This is my Father’s World, to Share

We have crossed over into the northern part of the trail.  We are excited to be in more familiar lands. Looking forward to the many places we have visited in the past. We have now been in nine states and walked well over the eleven hundred mile mark. We have also found a new sense of joy and an added purpose to this walk, to share this world with others.

Friends and family who have expressed a desire to see and experience what we have seen. To try out the climbs and cross milestones with us. To see the changing states and walk by the mile markers of each one hundred mile marker.

Into this world, we invite them to hear the birds singing praise, dine with other hikers and experience God’s creation in person. While this sharing will slow our progress, it also provides us with a new and added reason to walk. To share “Our Father’s World.” It is the joy in their eyes we will see. For them a new sense of nature. It reminds me of a song I often played on my piano, “This is my Father’s World.” Whose lyrics are:

This is my Father’s world
And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres

This is my Father’s world
The birds their carols praise
The morning light, the lily white
Declare their maker’s praise

This is what we see and feel every day. It is now our turn to share. From old friends to daughters and grandchildren to brothers and sisters. A special joy will be felt when we see my parents and walk a few steps with them. Sure we will have to adjust our schedule, but it also provides us with a chance to share. Other hikers we have gotten to know will march forward on their glorious journey of discovery, while we share.

We will share and be glad we did.

When Myron Avery helped create the Appalachian Trail, he wanted to create an accessible place for people to visit, even if it is only a few miles. A place that is pure in its expression of the beauty that is nature. A place that all, young and old can see. We now have this chance to share in this dream. A journey not measured by marching many miles, but a journey of experience. Exposure to a place that changes our perspective of what is important.

We look forward to being with, Bern, Taylor, Kenny, Doug, Chrissi, Luke, Ashley, Roger, Ann, Bob, Dot, Jimmy, Penny, Greg, Betsy, Spencer, Nevin, Anna, and Eva. These are the people we hope to see. They won’t slow us down, but give us a chance to share.

Our first companions were Chrissi and Kenny.

Connie’s twin sister and her husband. It was a treat to have Kenny, a professional pastor, say our morning prayer. We taught them how to climb a mountain without stopping for a rest. With a steady pace that was within their ability, by using short steady steps. In this day they covered a variety of terrain that is similar to our typical day. They got to experience the wonder of majestic views. They were with us when we crossed the 900-mile mark. We had lunch on a rocky outcrop that provided views of the Shenandoah’s. At the end of the day, we were proud of what they had accomplished and glad to have shared.

The picture today is one of Kenny and Chrissi, at the outcrop where we had lunch.

Below is a picture of Luke walking with Papa Bruce.

Luke, my grandson, and Ashley my daughter have also come to visit as well. In this visit, we were able to walk a few miles on the trail to a rock outcrop with views of the Shenandoah valley. A visit where Luke reached beyond his fear of heights to see this glorious view and show his dad by FaceTime his achievement. Moments which we get to share that reshape our journey.

 

 

 

 

Below is a picture of Bern and Connie.

Our most recent visitor was Bern, a long and dear friend. Bern walked with us in Maryland and West Virginia, near Harpers Ferry.  Bern was with us for the start of the rocks that are strewn across the paths on the northern part of the trail. In two days Bern covered 18 miles of tough terrain, climbed a 1300 peak and was there for the walk into Harpers Ferry while crossing the Shenandoah River footbridge. An amazing feat on Bern’s part.

This is not a typical event on the trail.

It is hard for visitors to maintain the same pace of hikers who have walked many days. But sharing is now part of our journey. One we will enjoy, helping others share in what we have seen. Our hiked morphed long ago into one of experiencing the trail and not just walking the miles. We met people much earlier in the hike who told us they wished they had experienced more in their thru-hikes. They wished they had stopped a few more times to see more than just the miles. Some have returned, like Magellan, who hiked the trail in 2016. He told me this second journey was not about time tables or the miles. Later this summer he will join his son in Maine to climb Mount Katahdin.

We welcome our visitors and thank them for helping create a wonderful experience. This trail is for all to hike and experience. These are visits to “Our Father’s World.” Moments that immerse people into the glory of creation.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

The Geology of the Appalachian Trail

We decided to take a one week vacation from walking the trail. After arriving in Pennsylvania, our seventh state, we found our knees worn out and suffering from our third sickness. We will be skipping the rocky terrain of Pennsylvania and moving up to New Jersey to stay on schedule. We will come back to PA in the fall.

In just a few days of resting, we found ourselves missing our trail life and having a defined daily purpose. We missed the other hikers we have grown to know and the simple daily existence. But we found our ankles and knees were sore from the daily grind. Before we took our mini hiatus we had walked almost 14 days in a row. Mostly finding rocks that litter the trail.

