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

“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

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

THE PEOPLE OF THE TRAIL

We have arrived at Hot Springs, North Carolina. 150 miles of rugged mountains to go before we hit Virginia. This tough stretch includes days where we will climb over 4000 feet many days. Not until thru-hikers get to the White Mountains is the trail this difficult.

We have stretched out our hiking miles and hours per day. We have been achieving 13+ miles a day and walking 8 or so hours a day. While it may seem slow, you can’t really walk at a pace that you would walk if you weren’t on the trail. There is rocks, roots, steep climbs and steep descents that slow you down. The average hiker without breaks averages 2 miles per hour.

When you walk you have to keep your eyes on the trail or you will trip and fall. The trail is littered with exposed roots and rocks. Plus we have 25-30 pound backpacks that slow us, but also make our balance more difficult. Any slip, the backpack acts in a way that accentuates any off-balance activity.

In bad weather, the older hikers have an advantage over the younger hikers. Older hikers have more financial resources and can head into town for safety. But the younger hikers have fewer resources and many times have to stay out in the weather. The younger hikers also have less money to buy food, get gear repaired or have the luxury of a going into town for dinner. They walk a much harder trail.

Every day we meet new people or get to catch up with people who hike in our wave of people. When we go in town we meet people that own or work at places to stay. These places are B&B’s or cabins. Theses modern innkeepers do everything, from making breakfast to giving advice on where to go or important aspects of the trail in their area. The hardest part is leaving. You meet these people and become friends with them. But know you have to move on and when we walk out their doors of hospitality they are gone from our lives.

In one B & B, we met Steve and Maggie. Steve completed his thru-hike in 2010. Even today, almost 10 years later he remembers many of his days on the trail. Past thru-hikers like Steve give you information that you won’t find in the books you read.

For instance, Steve confirmed what we found. That socio-economic status has no weight on the trail. Your relationships are based on who you are as a person. Hiking this trail has nothing to do with your life off the trail. It’s all about helping, caring and treating others with respect. There is no privilege on the trail.

Steve also reminded us to avoid rules and counting miles. That each hike is very personal and a common phrase is, “hike your own hike.” In other words, it is our hike and not someone else’s. Nor is it ours to decide how others should hike. We are all on our adventure. It’s the adventure and people you meet that are most important. Miles don’t count in the journey, it is about your individual day and who you meet.

Steve is right, do whatever it takes to stay on the trail. Walk the miles you are comfortable with and don’t worry about if others are faster or slower. By now, statistically of the 3000 or so hikers who started, over 50% have dropped out. We see smaller numbers on the trail. Steve’s theory is that people drop because of not being focused on the adventure. Instead, they focus on the wrong things and they are too impatient with rules, their own abilities and find they can’t live a life where the rules are different every day. In other words, if you can’t hike ten miles that day, rest! If camping out every night isn’t good for you, go into town.

As we go, we find we have to be creative in how we walk. While we have plans for each day, we have to adjust to terrain, weather and how we are feeling that day. That means some days we walk longer than we planned or other days quit after 6 miles.

Along the way, we have discovered many other wonderful people like Steve or Mike. Some on the trail or others in town. But one thing we discover every day is kindness and faith. On a particularly cold, windy and rainy day, we had decided to hunker down at Steve and Maggie’s B&B. Maggie had gotten a call from a “Lady Bug” who wanted to hike but stay that evening with Maggie and Steve.

Steve told Lady Bug that he wouldn’t pick her up at her planned destination but at a much closer and safer location. This meant Lady Bug wouldn’t be hiking very far that day.

Steve knew she wouldn’t make it and was worried about her safety. It turned out Steve was right. When Lady Bug arrived she was in the early stages of hypothermia. She was shivering and soaked from the rain driven by winds that reached 60 miles an hour. Steve had rescued her.

When Lady Bug settled in and was warm again, we got to know her. A woman of grace and tenacity. Her faith was out in the open and clear. This is the one surprising thing we have found about the trail. People of faith talk about their faith. Not in a way that is commanding or demanding, but how their faith affects them.

Lady Bug later told us she saw the same thing on the trail. It’s another rule from the outside that doesn’t exist on the trail. Off the trail, back home, we are told not to discuss our faith with others, because it can be volatile. But on the trail, you need your faith. Simply walking is a demonstration of faith. We are advised to walk as if there is a string pulling us up from heaven. Both a practical suggestion to have good form, but also a statement of the importance of faith.

