Bears, Snakes, and Ticks; Oh My!

We are finally deep in the Shenandoah’s. A long-awaited visit to what many say is the prettiest part of the Appalachian Trail. The long stretch of Virginia is almost done. A place we will miss, with Its wild ponies, fields filled with cattle, it’s a lush green canopy and majestic views from places like Mcafee’s knob. On we march towards more of God’s grandeur and places, we have lived.

The wildlife we see surprises us every day. We see hawks soaring along the ridges. We pass by deer grazing in the woods. But we always alert for black bears, snakes, and ticks. They are the worrisome companions on the trail.

We have not seen any bears. We have heard then in the dark underbrush when we walked past. Black bears snort when they are startled, which is the sound we heard. It is distinctive and loud when they snort. Our good friend Mike encountered one while walking in Tennessee. He came around a corner and surprised a black bear just 10 yards away. He stopped and backed up slowly. The bear-sized him up and ran off. Another person we met, had his food bag opened up in the middle of the night, forcing him to break camp and walk 12 miles to Damascus in the dark. The bear meant no harm, just wanted his food.

Black bears are very shy and generally run away at the sight of humans. Attacks are very rare, about once a year in all of North America. Most of the attacks occur in northern Canada or in Alaska. Most of the human and bear interactions occur because of bears looking for food at campsites late at night. To prevent these hikers hang their food bag in a tree that has a branch 20 feet off the ground and 4 feet away from the trunk. It is quite a sight watching the hikers throw a rock with a rope attached to create the line necessary to hang the food bag. Everything that is food, used food wrappers and even toothpaste goes in the bag. Bears have a very strong sense of smell and are attracted to these smells. Apparently, they love chocolate! Doing food bag hanging prevents bears from stealing food and becoming habituated to human food. Bears that become habituated can become pests and sometimes dangerous.

While we haven’t seen a bear out here, surprisingly we have seen many while living in Asheville.  One morning while walking to Starbucks near downtown, I saw a bear wandering the streets. He spotted me after I saw him first, which made him quickly turn around and disappear. We often see bears while we are driving and have seen them playing in our backyard.

While bears are shy, they sometimes will stand their ground. In those cases, we have been given directions by the forest service as to what to do. First, do not run away, but back away slowly. If you are with a group, stand together, as bears have very poor eyesight and the group will appear larger. If alone, make yourself look bigger, raise your arms while slowly backing away.  There has only been 1 bear attack on the Appalachian Trail, but plenty of encounters. Our friend Steve, a former thru-hiker, says that he saw a dozen or so during his hike, but never was able to take a picture because they ran away to fast.

By not practicing safe food storage, hikers actually do harm to the bears. As they get used to finding food, they become habituated to human food. Making them more comfortable around hikers. In turn more aggressive and potentially having them being relocated or worse, destroyed.

Snakes pose a bigger problem, as most days we see one. They usually are sunning themselves on the trail and can be hard to spot amongst the branches on the trail. The most common snake we see is the common Garter snake. But we have had to walk around a couple of Rattlesnakes. Generally, they remain docile if we don’t approach to close and give them a wide berth. There are also Copperheads as well. They are less common and are principally found in the south. Being careful with snakes is important because we often see them miles from a road and getting bit would create a delay in getting proper medical treatment. Most encounters by us and fellow hikers are uneventful, as the snakes will only attack if they feel threatened. We always walk with our head down, helping us look for them, so as not to step on or scare the snake.

Ticks are the biggest problem for hikers, especially the further north we hike. It is inevitable that one will land on a hiker. So it is important to get them off quickly and coat clothing will a bug repellent called Permethrin. Each night we inspect ourselves for ticks. The ticks can carry Lyme disease and if not properly treated can cause serious medical problems. If you ask the hikers, this is their biggest fear. Statistically, ticks are the biggest threat, not bears or snakes.