We had been told that when we hit Virginia that the trail got easier. Certainly, the climbs were lower and our legs were much stronger. But we kept asking ourselves, “when does Virginia get easier?” The further north we walked, the greater the number of rocks and large boulders. Slowing our pace and creating unwanted falls. One day, in particular, we had to descend a half mile rock fall. A steep drop where each step had to be strategically thought out. It made me wonder, why the difference in terrain conditions versus the southern part of the trail.

In my research, I discovered why.

It wasn’t that the trail was less maintained, but by the geology of the trail. The Appalachian mountains are close to five hundred millions years old. Some geologist claim they are the oldest mountains in the world. They are four times as old as the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada’s.

Erosion and glaciers have reduced the size of the Appalachian mountains over these many years and created the steeper up hills and down hills. The average grade on the trail is over two hundred feet per mile, while the Pacific Coast and Continental Divide trail are far less, at over one hundred feet per mile. While the Rockies are higher and its largest peaks are fourteen thousand feet high, the trails are graded to handle livestock movement. As such most climbs are no greater than 11%. Whereas on the Appalachian Trail, many climbs are 20% in total with some sections reaching 40%!

So while the highest point in the Appalachian Mountains is Mount Mitchell at 6,600 feet, the steepness of the grade is the difficulty. Added on to this is the many years of erosion and the effect of numerous glaciers.

The erosion in the southern part is not as severe as the northern part, as the glaciers only reached the Ohio Valley. Their effect was to remove the topsoil and leave the rocks. Many of the rocks were pushed forward during the many ice ages. When you look at the topography of the Appalachian Trail on a map, which we did in Harpers Ferry, you see the Appalachian mountains are wider in the south and generally much higher.

The northern two states, Maine and New Hampshire, have some high peaks but are generally a thousand feet smaller. What these two states do have are much steeper climbs. In many places the climbs are over a thousand feet per mile, making both the ascent and descent hard. Even experienced hikers slow to a pace of one mile per hour.

Virginia Discovery

What we discovered in Virginia was not an easier trail, but a different trail. Our new obstacles were granite rocks that were left behind from the erosion. We also discovered the ridges were narrower and the valleys more fertile. Farms dotted the landscape and on some days we even walked through farms.

As we entered the three states of West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, the rocks became more frequent. The boulder fields were longer and bigger. In the southern part of Virginia and Tennessee, we could easily walk well over 2 miles an hour, or the average speed of the typical hiker on the Appalachian Trail. We actually slowed going north to just at 2 miles an hour. While not as exhausting as the steep climbs in the south, our hiking is more technical. Each step has to be carefully watched.

What we have learned is not to trust the small rocks, they will move and cause you to roll your ankles. Connie discovered that looking for the big boulders and charting a course among them was far easier. When the rocks are wet, they are greasy and rounded or sharp rocks need to be avoided or a slip and fall will occur.

So while we were told, when you hit Virginia the trail gets easier, we did not find this to be true. Sure the climbs weren’t as high, but the walking was harder because of the rocks. While our legs are much stronger, our walk is more measured.

We missed the trail and have returned this week. We needed the time off, to rest and let our knees recover. Our lesson we learned, is to be more careful with what we try to accomplish. To be more careful in planning out our days. To bring to the trail more from the outside, like friends and our other interests. A blending of the outside world with trail life.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Weather on the Appalachian

No day starts without knowing the weather when you hike the Appalachian Trail. Recently, I was sitting on the side of the road at a trailhead waiting for a ride. The rain was hard and soaking everything, causing temporary streams to flow in front of me. My pack was covered with my rain cover and I had my rain jacket on. Those parts not covered got extraordinarily wet. My shoes filled up with water and my pants completely soaked. Trees couldn’t protect me, it rained hard. Still, as the water dropped off my cap, I was peaceful and admiring the gift of water. I was comfortable in an uncomfortable spot.

I had checked the weather before I set out and knew it would rain about the time I finished. Sure enough, it arrived as predicted. I was glad I had seen the weather report because the trail was very rocky that day and rain would turn the rocks into a slippery obstacle. A place no hiker would want to be.

It was good that I checked the weather. I knew what was ahead that day. For us, we have walked into and out of the seasons. Many times the weather is different below in the valleys, then at the top of the mountain ridges. So we use the Appalachian Trail weather report. As we walk and the seasons change, we also change our daily preparations.

In hiking the trail, you experience all four seasons; late winter, spring, summer, and fall. At the start, you walk through winter for a few weeks. It’s biggest weather threats are cold, ice and snow. There are days that are delightful in the late winter, any temperature above 50 with no wind or rain is ideal hiking conditions. But we had those nights of cold, where sleeping outdoors is hard. Any exposure of skin was uncomfortable. Early on in our hike, we walked in a gusty wind with temperatures just below freezing, that caused the ice on the trees to pelt us like an unseen machine gun. We had to flee the Smokies just before an unforeseen winter storm, where winter reminded us of the unpredictable nature of its season.

