Wisdom in the Woods

This past weekend, I went camping. Despite growing up in the Boy Scouts, I haven’t been camping in about 5 years. College afforded me many adventures, but not many of them were spent in a tent. It was great to be back outside! There is something very ethereal about the great outdoors. Rather it’s laying under a sky full of starts or staring longingly at a crackling fire, the wilderness stirs our senses and reminds us we are alive.

But a funny thing happens when you don’t get outside as much. You forget. You forget how to breathe at altitude. You forget how quickly hydration leaves your body. You forget how fast the sun burns and how delicate your nose and ears are. It turns out, your first camping trip after a few years off can be a bit rough.

The toughest part of this trip came during a hike. My buddy Jack accompanied me this weekend and we decided to spend Tuesday hiking around Jefferson Lake. As we drove from our campsite to the trailhead, we stopped in a gas station to confirm our map was correct. The young girl behind the counter said that it was but that the road to Jefferson was still closed for snow. She said we’d be able to get most of the way up, but that the last gate was probably still shut. We could park there, but we’d have to walk the last mile up the road to the lake.

That’s exactly we did. Parking the car, we started the climb. The first hundred yards or so went okay. After a few minutes, my hamstrings started to tense. Soon, the tension became cramping. I could feel two biting Charlie horses forming in my calves, but I kept walking. As the energy left my legs, the air started to escape my lungs. My little draw-string backpack felt like it was pulling me to the ground, and the sweat seemed to be pouring off my forehead.

About every five minutes, I asked Jack if we could stop to stretch. In truth, stretching was only about 10% of my motivation. Breathing and resting was the remainder. After about our third or forth “stretch stop” I told Jack, “Why don’t you keep going, and I’ll go wait for you at the car.” I was solidly out of shape and hadn’t felt so exhausted in a long time.

We have days like this in life, don’t we. Days where what seems so easy sneaks up and beats us up. Maybe it’s a routine that has become a bit boring. Maybe it’s a relationship that’s lost some of the spark. Maybe it’s change that is just taking too long to get used to. There are times when the familiar seems so foreign, and it seems like more than we can handle.

But Jack said something that really stuck with me. He said, “Oh come on. You’re just not good at pacing yourself.”

I realized how true this is for me. Not just in hiking, but in general. There are times when I know where I want to go, and I want to get there now. I’m in such a hurry to reach the end of the trail—rushing to the next big adventure—that I don’t take the time to give this trek the energy it needs.

One of my favorite bible verses is Psalm 90:12. In this prayer, the psalmist prays, “Teach us to number our days, that we may grow in wisdom.” It’s a petition I should make more often, and a skill I could afford to hone.
Because a funny thing happens when I pace myself. I remember. I remember to relax and just breathe. I remember to take care of my body and my soul. I remember the warm and delicate moments that life has to offer.

When I pace myself, I can see beyond the stress of where I am, and notice what is coming next. Because it turns out, just around the corner from where I announced I was going to quit the climb, the trail leveled off. Within 5 minutes, we reached Jefferson Lake and enjoyed a picturesque view, uninterrupted by the crowds of cars stuck behind the gate below.

So my prayer today is that I may learn to pace myself instead of rushing to the top. That I may learn the wisdom that comes from numbering my days; and that it may stir my senses and remind me that I am alive.

Until the next adventure…

Zach Herzog

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