Surprisingly, we crossed paths with a young male deer. The deer wasn’t alarmed at seeing us and stayed on the trail eating leaves. Despite our protestations, the deer wouldn’t move. No amount of noise could change his mind. After fifteen minutes or so, I carefully walked around him, closely followed by Connie. The deer, kept a close eye on us as we walked by, but showed no fear or anxiety. Later, I researched this behavior and found that with male deers this is not that uncommon. Hmmm, a new discovery found on a rainy day in Virginia.

We enjoy seeing wildlife. We have seen a Snapping Turtle surprisingly far from water. It bravely stuck its head out as we approached and was clearly not going to move. After a moment or two of looking at it, we walked safely around, wondering how and why it was at three thousand feet above sea level and far from water. We have seen a baby fawn with a broken front leg stumbling, leaving us sad and with no way to help. Later, we told a park employee of the situation and the exact location, hoping they could help.

Every day is filled with birds singing and whistling. A symphony of sounds filling the air. The chirping is ever present. Sometimes when we whistle, we think they whistle back.

There are always bugs that crawl and fly. The flying bugs sometimes bite, leaving us every day with a few welts. As time has moved on they become less annoying, as we have become resigned to their presence. We have bug nets when they get too bad. But we have gotten used to these unwanted guests.

Almost every day we see animals out here, we try to avoid disturbing them. Our only intent is to see and enjoy. It is their world we are visiting, we are guests. They add to our joy and the lessons we learn.

 

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit . . .”

— Luke 12:35

DRESSED FOR ACTION

On 9/11 two planes hit the World Trade Center, causing them to collapse. When they collapsed, thousands of lives were lost and our country was thrown into mourning. It was a great national tragedy. Not only were lives lost in the towers, but the buildings surrounding the Trade Center were crushed. One of the buildings was the Verizon communications center. In that moment Foot Locker lost its ability to communicate with our four thousand stores throughout North America. Immediately we were in a position of mourning for our neighbors and had lost the ability to run our business.

“Bill was always prepared and dressed for action.”

Bill Johnson, who worked for me and was in charge of our communications network, was ready. I called him by cell phone and asked him what his plans were for recovery. Bill informed me that he had already put his plan in place and by eight the next morning we would have full communications online again. This was classic Bill. He constantly surprised all of us with his ingenuity and thoughtfulness. Regardless of the situation, Bill was always prepared and dressed for action. As he had told me, the next morning our multibillion-dollar business was running normally.

“Jesus tell us, always be dressed for action and have our lamps lit. We never know what each day will bring.”

Jesus tells us to be prepared for anything. Jesus tell us, always be dressed for action and have our lamps lit. We never know what each day will bring. It could be joy or unique sorrow. But if we are to react well, preparation must be a lifelong commitment. Whether in our business, personal, or spiritual life, this should be how we think, live, and pray. We never know when an important event will occur. Each day is a day of possibility. Each day a sharp turn can occur. Jesus asks us to be prepared.

Two years later, the Northeast was hit with a major electrical outage. With it, our corporate headquarters went dark. We had many people stranded in our building who couldn’t go home. We needed power to keep them safe. I called Bill again. He replied, “My guys are reversing the power on the phone system and you can run the building off the battery.” It didn’t surprise me this time that Bill had the answer.

As always he was prepared.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Are we prepared spiritually?

What events have been sharp turns in our lives and were we prepared?

How do we prepare on a daily basis?

“And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again!’ And the fig tree withered at once.”

— Matthew 21:19

DO THE FRUITS OF OUR EFFORTS PRODUCE GREAT CUSTOMER SERVICE?

I was talking with the business manager of a large automobile dealership and asked him, “How many cars a month does your best salesman sell?” He replied, “Thirty a month, month in and month out.” I was stunned. That was almost one and a half each day he worked. Considering the immense amount of paperwork and government forms that had to be filled out for each car, it was even more impressive. The salesman’s name was Steve, and not only did he sell a lot of cars, but he always achieved very high customer service scores. I queried the business manager about how and why Steve was so consistent. His reply was that Steve’s steady business came almost entirely from past customers’ referrals. He had gotten to a point where he only had to provide good customer service and no longer needed to  make cold calls.