We have also met the Ozark Mountain Boys. Yep, they are from the Ozark’s and live a different life off the trail. Each night they build a huge campfire and invite others over to share stories. They are the community social butterflies. They say hi and welcome all. In the world away from the trail, they are part of “the deplorables.” They may not have a college degree, but they love their wives and children, know about the woods, have strong faith lives and are inviting. In this world they are kings.

Each day, I see God at work in our lives. In the trail as God’s creation, by the unusual events that occur, but mostly in the human capacity to be extraordinarily kind to each other. People talk about their faith without any insistence to see things their way, but with thankfulness.

Steve, the Ozark mountain boys, and Lady Bug are people you meet on the trail. We have and will meet many others. We are all equal and the mountains we climb don’t differentiate between who we are outside of the woods. You go up hills like everyone else. These hills don’t care who you are off the trail.

The people of the trail carry their home on their back and learn what is most important, fellow humanity.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God”

– Matthew 5:8

QUIETING OUR HEARTS

Saint Augustine, one of the church’s early leaders, said, “Our hearts are unquiet until they rest in God.” A powerful statement from a man who in the first half of his life engaged in much debauchery. He was a great lawyer and orator in his early life. His fame was so widespread that he was recruited to go to Rome to teach aspiring students about oratory, reading, and philosophy. During this period of his life he was in constant pursuit of the “truth,” while engaging in a life of sin. Encouraged by his mother, he met Bishop Ambrose in Milan. Through these meetings Augustine discovered that he was on the wrong path to truth. In a garden in Milan he heard a child’s voice that he felt was the voice of Jesus, and knelt to accept Jesus as the truth. From this point he became a bishop, and he went on to become a key figure in firmly establishing the church.

“Jesus asks us to not give in to our personal power, but to our hearts and the existing human desire to do good.”

Today’s verse is one of the Beatitudes delivered to us by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus tells us in this verse to have a pure heart. A heart led to do good. One that avoids the temptation to give in to our fears, desires, and schemes. A heart that reaches outward to our neighbor. A heart that has faith in God. A heart that endures momentary losses and looks to the future. A heart of hope. Jesus asks us to not give in to our personal power, but to our hearts and the existing human desire to do good.

A friend of mine named Donna talks about this state of being as it relates to her business. After a difficult period early in her life that involved alcoholism and challenging times with her parents, Donna found Jesus. She took her savings and bought a building, and broke it up into small offices to start an “office share” business. Competing against bigger companies, she has over time built a successful business that includes numerous other buildings and many customers. She let go of her fears and thrived. At the various crossroads of this amazing story of revival, she focused on two things. The first was to make ethical decisions;the second, to listen for God’s direction. She tells me that over time at each of these crossroads, the decisions got easier and her business grew.

“If our hearts are God-centered and faithful, we will survive and more likely thrive.”

Jesus asks us to trust our heart and follow its direction. There are times when our hearts appear wrong or we are beset with worry. If our hearts are God-centered and faithful, we will survive and more likely thrive. Decisions that are made with the wrong intentions, however, will nag us in the future. Sleeping and our overall sense of being improves when we act with a pure heart. The momentary losses that sometimes stand in our way will disappear over time. Our hearts will become quiet and not restless.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Do we incorporate God in our decision making?

Do we fret over decisions we have made?

Can we make hard choices?

TRAIL TOWNS

We have left the Great Smokie Mountains, National Park. Foiled by weather through two significant weather events that closed the roads to the park over the last week. The recent storm has left the roads closed for three days. An experienced hiker in the Smokies relayed to us that the weather has been extraordinary and the worst he has seen in 25 years of hiking. Some days the winds have blown well over 50MPH. Our comfort level is below 35MPH. Because there is little in terms of “bailout” points, we are moving on and returning to the Smokies in the fall to complete the miles we missed.

When we were able to hike in the Smokies, we were treated with spectacular vistas and wonderful hiking. During this time we reached a 6000-foot peak and slept at over one mile high. Thankfully we were able to get into town just hours before the roads closed. However, many people weren’t as lucky and got stuck up top. Some had to huddle in the 3 sided shelters or in the two public bathrooms that are on the mountain. We read the tweets from these people and prayed for their safety.

