Living by faith includes the call to something greater than cowardly self-preservation.
― J.R.R. Tolkien
I am convinced there is but a slight, thin line distinguishing bravery from stupidity. I discovered this new-to-me reality while backpacking in the Aspen Snowmass Wilderness five years ago, and I was acutely reminded once again.
This past weekend marked our fifth Girls’ Backpacking Weekend. I approached the trip grateful for the distraction from social media discourse and news. I knew I needed to be unplugged and undistracted with little to do but stare at gorgeous vistas and cook processed food in a bag, sleep on the ground, and watch raindrops pool on the tent surface. I approached with a tired mind and body, but a grateful heart, knowing the time would be restorative.
Our first day’s plan involved an upward climb for around five miles, with a final 1.3 mile switchbacked push to a high mountain lake in the Never Summer Wilderness. Our complete route led us on a circuit along the Continental Divide for 19 miles over three days. A doable distance in our allotted timeframe.
The beginning of each trip is always the worst. As packs are at their heaviest point, bodies are awakened by the shocking forty pound surprise. Hips and knees ache, shoulders wear, spirits wane, but nothing a short break with laughter, food, and meandering conversation cannot cure. About four miles in, before the final set of switchbacks we were deposited onto a gravel road (a bit of a disconcerting sight when one feels they’ve worked hard to get to the middle of “nowhere”). After a nourishing snack and potty break, we consulted the maps and proceeded to the final finish. Encouraged and buoyed by a sense of accomplishment and impending relief, we commenced the slow, upward trudge.
The steep trail was evident at the beginning, but soon we discovered dead end upon dead end. We persisted, not knowing what we didn’t know, following closely the stream and the corresponding topographic lines on our maps. We soon wandered off the trail, without realizing there never was a trail in the first place.
Oftentimes we do not know what we do not know. Humility is an important companion whether we find ourselves backpacking the Colorado Wilderness or embarking on a new career, choosing to start a family or planting a church. So little is certain, risk and faith both stalwart hallmarks of difficult decision making. And we stumble upon a place, one where we did not imagine we would be and we wonder: Am I being brave or just stupid? Am I an idiot or a pioneer? We cannot know until hindsight emerges.
We maintained our bushwhacking theme for a couple hours, climbing up and over downed logs, scaling rocks, believing the next rise, the next crop of trees, the next meadow was our lake. This was not to be the case. But what we did encounter, where the lake should have been was a breathtaking glacial meadow, dripping with wildflowers, and bubbling streams, underneath the majestic North American Continental Divide.
With worn bodies and addled minds, we chose to set up camp. After consulting our maps, seeing where we went wrong, we realized we perfectly navigated ourselves to the wrong spot. The beauty bid us to remain, to rest, to replenish. So we did. In paradise.
Whether we find ourselves skirting that line between bravery or stupidity, we are never out from under the purveyance of God. We are held, seen, known despite our frail and misguided attempts at navigation. Perfection is an inadequate expectation. We can experience the failure knowing our care is not in question.
I’d like to say I settled in, drank in the lusciousness of our camp, and I succeeded some, but the concern and what-ifs remained close at hand, tempting me to succumb. And I did.
We have not had a perfect backpacking trip yet. Nor do we want one. The obstacles create the memories. The setbacks give us fuel for our reminiscing. The uncomfortable lends us to our strength. Our resilience is born from the wrestle. Our pride and laughter emerge from the difficult. All of it commingles into a random stew which produces exhilaration, exhaustion, and exquisite gratitude.
We navigated the wrong path with stellar precision. We did not fail, we achieved a new knowledge and confidence, a new experience, a glorious memory – for us.
The next morning as the rain threatened my resolve, we climbed out. With the stream once again at arm’s length, we plowed down the mountainside with abandon, a sense of urgency and yearning for that gravel road. After hoisting ourselves over the thousandth downed tree, peeking through the foliage, a patch of gray. Our road! We whooped, hollered, and hugged – relieved beyond words. We were found.
This, my friends, is the way of bravery. We get lost, we screw up, we navigate an unexpected course, we alter, we question, we become discouraged. This is not wrong. This is human. Somehow, someway the miraculous happens and the product is a spectacular memory alongside a new dose of humility and wisdom, discernment and gratitude. We know how bad it could have gone, yet we remember – it didn’t.
So whether you find yourself on an unmarked trail or in the middle of one of life’s many detours. Please remember how beautiful you are, how held you are, how glorious – as you are.