“The fruit of his efforts was a steady stream of loyal customers.”

Steve sent out birthday cards to all his customers. He advocated for them when there was a problem. He would take their cars and get gas for them. He knew everyone by first name. In short, he put his customers first. The fruit of his efforts was a steady stream of loyal customers. His fig tree bore fruit because he cared. Customer first and himself second was the only way to accomplish this amazing feat.

How many times have we felt like a salesperson just wanted to sell something to us to make his or her goals? How many times have we felt cheated because of an extra add-on charge? How many times have our interests been put last? We are left feeling used and just there for people to get our cash. Many of us walk away silently and never do business with that person or company again. The salesperson may have won that day, but lost a future customer and many referrals. For a short-term gain there is a long-term loss.

“Do we really listen to the customer or are we only interested in the sale?”

In today’s verse Jesus condemns the fig tree because it bore no fruit. It provided only leaves. Its purpose was to produce fruit, but it bore none. Many of us are guilty of this as well. We strive for that big sale. It makes our numbers good and our bosses happy. But silently we ignore the customer and in turn choke off our future. Our withered fruits become our reputation. Do we really listen to the customer or are we only interested in the sale? Would we continue buying something from someone like that, knowing we don’t come first? Jesus knew that good business is great customer service.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Do we listen to our customers or do we push our goals?

How many repeat sales do we get?

How do we show value to our customers?

The Appalachian Trail by the Numbers

There are some very interesting and amazing facts about the Appalachian trail. The trail was completed in 1938 and is considered America’s original long trail. Myron Avery was the principal driving force in its completion. His vision for the trail was for people to have access to a wilderness hike and to visit the many towns on its route. Today three million people walk on the trail each year; day hikers represent the largest group, section hikers who stay out for a couple of days to a couple of weeks are the next largest group, the smallest group are the 4 thousand who attempt a thru-hike and only one thousand or so complete the hike each year.

Each day the average thru-hiker completes more than a half marathon and climbs the equivalent of the Empire State Building, two to three times.

The trail is twenty-two hundred miles long. Totally climbing over its length is equivalent to submitting Mount Everest sixteen times or climbing a total of 87 miles. Every day climbs are the focal point. We try to schedule meals, rest and water breaks around the climbs. It is always best to climb early or when you have momentum. Climbing after a rest is hard, as lactic acid has settled in, creating lethargy.

The average time it takes to complete the hike is 165 days. We are on a 180-day schedule. Driving this average down are the elite hikers, who will complete the trek in under 120 days.

The average age of a thru-hiker is 27. Only one percent of people who thru-hike are over 65. By now we see less and less older hikers. When we stay at hostels it is very rare to see anyone our age. Plus most people we meet now are thin.

The highest point on the trail is Clingmans Dome in the Great Smokies at 6,643 feet. The lowest point is in New York State at 124 feet. From North Carolina to New England, it is rare to be above 4,000 feet. New England’s mountains are not as high as those in North Carolina, but because of the weather is far more challenging. On average, the tree line in New England is around 4,000 feet. Both Maine and New Hampshire have a number of peaks that are above the tree level line. In fact, New Hampshire has a stretch of above treeline hiking that is 13 miles long. Exposure to weather above the tree line is dangerous and the trail is very rocky.

The trail is maintained by 31 volunteer organizations, who put in 10,000 days of work every year. Without these volunteers, the trail wouldn’t exist. All of us that are hiking always make it a point to say thank you to any and all volunteers.

The trail is well marked and contains 165,000 2 inch by 6 inch white blazes painted on trees, rocks and road signs. Because of this, we don’t need a compass. The white blazes are painted so that you should always be able to see one. We have gotten lost twice, in both cases we figured it out quickly and after we backtracked we saw it was our mistake. We try to look for a white blaze frequently so that when we don’t see one, we check our map.

