Our friend Steve, a former thru-hiker, told us that those who worry about the miles fail to finish. Just walking the miles isn’t enough to overcome the hardships. The experiences keep you on the trail. Every day is a new day with a new blessing.

It would be easy to judge those who leave, but those of us who are left know how hard they worked. From the third day climbing Blood Mountain and it’s soaring heights. Followed by an extraordinary descent over boulders, we know what they accomplished. Getting to the 100-mile mark requires climbing 20+ peaks in a period of 8-12 days. Perhaps camping out in below freezing weather. By mile 100 they have tumbled and had a significant fall.

In our minds, those who were in the arena have tried. They haven’t failed, they have experienced.

We march on knowing something new is down the trail.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

A MEMORIAL TO RONALD SANCHEZ FROM THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL

Late Friday night on the Appalachian Trail, May 10th, Ronald Sanchez was stabbed and died while trying to stave off an attack by a psychologically impaired man. The attacker’s name is unimportant. In the late hours, after a long hiking day, four people were harassed by this not to be named person, eventually leading to Ronald Sanchez’s death and a woman being left critically wounded.

Importantly, Sanchez was a veteran that suffered from PTSD as a result of serving in Iraq. Ronald had decided to hike the trail this year to help cope with PTSD and his ongoing depression. Known on the trail as a shy man, but exceedingly polite. At home in Oklahoma, he was thought of in the same way.

His sister in an interview reflected on her brother and his attempt to recover from the effects of serving in Iraq. He came home and became divorced. Struggling to try to fit in he joined many sports clubs. He rode his bike with a riding club in his hometown. He was a member of the local Dragon boat team. He participated in local events as a way to overcome his natural shyness.

He was fit and strong for the age of 43. He used athletic activities to break out of his shell and recover from PTSD and depression. His sister stated his death was devastating to those back home in Oklahoma. Having survived a number of stints in Iraq, it is ironic that he met his demise in the country he defended.

While much has been written about the events that led up to his death. We feel that it is more important to recognize who he was as a person and to ask for prayers of comfort for his family and the woman wounded with him. The woman, not yet identified, is going to survive, but likely scarred for life, both physically and emotionally.

We are saddened by this gentle person’s death and in our minds struggling with why this had to happen. It doesn’t add up. So we turn to prayer for his family, his soul and the woman. While we would love to do more, this is the best we can do. Perhaps letting others know more about the victim in some way honors his life. Perhaps creating a few more prayers of comfort for his family and the wounded woman.

It has been harder to hike the last few days knowing about these events. We are a little more suspicious about those we meet. We have reviewed our own self-protection plans. We won’t be sleeping outdoors for a while. We will be wearing the letters R and S to honor Ronald.

We know others of this wonderful hiking community feel the same. For the group of thru-hikers of the class of 2019, the hike has changed. It will be forever remembered by the death of Ronald Sanchez.

Our joy of being surrounded by God’s creation lifts our spirits. Our being part of this wonderful community of hikers, who are gracious and giving of themselves, restores our faith in humanity. Particularly over the last few days, all we have met have shown their goodness. Like a man we met whose trail name is, “The Rev”, his gentle spirit is symbolic of whom you meet out here.

It is still hard reconciling how a gentle and kind man, whose goal in hiking this trail was to recover from the effect of serving his country, died. Our hearts are broken for those he left behind and the woman in recovery.

We know we are supposed to pray and ask that others pray for those who were affected by this tragedy.

We ask that those who know about this tragedy, say a prayer for Ronald and the injured woman, in Jesus’s name.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life and there are few who find it.”

– Matthew 7:14 (NRSV)

TAKING THE NARROW ROAD

In business and in life, it’s the little things that make a difference. Many of us in business do what we think we should do or are asked. For some reason it doesn’t work out as well as we hoped. Inevitably it takes longer and there are a few more things to do. It is in this spot where we have to decide between quality and quantity.  Do we finish our task because time is telling us to move on or do we dig deeper to resolve those nagging feelings? This spot reminds me of a quote by Orson Welles who said, “The enemy of art is time.” It is here  that we have to decide if we are to move on or eliminate obstacles like time. Great art or great business decisions require quality not quantity. How often do we say, “I can’t do any more” and move on? It is this decision that separates greatness from just being good.