This puts us at mile 241 and headed to Tennessee. There is a term used on the trail called “hiking legs,” which means you can walk effortlessly for many miles. While better, we are still a few weeks away from having them. The younger hikers have them now and are starting to do 20 mile days.

One of the unexpected joys has been with the Trail Towns. Generally, they are spaced 20-30 miles apart. They offer a chance for a shower, laundry, food resupply, and a warm bed. In March and April, a bubble of thru-hikers appears in these towns. They are ready for us and very welcoming.

Getting to know and visit these places has been a special part of our journey. We meet the shuttle drivers who take hikers from the trail into town. Sometimes the town pays for the shuttle or other times a local church runs the shuttles. There are also paid shuttle drivers and having their phone numbers, which we do, increases our flexibility. The paid shuttle drivers charge about $15 a person. These drivers work most of the year shuttling hikers, both thru-hikers and week-long hikers. This is how they make their living.

All the towns have places for hikers to stay, ranging from hostels to B&B’s to Holiday Inn Express. When we stay in town we are recognized as thru-hikers. Even if we see people we haven’t met on the trail, they invite us to dinner. All the town people know what we are looking for, whether it’s the Post Office, supermarket, outfitters or innkeepers. They know how to help us and most do it with a smile.

These towns are closely knit and each town person knows the next. In one case a shuttle driver took us to the Post Office in Fontana, which is only opened from 12-4, and proceeded to have a fifteen-minute catch-up session with the person working at the Post Office.

We go to the Post Office in each town to move our “bounce box” along. A “bounce box” contains those items we don’t need for the next week and if you don’t open it the Post Office moves to our next stop for free!

The supermarkets stock what hikers like, such as Beef Jerky, Belvita Bars, breakfast bars and trail mix. Most of the places to stay have a laundry facility where we wash our 2 sets of clothes.

All the towns have that one place to get a great hamburger, french fries, and beer. We don’t worry about our diet, we crave calories. By now most hikers have lost 10-15 pounds and need to eat more.

The towns we have visited are, Blairsville GA., Hiawassee GA., Franklin NC., Fontana NC. (Population 7) and Gatlinburg TN. Small towns that represent the best of small-town America.

I asked one person, “What is social life like in town.” They reply it revolves around our church.

Churches abound in these towns and beside faith development, they also provide social support, shuttles, free breakfast, and trail magic. It is like going back in time when churches were the hub of a town.

When Myron Avery, the visionary who helped create the Appalachian Trail, first thought on the trail he wanted it to run through small towns. His goal was not to just hike but experience the diverse communities that existed. His belief was that a real trail experience was both in the hiking, but also in meeting people off the trail. Now that we have been out for three weeks, we understand his goal.

During our time in Gatlinburg, we met Mike. When we were in the Smokies and decided to bail out, Connie had called a shuttle driver who agreed to meet us at one of the two parking areas in the Smokies. We arrived early and met Mike. He was also looking for a ride down. So we offered him a ride. Eventually while standing and waiting, two other people needed a ride and came up.

People that were passing through kept asking if anyone needed a ride and received rides. Around 5 it was just the two of us and Mike. We went into town together. Over the two days we were in Gatlinburg we hung out with Mike.

Mike was thru-hiking as far as he could go until August. Mike looked like a mountain man, long silver hair pulled back in a ponytail and a wonderfully full beard. Mike was hiking for the same three reasons we were hiking. To become a better person with friends, physically change through hiking and grow spiritually.

Mike understood that “it’s not about the miles, but the smiles.” He was enjoying meeting new people, testing his body and looking for meaning in the woods.

Mike has slept in a tower by himself at Albert Mountain and watched both a sunset and sunrise. He walked slowly at first, but over the last few weeks has worked his way up to 10 miles a day.

He has no idea how far he will walk. But his deadline in August 31st and then go back to his life. He is one of those people who have many friends and knows many people. He will be a friend to us long after we have all left the trail.

His faith is very simple, be moral, help others and search for God. His faith is more communal than specific. He is still trying to grasp God and why God exists. He is in the investigation phase. We gave him our views and pray that it helps.

Mike smiles every day and laughs loudly.