The average hiker burns 5,500 calories a day. Staying fueled is hard and requires a lot of thought. Each hiker develops their own unique system to eat. However, the average hiker still loses 30 pounds in 6 months. A thru-hiker goes through 4-5 pairs of shoes. We are on our second pair. Rocks do the most damage. Plus most hikers gain a size or two. My feet have gone from a size 10 to almost 12.

The trail crosses a road on average every four miles and shelters are placed on average every 8 miles apart. We are never far away from civilization. Plus there are almost always parking areas on the bigger roads. Allowing for day hikes and not having to camp out. You can hike most of the trail by just doing day hikes.

Only 25% of thru-hikers complete hiking in all 14 states in any year. More than half drop out in the first 500 miles. Those that make it to Damascus, Virginia (mile 470) have a 50 percent chance of completion. Those that do drop out after Damascus, drop because they experienced what they came to the trail to find. Some drop out because they ran out of money. Others get mentally tired of the monotony of hiking 15-20 miles every day. The people who drop out before Damascus are usually injuries or find that the hike wasn’t what they were looking for.

We are now in the Shenandoah’s and looking ahead to finishing Virginia. Ahead of us lies bigger towns than the ones we visited in the south. For us, this means more familiar places, near where have lived or visited.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“So God created humankind in God’s image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

— Genesis 1:27

IMAGO DEI

George  was raised in a wealthy home and went to Harvard. Instead of studying economics or business, he pursued a path of social advocacy. He eventually graduated with a master’s in Social Work. From there, with his wife, he started an organization called Street Squash, a program that provided inner city youth with access to college. The sport of squash was used to add an advantageous credit for the young people when applying to college, but it was not the primary focus of Street Squash. The students were provided with a place to go after school and study. They had tutors and visited college campuses. The goal was to create access for a segment of our population that needed a head start. George could have been a great investment banker, but chose instead a life of helping.

From his kitchen table George built an organization that has sent thousands of youth to college. And he has helped in the establishment of fourteen other programs throughout the country.   The graduation rate of students from these programs is substantially higher than national statistics. The youth from Street Squash achieve an almost 90 percent graduation rate. Without Street Squash, their chances were 15 percent. George only sees goals. He only sees that the youth are people. He knew that squash gave the students athletic content for their college résumés, and he knew Squash would help him with fund-raising.

“George reflects the Imago Dei, and his life focus is on helping, not labeling.”

Today’s verse comes from the book of Genesis and reflects the earliest statement from God on how humankind is viewed. We are all made in the image of God. Theologians call this Imago Dei. In today’s world of labeling from all corners,  people like George gets lost in the din of noise about racism, liberalism, conservatism, misogyny, and all the other labels we use to describe one another. Our news media encourages labeling because it increases viewership, which in turn increases revenue. All at the expense of the imago Dei. I know George and wish he was better known by others. George reflects the imago Dei, and his life focus is on helping, not labeling.

“There are no differences or labels from one to another when we think of people as images of God.”

In this time of great divide between all the various factions, it is important for us to reflect on what God means with the image of God. There are no differences or labels from one to another when we think of people as images of God. When we label, we diminish the intent of God. The solution to this great divide is turning back to God’s original intent and away from the commercialization of labels.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

How do we see people when we first meet them?

What does the imago Dei look like?

How do we feel when we are labeled?

Life Beyond the Trail

We are in the middle of Virginia, the longest state on the Appalachian Trail, covering 550 miles or a quarter of what thru-hikers have to walk. Gone are 6,000-foot peaks, replaced by many miles of relatively flat terrain of walking on ridges. While there are still peaks and challenges like the famed “roller coaster,” the mountains of Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee” are gone. The miles go by quickly now. Our legs are stronger and the terrain is easier.

By now we have noticed that walking the Appalachian Trail is a very different life. It’s greatest hurdle, besides injuries and illness, is getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. And getting used to not having the things of life that create a softer existence. Starbucks isn’t just a short walk away. The lure of TV and games on our electronic devices disappear, replaced by being in the wilderness. A soft warm bed is replaced by sleeping away from home.