The founders of Airbnb were struggling, they were running out of money and homestays were not coming as they had planned. Everything had been thought out. The website was built and the homeowners discovered. A few customers had caught on, but gaining traction at the rate they had hoped wasn’t occurring. It was here that the founders stepped back to figure out why. They decided to step back and talk to many customers and homeowners to identify how they could get better. They stayed in people’s homes and interviewed customers. The founders manned the helped desk to find out more. What they discovered was that a traveler wants more than just a place to stay. They wanted to experience the city where they were staying. In turn the founders expanded their efforts to create a five-star experience in every stay. They made their site easier, became more accommodating to the home owner and began suggesting places to visit when you arrived at your destination. As we all know the  Airbnb business took off. They tried one more thing, they dug deeper into the customer’s needs and discovered another level. They didn’t quit – they stepped back.

“Through just a little more effort we unlock the solutions to our faith and business lives.”

Jesus implores us both in our faith and business lives to work harder, to take the narrow road. Jesus points to a path that is harder than what we want to do. Like a good coach, Jesus is telling us try just a few more things. Pressing on we discover around a turn a deeper level of understanding. Through just a little more effort we unlock the solutions to our faith and business lives. Instead of just being busy, we become successful. Jesus asks us to dig a little deeper and we find a life we desire.

“Jesus suggests we avoid becoming slaves to our to do lists and focus on what counts and worry about quality.”

For many of us, we are pressed for time. Our to do list piles up if we tarry too long on a project. We are besieged by an endless list of tasks. Jesus suggests we avoid becoming slaves to our to do lists and focus on what counts and worry about quality. Jesus wants us to trade off the trivial for the important, to avoid distractions and not stop until we find the answer that settles our souls. Many times, it is around a corner that looks steep and hard. But when we take the time and find it, life becomes revealed and we are for the moment contented. We no longer feel defeated or harried. We have climbed a long hill. To rephrase Orson Welles quote, “The great enemy of art is time.”

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

How many times in our lives do we stand at a place where all things seem lost? These times of distress are inevitable and will visit all, both the weak and the mighty.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

– Matthew 11:29 (NRSV)

FOLLOWING JESUS TO A NEW IDENTITY

My friend Bill, who left the corporate world to help the poor for the Catholic church in the northwest part of the United States, called me in distress. He had left a well-paying job in the corporate world for two years to help those less fortunate. Upon his return he was finding it hard to find a new job. Many interviewers didn’t understand why he left and many were put off by the fact he was sixty. He kept meeting dead ends in all his searching. Confused by doing good and then being rebuffed had created a crisis in his life. He didn’t need the job for money, he just wanted to belong again.

His self-esteem plummeted and he began to feel worthless. His searching kept leading him to disappointment.

Over the next two years, he searched for a place to work. He prayed on a regular basis. He even went away for a week to a retreat center looking for his answer. He wanted desperately to belong again. His self-esteem plummeted and he began to feel worthless. His searching kept leading him to disappointment.

We talked on a weekly basis at an appointed time and during these, I would often probe him about why a job in his old world was so important. He would reply, because it was his identity. For years he had worked hard to provide for his family and built a wonderful resume. But now he had lost that ability.

He kept waiting for Jesus to answer his prayer of finding him a job.

During these two years, Bill would still help others. In fact, he helped a group of Nuns create a shelter for pregnant women. Many days he put in many hours painting and fixing. Within this community he found acceptance. But not what he wanted, he wanted to go back to his old life. Often times I would tell him how much I admired his caring and giving efforts to others. I would relay to him that when I told his story to other people, they became amazed at his giving nature and life. For two years, this wasn’t enough for Bill. He kept searching and not finding. Eventually, he decided to become an EMT, while he waited for a new job. He kept waiting for Jesus to answer his prayer of finding him a job.

Typical of Bill, he was one of the best students. In spite of some physical limitations he was able to stay up with the younger people in his class. He began to thrive. Many times, I would get a text from him, “I can’t talk tonight, I am going out with my classmates.” I was used to this, as many of the people I help, eventually find their answer and move on to their new life. It is a very familiar process. They search and then they find their answer.

Later, in one of our final conversations, Bill relayed to me that he had prayed for an answer many times. But he kept looking in the wrong spots.