In the spring, we got to see the trail turn from a stark brown to a colorful green. At first, we saw it coming in the form of flowers emerging and in the valleys below that turned green. Slowly it came up to the mountains, day after day. Until one day all the flowers had bloomed and our world was green. Winter doesn’t give up easily and the spring weather will diminish for a few days until it finally takes hold. Hiking in the spring is wonderful, with its just right temperatures and its soft gentle breeze. We no longer had to wear three layers of clothes, on many days walk with only one shirt. The arrival of the newness spring brings excited us and became a tapestry that got more complete every day.

Summer brings warm weather, humidity, and late afternoon storms. The summer causes us to drink more and Gatorade becomes an elixir. The hiking pace slows and requires more stops. The heat and humidity drain our bodies of fluids, causing lethargy that is only solved through good hydration. Summer caught us by surprise. Late in the Shenandoah mountains summer arrived. Humidity and temperatures above 85 became the norm. Some days were above 90. Our only protection was our green tunnel and easier climbs.

Every day we discuss the weather and the forecast. We try to schedule rest days on rainy days. This is not always possible. On the days it rains the trail gets very greasy. Stepping on rocks is like stepping on ice. The ground itself causes us to slip. Cold rain is dangerous and if we aren’t protected, hypothermia can set in.

Every day we look at the weather on the Appalachian Trail site. We have found it to be more accurate than the local weather. The site focuses on the mountains and is arranged by state and shelter. For all of us, it has become the most valuable tool.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

The Green Tunnel of the Appalachian Trail

We are closing in on Harpers Ferry or the emotional halfway point of the Appalachian Trail. While the real halfway point is Duncannon PA., for all thru-hikers this is the point we all have strived for. We have been through the mountains of the south and survived the longest state, Virginia. Behind us are the cold winds of early spring.

Now we all head north. Some will drop off at Harpers Ferry, but most continue. Those that are left on the trail now know what they are capable of and know what they need to do to complete this trek.

The trail is now fully grown in and the one color we see every day is green. The canopy we walk under is green, making it feel like we are walking through a green tunnel. This canopy protects us from the sun and keeps the lighter rain from getting us wet. From the trees we hear birds whistling, communicating through song to each other. They are our constant companions.

On the sunny days, the color of green is vibrant in its many hues. The brooks flow down the hillsides, making the soothing sounds ranging from a rushing roar to a soft babble of a slowed stream. On the mountain tops, the wind blows softly most days adding a cooling respite.

The spectacle of nature surrounds us. In this, we see the handiwork of God’s creation. Even on rainy days, we are still surrounded by the glory of creation. Everything is green, making us more aware of the importance of being good stewards of the land. It is on these days when walking isn’t a chore, but a dream fulfilled.

By now climbing is far easier than it was many weeks ago. Instead of dreading steep multiple mile climbs, we embrace them. The downhills are still tedious, not because we can’t navigate the rocks and roots, but we still have to be very careful with foot placement. We have learned to take shorter quick steps on the downhills and have learned how to place our feet just right on rocks.

Our hiking companions during the day are smaller in numbers and a much younger generation. They are like hiking Ninjas that move gracefully up and down hills. They are fit and on a mission. We see them and then they are quickly gone. We admire their strides and youthful gaits. While we are faster and stronger, they move much faster.

We make up for a slower speed with a steady cadence and hiking in much longer stretches. Usually catching up to others at rest stops.

Each day we look for just the right lunch stop. Striving to find a fallen tree to sit on by a flowing stream. Or perhaps a group of rocks in a shaded grove. These are the moments we strive for during our hikes. Places that offer an interlude, to see all of God’s glory. These are not things we can buy, but places to search for.

Over time we have become trail angels, we leave Gatorade at trailheads, buy other hikers dinner when they are in town or perhaps give a person a ride into town. These things give us joy. A chance to share our resources and honor these soldiers of the woods, those that march every day in the lush green tunnel.

We are turning north now and headed for Maine. A place of my youth, where friends and family will begin to join us on the trail. Giving us a chance to share this wonderful grandeur with those we love.

Ahead lie the mountains of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. We will visit New York, where the trail comes so close to New York City, that on a clear day it can be seen from the Bear Mountain bridge. We will walk along the trail in New Jersey, our home for almost two decades. We will be in Massachusetts, where we met a young woman two years ago coming out of the woods, who unknowingly started the dream to walk this trail. We will begin the long walk into fall and towards our third season, fall. The green tunnel will turn into a collage of brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges. The days will get colder and shorter.

This tunnel has become a place that we love. A place that has strengthened us physically and mentally.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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

“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