Gone are those things that move us away from what our ancestors did on a daily basis. It wasn’t uncommon a few centuries ago to walk twenty miles in a day. The process of getting food wasn’t a visit to a supermarket but could take up an entire day. Simple things we obtain so easily off the trail require much more thought when you are between the lines of the Appalachian Trail.

Modern life offers a life of being comfortable. Seductively luring us into gravitating to the comfortable. We have our routines and not all routines are productive but comfortable. A far cry from setting up camp, making sure everything we need is in our backpacks. Or planning closely a hike that can stretch to fifteen or twenty miles. Thinking through the best source of water for the day. Almost every act between the lines of this trail requires intentional and purposeful thought.

But is also about how we treat others. Everyone we meet out here has a story. They come from many places and each person is special. Not just geographically, but in their life journey. We have miles to walk and taking this time requires effort. So what if we are 15 minutes later than our plan. It’s one of the habits we have to break. Perhaps it’s helping a young woman getting a shuttle to make a plane flight. Perhaps it’s helping a person find water. Perhaps it’s catching up with a person we haven’t seen for a while. There are a lot of warm “hello’s.” These intentional acts of being genuinely hospitable are what we want to bring back. We see the goodness of humanity out here and desire to bring that back outside the lines of the trail.

We know people in our lives that don’t have to hike the Appalachian Trail to learn this lesson. They are both self-motivated and driven by the circumstances of life to lead this life. Whether it’s Geoff and Bern, who both have demanding careers. Or Cathy and David, who are putting children through school and working hard for retirement. Or Lou, who runs three churches and is the Chaplain for multiple first responders. All of our children have lives that require them to get up at dawn and not rest until the evening.

Being purposeful is hard. On the trail, it is easier because you have no choice. There is no escalator to climb a hill or car to drives the miles you need to go.

Out here we have to make a plan and then do it. Halfway through our day, we don’t get the chance to say that’s enough. We have to move on to our endpoint. Obstacles pop every day, but we have to keep moving and they are overcome.

We have to have a constant eye on the weather, this might mean we have to quicken our pace to get away from a thunderstorm or on a sunny day enjoy a moment of the blissful beauty of nature. Every day we have choices and decisions to make.

Of all the things we have learned to this point, this is one of the major points. We debate how and what does this mean when we return to our normal lives? Can we fight off the distractions of a life outside the lines of the trail and stay purposeful?

We discuss this as we walk to create a life plan that makes life more purposeful. We will read about how others have made this transition. For us these discussions will involve items like; being more committed to our faith and neighbors,  figuring out how to be closer to our families and friends, and doing those meaningful things that give us and others joy.

This may mean we never have a house we call home but learning how to call wherever we are home. For me, it means continuing my work of helping others with their faith and daily lives. It also means being more committed to helping great organizations like TMF and UMDF. It means being more selective and deeper in what we work on and not spreading ourselves so thin we can’t really make a lasting impact.

It will mean doing good in all that we can. Avoiding those influences that will create negativity in our lives. With the rawness of walking this trail, we see the importance of this mindset. It is simple out here because you have no other choice.

We know we are so very blessed in our lives; we have both sets of parents in our lives, 4 children, 3 grandchildren, 23 nieces and nephews, 18 brothers and sisters with their spouses, and more friends than we could have hoped for. Focusing on our friends and family is part of living a more intentional life.

Making this all work in a meaningful way is our goal. It’s what we have been learning these last nine weeks. While always remembering, God has been good to us.

Our journey between the lines of the Appalachian Trail has changed from being about the numbers and miles to experiences and smiles. No longer caught up with those things of life that are unimportant.

The journey is what matters.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

It’s About the Smiles, Not Just the Miles

I saw him sitting at a diner, early one morning in Damascus, Virginia. He hobbled in with a cane and looked defeated. I could tell he was a hiker, he was wearing the rubber clogs we all wear and he hadn’t shaved in a while. His head was down and his eyes had no life. He was defeated.