Mike is one of the many people we meet and get to know in the trail towns.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

MILESTONE ON THE TRAIL

This week we passed two milestones that are important in providing a sense of accomplishment. We left Georgia and entered North Carolina. The first big test of any true hike! Then two days later we got to the 100-mile mark. While small for the entire journey, they are huge for our confidence. By now at least 25% have dropped out. Hitting these marks at least told us we were accomplishing something.

The trail is both hard and eye-opening. For us, the climbs are acts of patience. The younger trail hikers storm up the mountains and we plod along. Walking with measured steps and creating benchmarks to hit on the way up. In doing this we make the 1000 foot or more climbs manageable. Sometimes each tenth of a mile is hard and that is all we can focus on. When we get to the top, we replace patience with joy. Another peak climbed. Each one gives us more confidence.

We are also seeing that life can be very simple. Sometimes our entire day is just walking, setting up our tent, and eating. In this simplicity, we see what is important. Life boils down to food, water, and shelter. But for us to be happy, that is all we need. It is fun to walk with each other, Connie and I alone for most of the day just discussing our daily goals, life, our friends, our daughters and where we are going. The days are simple and fun.

The only thing we get anxious about is where our next water supply will be. Learning to never pass by a stream close to the trail. It takes fifteen minutes to get water. We must filter, put in our electrolytes and make sure we know where the next water source will be.

At each stop, we have to be very disciplined in making sure we leave nothing behind. We always take one final look before we leave. We have heard this is so very important. In fact, we heard about a person losing his tent. Everything we carry we have to use every day.

At night in the camps or shelters, we find people. Sometimes a dozen and sometimes forty, just setting up their tents, having dinner and then socializing. A wonderful community of people who help and provide each other support.

The younger people go faster than us and some do twenty miles in a day. Some are faster than us but walk the same ten to twelve miles a day we do. We are slower, at 65 I can’t walk as fast as the twenty-year-olds, but we walk longer.

When we venture into town, we see a different world. People going to work and living lives. Many very ordinary people just living life. In the trail towns, they care for the thru-hikers.

As thru-hikers, we are very recognizable when we are in town. We wear clogs in town. The men are unshaven. The women wear bandanna’s or scarves on their heads. We all have the same clothes on from yesterday. We buy food for the next few days and rest our legs. We are minor celebrities and the town people accept us and help us.

The stories of faith keep appearing on the trail. On a tough climb this past Sunday we met Pippi Rambo, her trail name. A very large woman in her twenties that walks slowly because of her size. But every day she comes into the camp, maybe a few hours after everyone else, but she arrives.

On top of this mountain, we talked on this Sunday morning. Pippi told us that she was tired of being an inspiration to others. Because of her very large size, people come up to her and tell her she was an inspiration. She doesn’t want that; she just wants to be a thru-hiker. And she is.   Being an inspiration isn’t why she hikes. She wants to be normal and nothing more.

She is a quiet Christian, who recoils at overly zealous evangelicals who told her she must proclaim her faith every day. She is shy and doesn’t want that. She just wants to love God and help others. That is her way of proclaiming, not talking just doing.

I reminded her of the Good Samaritan that Jesus talked about. How two proclaimed pious people walked past an injured man. Even to the point of walking to the other side of the road. Followed by a person from Samaria and a different community, who helped tend to the injured man and provided him with safety. For me this was an example of our Christian attitude, we should have within us, doing versus saying is the essence of faith.

We left her with a closing comment that she was a good person. Typical of Pippi, she said we were as well.

On another morning I sat down with a man for breakfast. He had intended to hike last year. But five days before he was supposed to leave his wife came down with pancreatic cancer. His next nine months were spent nursing his wife, who died this January.

He told me he had seen things with her death that no person should ever have to see. But dutifully he fought alongside her, despite the inevitable.

He was a shaken man; over the horror, he saw and loss of a thirty-five-year companion. As we talked the emotions of that year came out in the stoic man.

Grief is a difficult companion. It knows no appropriate behavior. It let’s go slowly and comes in the nights of life; creating anguish and teardrops. It prevents a life of normalcy and its only purpose is dismay.

But slowly the tears will go away, each drop of anguish replaced by the grace of God. Until that sunny day where memories replace the grief. No one knows the time. But in a perverse way grief will heal him.

We left each other, with me praying in Jesus’ name that he would heal on his thru-hike. Perhaps a place of respite from his awful companion called grief.

We live life in segments and milestones, surrounded for a few days by wonderful people. Then we move on never sure how to say goodbye.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman