Wednesday, April 9

Journey Even So

Dear Jacob,

After our first anniversary, Dad came home with a great idea. He said, "Let's go to Zion National Park and hike The Narrows." I think he had seen a photo of The Narrows hanging in my Aunt Bettye's house the day Granddad had passed away. It's a picture that would pique anyone's hiking affections: soaring striated canyon walls, a glint of sunlight on the shallow creek below, clear water running over tumbled rocks sometimes ankle deep, sometimes higher. The Narrows was a strange and wonderful sandstone gully that seemed to be the seat of serenity.

When he spoke it aloud, all his creative forces began to compose a trip that we'd never forget, as if he were God on creation day three.  Dry land + water + trees.  Done.  We went on a shopping spree for a cooler and hiking packs and water shoes as we grew more excited for our shared experience. When July 27th hit, we gassed up Dad's truck, took off toward Vegas (In N Out!) and made it to Zion by mid afternoon.

Two thunderstorms came rolling through that first night. The first was full of lightening and thunder and we laid in our little two-man tent and counted the seconds between them. We debated what the rule for lightening was: do you or don't you want to be under a tree?  The second storm was just a quiet rain that went on and on and on, proving our tent's watertight newness. While the rain didn't leak through, the condensation inside was dripping on us by morning which sent us to the campground laundromat after sunrise.

After we reset our camp, we ventured out hiking nearly a thousand feet up in the Hidden Canyon Trail. We descended, shared a lunch and then prepared for what we'd come to do. It wasn't until after lunch that we drove up the Riverwalk Trail and finally hiked into The Narrows. This was the anticipated trek of our trip. We'd waited months to stick our feet into the Virgin River, to feel the refreshing air rushing to smooth the walls. The weather could not have been more perfect. The sun came out but we were cool moving through the fresh water, working over slick sandstone. In the end, it was a walk through a beautiful canyon, but the going was slow and slick and it made my feet hurt. We were glad to have done it, but three hours later we were glad to be done.

After an evening enduring bee stings and a finger burned on the lantern cover, we awoke on the day in which we hiked into the unexpected. We chose a trail that wasn't in our itinerary, we'd only read about it the day we arrived and noted one particular word:  strenuous.  It might have been more suitable to begin this one at day break, but by ten o'clock we were on our way to Angel's Landing.

At an elevation of about 5,700 feet it was pretty demanding for we, the coastal newlyweds. It drew us in with its gradual shady beginning, but once we were invested it wasn't just hard, it was vertical. We stopped and dug out lunch and trail mix from our packs, trying to conserve our water. At this point, in the heat of the day, we considered turning back. We had far to go, but we determined to press on and were discouraged to discover that the summit was a false one. When you arrive at the top of Angel's Landing, you haven't actually arrived.

I stood from what was actually Scout Summit and gaped at the final leg of the hike, a narrow, uneven trail with chain-holds directly over a sheer cliff drop. It has probably, at some point, been the hazardous setting for some madman like Bear Grylls.  Dad was the brave one. I sat at the summit with all the other chickens and prayed for his safety, but Dad has a spry confidence and after about 40 minutes he returned unscathed.

The thing that drove us to Zion was a cool hike through a river where we could touch smooth sandstone aged by the wind. We went seeking a tranquil, playful hike where great photographers capture light and depth and contour and curve. We didn't go seeking challenge. We went seeking peace and joy in the midst of God's wonderful world. We found what we were looking for and it soothed and satisfied us.

But the hike that changed us was the one we weren't expecting. The experience that we most remember was the harrowing one, the unbelievable one, the one with danger written along its edge. All these years later, I discover that the one I wrote about in my journal wasn't the long anticipated hike into a river wonderland.  The one I gave the most space to was the hard one, and that's still where my amazement remains.

When Dad and I took you boys to Zion a couple of years ago, we started to venture into The Narrows. Forgetting just how far from the trail head the actual canyon is, we turned around at your request without ever showing it to you.  But you all could clearly could see Angel's Landing from the window of the car, that place where your parent's fears were confronted, our confidence tested, our endurance proven.  It was the place where I saw great steadiness in your dad and where my respect for him grew in mass.  We'll never forget it because we'll never be the same.

You'll make plans for a cushy kind of a life, but it will never turn out like that. Even that beautifully prepared hike left me with pummeled heels, nagging hips. Satisfaction in your life won't come from the easy occasions. Fulfillment won't be handed to you on a breezy perfect summer day. The sense of being who you've always been designed to be comes after years of following hard after that image in your head, the one that's grafted onto your heart, that speaks from within. The days of labor will produce the sentiment, not the days of luxury. The surprises shape you.

Plan to experience beauty. But tell the hard it's beautiful too.