I said hello and asked how he was doing. He replied, “I am done and going home.” Right there in the diner, he gave up his trek! The previous four days he had hiked over twenty-five miles a day. His goal was to get to Damascus and stay on his timeline. During the downhill stretch into Damascus, he hit some mud and fell on a rock. The fall plus the impact on his body from walking many miles that last four days were the final straws.

I knew telling him, he had just completed the hardest stretch for the next thousand miles wasn’t going to change his mind. I have seen this look before. It’s not just the fall and hard walking, he had no joy. His smiles were gone from chasing miles.

Early on we had been warned about chasing miles, by a former thru-hiker, Steve. He cautioned us to remember why we were hiking. To remember our goals and hike our own hike. Sure there are faster hikers and those that get caught up in imaginary rules. Our hike isn’t their hike or vice versa. This is our journey and our time. Their hike is their hike. Steve’s caution was wise. For this man, maybe forgoing a few miles would have prevented his defeat and allowed him to carry on many more miles.

We had three goals when we started. The first was to stay hiking for six months and visit all fourteen states. The second was to significantly increase our fitness. The third was to discover a simpler life.

To stay on the trail, there has to be joy. There has to be things that make the experience magical. Things like riding a bike alongside the trail on a perfect spring day and going by babbling brooks. Or seeing and being with the wild ponies on Grayson Highland. Or laughing when I went through the famed “Fat Man Squeeze” on top of Whitetop mountain. Or eating chocolate cake and a hotdog at a trailside cafe well before noon. These are the things that bring us joy on the trail. Off the trail, we absorb the life of the many small towns we pass through. There are so many things we have seen and experienced that now are irreplaceable memories. We know more are coming. Steve was right, it’s about the smiles, not the miles.

When we fall behind or have to help a daughter move. We skip the boring segments. We still stay on schedule, but always remember our three goals.

When we started we wanted to get physically fit. In just a few weeks that has happened. We have lost some weight, and we are much stronger. We do the hills and are now stretching our days out to around fifteen miles a day. We always laugh at night, when we look at the App on our iPhone that says we walked forty thousand steps and climbed over 300 floors. This seems unreal and quite humorous. We can now pass other hikers here and there, instead of always being the ones getting passed. We are making progress, but have much more to go with our fitness.

Having a simpler life just happens when you hike this trail and are committed to really disconnecting. We eat, hike and sleep, that’s it. All of our daily logistics center around, where are we sleeping? How are we getting there? Where is the next water stop?

Pretty much that’s our day. In the midst of all this, each day we see the wonders of God’s creation. We meet inspiring people. We visit the towns of rural America. We pat wild ponies. It’s enough for us.

I feel bad for the man who quit. He passed up too many chances to see the Rhododendron’s bloom. He passed by places with meandering streams. He missed the joyful things. He lost the joy that supports us on those days of trouble. He was slowly whittled away by the self-imposed rules that put his head down instead of up.

I could tell he was a good person. He loved his family and especially his three nieces. He is the kind of guy who you could trust. His moral compass was pointed north. He was stripped away by missing the point of being out here. It’s your own hike and your not competing with someone else. It’s about you and doing whatever you can to keep walking. To do this means making sure joy is part of your hike.

This journey is hard some days, much like life. But what would make it harder if we didn’t do those things that give us lasting memories? This doesn’t mean we don’t climb big mountains or try hard every day. It means stopping on a bridge and debating where the trout are in the river. It means hiking within ourselves and walking to the beat of our drummer. Just like in life, it’s hard to be great without joy.

Our Joy comes in looking back at the mountain we just climbed and being amazed that we climbed it to the top. Our joy comes with the people and places we see. It even comes just walking alone in our thoughts.

The smiles create the miles.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Climbing Peaks

We are approaching mile 600 and the big mountains are past us now. While many still exist, they are less numerous and generally smaller. It’s not until we hit New England will the steep climbs reappear. One of the sayings we hear a lot is, “Never decide to quit on a climb.” We certainly are aware of this temptation. Steep five-mile climbs are daunting and test our perseverance.