Later, in one of our final conversations, Bill relayed to me that he had prayed for an answer many times. But he kept looking in the wrong spots. The answer to what was his identity, didn’t lie in the old spot of the corporate world, but in helping make the world a better place. Jesus had been answering his prayers, he just hadn’t paid attention.

Jesus asks us to take his yoke. Jesus reminds us that he is “gentle and humble of heart,” and that his yoke is light. How many times do we all pray for something that we want, but Jesus gives us something different. A life plan that soothes our soul and gives us meaning. Many times, it is about following a new path and away from the familiar. A path of uncertainty, but on this path, we become guided by a “Gentle and humble heart.”

Bill is peaceful now and I miss our weekly calls. But I am happy that Bill is on path of giving.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

We are arriving in Roan, Tennessee, mile 395. Another great small town on the trail. We have had many moments of wonder. The joy of climbing up another mountain, amazing vistas, the serenity of being on top of Max Patch, and having a nap alongside a bubbling creek. There are many moments of joy from being surrounded by God’s glorious creation.

By now the trail is less crowded and many have dropped off. We don’t judge those who have quit the trail, because they have already encountered and accomplished many great things. As Teddy Roosevelt once said, “It’s not the critic that counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the diet of good deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the person in the arena.”

Being out here you appreciate this quote. Those who leave, leave not because they quit, but because of unexpected circumstances. There are many things that pop up along the way that can wear you down; weather, injuries, illness, lack of money or the pull of home. It is hard to climb two or three peaks in a day. It is hard to scramble over boulders. It is hard to trip and fall, once again.

Weather is a constant companion that needs to be watched carefully. Hiking in the rain, wind or cold makes for a long day. While many days are sunny and the trail gleams with the life of spring, thunderstorms, wind, and the cold spar with those who trudge on. A shelter may be many miles away.

Injuries pop up, not just from a single incident, but from the repetitive use of muscles and tendons. Some leave because walking long miles outstrips their bodies ability to recover. Perhaps it is blisters that won’t heal or maybe a knee that got twisted and couldn’t recover. The most common injury we see is knee pain, caused by the steep downhills. Knees that got wrenched from an ill-placed step. Or perhaps some unknown structural issue that pops up on a four mile downhill littered with roots and rocks, creating pain that prevents sleep.

Illness is a constant prey, waiting for an unsuspecting victim who forgot to wash their hands. It comes in the form of a Noro-virus. Many of the hikers at some point get sick because of this constantly lurking ailment. It takes up to four days to recover. Some have to leave because of this illness. Personally, we avoid shelters and tent to avoid disease. Even with this precaution we still caught the Noro-virus.

Many, particularly the younger hikers, run out of money. Unexpected problems pop up and require money to resolve. Perhaps a failed tent or an ill-fitting backpack, all of which requires money to fix. Perhaps a freak snowstorm and freezing temperatures that force us to go to a hotel.

When we are away for 6 months our families, friends, and home are far away. There are weddings, funerals, and illnesses that can be missed. The events of our families create homesickness and obligations to return. For some this long period of being away doesn’t create a need to go home, for others they have no choice.

Many focus on the miles and not the adventure. Focusing on the miles can be daunting and overwhelming. They miss the babbling brooks, scenery and people. Focusing on the miles is a mindset brought to the trail from the outside. Creating an adventure is missed with this mindset. Sure we are proud of ourselves when we walk fourteen miles or make one last late day climb. But there is so much more to experience than just checking off the miles walked. Our friend Steve, a former thru-hiker, told us that those who worry about the miles fail to finish. Just walking the miles isn’t enough to overcome the hardships. The experiences keep you on the trail. Every day is a new day with a new blessing.

It would be easy to judge those who leave, but those of us who are left know how hard they worked. From the third day climbing Blood Mountain and it’s soaring heights. Followed by an extraordinary descent over boulders, we know what they accomplished. Getting to the 100-mile mark requires climbing 20+ peaks in a period of 8-12 days. Perhaps camping out in below freezing weather. By mile 100 they have tumbled and had a significant fall.

In our minds, those who were in the arena have tried. They haven’t failed, they have experienced.

We march on knowing something new is down the trail.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“Go out and stand on the mountain, before the Lord . . . and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence”

— 1 Kings 19: 11–12

HEARING THE SHEER SILENCE OF GOD

A friend of mine, Bob, was in the process of selling an important asset. The sale would be a crucial part of his future and success. Bob was determined to be a good seller. To not hide anything from the buyer and provide the buyer with a product that exceeded their expectations. Bob responded faithfully to all the buyer’s requests and went further than his lawyer or broker expected him to go. But the requests didn’t end. After each obstacle was resolved, another popped up. A meeting was scheduled between all the parties to find a clear path to resolution.

“He prayed for God to give him the wisdom to make the right decisions with his business and to help his wife.”

The day before the meeting Bob’s wife announced that the doctor had found something during her checkup that needed a radiologist’s opinion. The appointment with the radiologist was scheduled at the same time as my friend’s important meeting. His wife told him to go to the meeting and she would be okay. Bob felt besieged. How can I ignore my wife? But how can I secure our future? He prayed throughout the day. He prayed for God to give him the wisdom to make the right decisions with his business and to help his wife.  Then he went to the meeting and his wife went to the radiologist.

During the meeting, there were many questions. Tough questions. My friend answered them all honestly. At one point the broker for the buyer became unrelenting. Bob felt a spirit of resolve fall over him and became quietly serious. Normally Bob’s mannerisms were friendly and engaging, but now he became dead serious and firm. Looking firmly into the eyes of the buyer’s broker and without hesitation he stated firmly and in a quiet tone, “If there is a problem, I will pay to have it resolved. It is what I have done to this point and will continue to do.” He left the meeting wondering about his wife and at the same time about the state of this important sale.

“A wave of joy overcame him. While Bob had waited in silence, God had answered his prayers.”

At home he sat in his favorite chair and waited in silence. A short time passed and he got a call. The broker said, “It is done, you have done everything and had no more to do. The sale is going forward.” Shortly after, his wife called and stated that the radiologist had found nothing serious and she would need some minor medical attention. My friend rested. A wave of joy overcame him. While Bob had waited in silence, God had answered his prayers. No great bell was rung, no fireworks,  the quiet winds of life had brought his answer. Life was back in balance.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

How many times in our lives do we stand at a place where all things seem lost? These times of distress are inevitable and will visit all, both the weak and the mighty.

“. . . just as the son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

— Matthew 20:28

SERIOUS AND FOCUSED ON BEING A SERVANT

I remember him from early in my career. Don was the CEO’s chief assistant. I also remember that he never used the power of his title to accomplish his tasks. When he came to a meeting to discuss an item, he was focused and serious. Don’s goal was resolution: How could he help? Over time he was sought out by all of us for help. He was calm, insightful, and asked good questions. He knew his role, to help the company. Seldom was the solution about him; his only concern was solving the problem.

Don helped us get many things done. His contacts and relationships could broker many solutions. His reputation transcended the title he owned. His day was spent going from meeting to meeting. Sometimes one-on-one meetings, sometimes large meetings. Don waited to hear everyone’s point of view. His solutions came in the form of questions. He would say things like “What would you think if we did this?’” or “How about trying that?” Don could go anyplace in the company and be well received.

“Jesus knew his role, to help humankind and ultimately to pay the highest price for humankind.”

Notice in today’s verse that Jesus refers to himself as the son of man, not the boss of man. This perspective of servitude opened many doors for Jesus. Jesus knew his role, to help humankind and ultimately to pay the highest price for humankind. All of his activities were serious and focused on this goal. Throughout his short period of service, three years, he touched many. He performed miracles. He healed the sick and comforted the poor. Overtime, his reputation grew and became sought out by others. Jesus developed a great reputation.

His reputation was so good, Jesus could borrow a donkey for entry into Jerusalem. For his final staff meeting called the Last Supper, he was able to secure a room at no charge. In fact, his burial tomb was given to him by a rich merchant. His actions of service got many things done and, as with Don, allowed him to go into many places.

“When we serve, where are our hearts?”

When we serve, where are our hearts? Are they set to help or express our desires? Do we have a clear view of our true role and do we stay focused on that role? When we do, doors open up. Not all will agree with us, but all will welcome us. In the marketplace, producing honorable results should be our primary goal. Each of us has a role to play in this, and when we stay within that role we succeed. The hardest part is remembering we are a servant in our roles.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

When we work, does it have to be our way?

How do each of us serve in our work?

How do we search for the common good?