The toughest climbs are those that range from 2 to 6 in miles length. And it is the grade that counts. For instance, a 5-mile climb that only goes up a 1,000 feet is not too severe and can be handled fairly easily. The grade on this climb averages 2%. However, an ascent of 2.5 miles with an altitude gain of 2,000 feet is very different. The grade averages 16% on this ascent, with parts of the climbing hitting 40%!

During the first 500 miles, many days involved multiple climbs. Some days we ascended over 4,000 feet. Or equal to climbing the Empire State Building close to 4 times in a day. Without a doubt, climbing is the hardest and most discussed part of hiking the Appalachian Trail by hikers.

We plan everything around these ascents. We try to start the day with a big ascent. We plan where we eat or get a water based on the climbs we have to make.

The key to hiking up these big ascents is based on conditioning, weight, leg length and coping. The first three are obvious what is required. The better your physical fitness the easier the climb. Extra Weight with both the backpack and body will slow you down. Leg length is the length of a person’s gait. The longer the gait, the easier to climb. But coping skills are the key to any ascent.

Connie sings hymns when she climbs as her coping mechanism. I pray at the start and break the climb into manageable parts. The first steps are hardest! But as we keep moving it always gets easier. Part of coping is being patient with your pace. In other words, if it’s steep, naturally you will go slower, which is okay. Thinking about how much you have to go is defeating, it’s far better to stay in the moment and not worry about what’s left. Staying focused on what is directly in front of you is critical to coping. Even an inch can climb a mountain.

Hiking poles help a lot. Coordinating your steps with your hiking polls give you the opportunity to also pull yourself forward. Similar to cross country skiing, coordinating your stride and your poles is important. Effectively adding more power to your climb. This takes time and conditioning to learn, but once learned greatly reduces the efforts.

We also use smaller hills to improve our conditioning. For instance, if have a hill that’s less than a one mile climb, we try to keep our pace the same as if we were on a flat stretch. Attacking these smaller climbs in this manner, while exhausting, improves our conditioning for the bigger climbs.

When we first started, it could take us an hour to climb 1 mile on the steepest terrain, with many stops. Today, we can climb at 2 miles an hour and generally not have to take a break.

Pace is an important measurement of conditioning. On flat terrain with few rocks and roots, we can now hike three to four miles in an hour. Our pace slows on the steep climbs not just because of ascent, but also the obstacles, like boulders and roofs. Pace is also affected by the breaks we take as well. Breaks for rest, food and bathroom, slow us down. A good day is anything above two miles an hour. This is the average pace for most hikers.

When we do reach the top, it is surprising how quickly the climb efforts are replaced with a sense of accomplishment. And after 6 weeks of climbing on a regular basis, we quickly recover now. At the top we also quickly forget the struggle of the climb, our breath returns to normal and we move to the next segment of the hike. But always grateful for completing the challenge.

While we are glad the first 500 miles, with the big climbs, are behind us, keeping our climbing conditioning is important for the last 500 miles of this journey. New England is the last 500 miles and has steeper climbs than what we have done. As we move through the flatter part of the trail, we know that each climb is important in preparing us for the mountains of New England.

Climbing is a lot like life and faith. True accomplishments aren’t achieved without effort. We have found the more we climb, the easier it is. Not that the climbs aren’t hard, they are. But we have learned how to cope and the exhaustion doesn’t last as long as the joy is sustained. Our lives are like that as well. This will be something we take away from climbing.

So it is with our faith. We pray more out here and we see the work of God more often. We see it the natural beauty and how connected nature is within itself. We see events that at first seem ordinary, turn into faith messages. We have fewer distractions, which helps us be more immersed and observant. Climbing mirrors this, faith requires an investment that is a sustained effort. The more we look for God, the more we see God.

For us it is in the morning prayer we say at the beginning of each day’s hike. As well as the thankful prayers at meals. Also, with the daily struggles that we pray. We receive and see our answers throughout the day.

Climbing is hard but worth the effort. It makes us stronger. We get to see the wonders of God in person from lofty peaks.

We don’t like to climb, but we have to climb if we want to succeed.

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

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