One of the most frequent questions we get is, “What do you eat?” Well, we eat a lot and often. Keeping the body fueled is almost as important as drinking plenty of water. Generally, the average hiker carries two pounds of food for every day between resupply. Some carry as much as a week, our most has been five days. Plus, we have learned to carry an extra day of food to prevent running out, which we have heard of and talked to hikers that have had this happened.

For us, we eat five times a day. Our first breakfast is either oatmeal or breakfast flats. After we have hiked for a couple of hours we have a second breakfast that consists of Belvita biscuits. These biscuits give us another two hours of fuel and taste great. Lunch is usually beef jerky, raisins, and trail mix.

Our midday snack is a Snicker Bar! This is the highlight of my day. The commercials are true about Snicker bars, they really do give you extra energy. We usually save this to eat just before a steep climb. Other hikers eat Skittles or Starburst for this extra energy. If we walk past five, we will have another snack before we make camp.

Dinner in camp for me is the same as lunch. Others boil water and pour it into a prepackaged meal. While prepackaged meals taste great and provide a lot of calories, they contain a lot of sodium. Cooking also adds time to set up camp, which can take an hour. Many hikers send their stoves home and eat those things they can out of a package.

We eat a lot because we burn a lot. If we hike thirteen miles or so, we have expended well over five thousand calories, including the amount the body needs just to survive. Some hikes burn as many as eight thousand calories in a day.

It is hard to eat this many calories and most of us suffer from a deficit. So when we hit the town, we crave burgers, fries, and beer. Some hikers look for, “all you can eat buffets” and have three to four plates.

Being older hikers, we have to be careful about what we eat. Our bodies don’t process food as well and we are far more susceptible to hypoglycemic reactions. For older hikers, walking on an empty or poorly fed stomach will show up. Causing irritability and fatigue. Early on we discovered this and had to adjust. Now we never hike for more than two hours without eating. We make sure we get a healthy balance of carbs, fat, and protein. Maybe we won’t eat the French fries in town, trading it off for Brussel sprouts.

We admire the younger hikers, who order hamburgers with four patties and fries covered with bacon and cheese. I am always so envious of what they can eat. I draw my line at beer, and always have one when we are in town. The twenty-year-old’s eat whatever they want and still hike many miles the next day.

Try as hard as we can, we still lose weight. We met one hiker that had lost twenty pounds in four weeks. The average at this point of the trail is around ten pounds.

The issue with food is also with the weight you have to carry. Thru-hikers discuss their backpack weight in terms of total weight and base weight. Base weight is the number of pounds for everyday items; like sleeping bags, clothes, tent, electronics, and personal hygiene items. Our base weight, including the weight of the pack, is around twenty pounds.

Total weight includes food and water. If a hiker is carrying seven days of food and two liters of water, this adds eighteen pounds; four pounds for the water and fourteen pounds for the food. Bringing the total pack weight to between thirty-five and forty pounds. A very heavy pack!

We don’t carry that much, at most five days of food and usually only a liter of water. So at most for at least one day we carry around thirty pounds. As we eat our food and drink our water the pack weight goes down considerably, almost to the point where we feel like we aren’t carrying any weight.

We don’t carry as much food, because we are in towns a lot. We have the resources to be in town more often and love visiting these small towns. We don’t carry more than a liter of water, because there are many streams to replenish and we love the break.

Most hikers resupply when they get into town, but some have a person who sends them food via the post office. Before they left they created twenty or so packages that they have a friend mail to a designated town.

Others of us visit the local grocery store. So far, we have found that this is easy and most stores have what we need. In general, the stores in these towns know we are coming and are well supplied with hiker food.

Eating on the trail, for some is an event much like at home. They break out their portable stoves and enjoy their meals. For others, it is a functional necessity to stay fueled. On the days we hike, the key is to eat often for the fuel. On the days we are in town, to the goal is to store up calories.

The stoves people cook with range from small homemade cans surrounded by a windscreen. A little white alcohol fuels the can and creates enough heat to boil water. Some have very fancy Jet stoves that almost instantly boil water. The trade-off in the stoves is the simpler the stove the less weight. Because we like to keep the weight of our packs down, our stove is simple and small.

Food is important on the Appalachian Trail and many hours are spent learning and discussing what works and what doesn’t. We all develop our own method over time and find out what works.

We pray over each meal, thanking God.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman