Longings. Dreams. Desires. Hopes. Wishes. Life Goals. From an early age we are taught that we need something to aspire to, something to reach for. Some of those dreams are accomplished early, or on time and then are checked off our dream Inventory Check List.
But some… some dreams always seem just out of our reach. Just beyond the grasp of our fingers. For whatever reason, life happens and the dream is pushed to the back burner, or even worse, we are made to believe by worldly chatter that the dream is foolish and unobtainable. We share our dreams with those we love with great fire and passion, only to have the spark diminished with a few short words.
“There is no way you can do that!”
“You are too old.”
“You are too young.”
“You’ll never finish.”
And just like that, **** POOF*** your dream is questioned. You start to doubt. You start to try to forget.
Recently, I witnessed my sister accomplish some personal dreams of her own, and while I am extremely proud of her, I know that I was probably one of those voices in her head telling her, “You’re CRAZY!” You see she is a runner and any weekend you could find her doing a 5K, 10K or any little race. But soon, those little races stopped satisfying her and she longed for something more. Somewhere she got the idea to run Ultra races. If you don’t know what Ultra running is…Google it. You will feel lazy, fat, and tired. Ultra runners run crazy long distances for a number of hours. I remember vividly Sarah running her first Ultra where she ran for about 12 hours and over 40 something miles.
I was in awe, humbled and inspired. She put aside the voices (that shamefully included mine) telling her “You are CRAZY for doing that!”, and she accomplished a great, rewarding challenge. Here a couple years, and HUNDREDS of miles later, she is still running insane ultra races. I don’t tell her near enough how proud I am of her or how much she has inspired me.
I have always loved nature. The feels, the sounds, and the smells. There is just total freedom out there. And there is no more amazing venue for nature then the Mountains. Thankfully this is where I grew up. When you are in the mountains, you are instantly transported to a whole other world. There are no computers, no TV, no fumes from automobiles, no email, no phones and the only distraction is the beauty of creation that surrounds you.
When I was in my early 20’s I became obsessed with the Appalachian Trail. The A.T. is a hiking trail that begins in Springer Mountain, GA and ends on Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park in Maine. Created in 1936 by Benton MacKaye to serve as a way to connect several communities together, forming a Super Trail, the A.T. covers approximately 2,200 miles through 14 States (Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, W. Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine). I am very fortunate to live near the Smoky Mountains, and have even hiked portions of the Appalachian Trail through our state of Tennessee and some in North Carolina.
Hiking the A.T. is not for the faint of heart or for one with commitment issues. You basically carry everything you own on your back, including all your food, clothes, and lodging, and the journey can take anywhere from 5-6 months. The success rate for earning the title of Thru-Hiker is not very high. Some reports say as few as 10% of the hikers that set out each year succeed. However, more recent statics show the rate up at around 26%.
Many think of Appalachian Trail thru hikers, as young, fit, granola eating hipsters. However, that is a totally misguided image. One of the most famous thru hikers of all time was Grandma Gatewood.
Emma Rowena Gatewood, or “Grandma Gatewood” as she is affectionately known, first hiked the AT in 1955 at the young age of 67. One day she simply told her 11 grown children that she was going out for a walk. She always found comfort and solace in the woods and would go so often that her children didn’t worry until they figured out exactly what kind of walk she was going on. She set out in her Keds, with an army blanket, shower curtain, and jacket in a homemade denim knap sack and took off. Grandma Gatewood not only finished her journey but hiked the trail 2 more times in 1960 and 1963. Making her the oldest recorded female thru hiker and the first person ever to hike it 3 times.
Still not impressed? Maybe Bill Irwin’s story will inspire you. Bill completed the Trail in 1990 with his seeing eye dog Orient. Oh.. did I forget to mention that Bill Irwin was blind? He and Orient went completely solo. It took them 9 months. But the dream came to fruition. I had the great privilege of hearing Bill Irwin speak my sophomore year of college. He inspired a great part of my obsession with the AT.
For a long time I kept my dream to myself. It totally didn’t match anyone else’s dream I knew. Sometimes on hikes with friends we would pass a thru hiker and someone would comment on their rough ragged attire, and unpleasant smell. Or we would stop at a shelter to eat lunch or rest and while I was devouring and longingly reading the shelter logs that the hikers write in and sign, I would hear friends laughing at the trail names used to sign the logs and would stop reading.
In my 40 years on this earth I don’t feel that I have ever accomplished much. I am horrible at talking myself out of doing things I know I need to do or things I know would be rewarding. I listen to those voices. “You’re not good enough.” “You’re not fit enough.” You’re not as good as your sister.” The same voices I know we all hear. While, strong, opinionated, and stubborn, I still can be stopped in my tracks when I hear these voices. Sometimes though, the sound is from my own voice. However, I have always been contented with my little unimpressive life…..
Until a few months ago.
This summer as I was reading the trail journals, as I always do. I was struck by the fact that three of the hikers I was following this year were women in their 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. I found myself devouring their journals each time they updated them. Then one day it happened. After 150 days and 5 months, the first lady summited Katahdin. A week later, the second lady summited, and finally early this week the final lady I had been following, summited and earned the title of Thru Hiker. None of these women were experienced hikers, and one was totally out of shape and had hiked only a couple of times before her journey began.
Each of these women began with a dream. A longing to accomplish something amazing. One had been dreaming of hiking the AT for 30 years and never felt she was capable or strong enough to obtain it. What struck me and drew me to each lady, was the fact each had experienced obstacles, set backs, and doubts. At some point they had all been told, “You are crazy.” “You are too old.” “You won’t make it.” But these ladies didn’t listen. They silenced the voices, as well as their own fears and did what they had to do…
Meet their fear and doubt head on.
Friends, if 3 middle-aged, ordinary, average ladies can do it, why can’t we? What keeps us from taking a leap of faith and setting out on the adventure of a lifetime? Your dream may not be to walk over 2000 miles through the wilderness and over mountains. But you have a dream. You know you do. Perhaps you feel your time as passed or that you don’t have the resources or the drive to accomplish whatever it is. But how are you and I ever going to know unless we try? When I leave this world I don’t want to leave with regrets. No “What if’s”. I want to leave knowing I experienced all God offered me. No longer is living my dreams through others an option. Is it going to be easy? Are all the doors suddenly going to open up for us? No, but God does promise if we seek Him, and let HIM guide our path, He will walk with us every step of the way.
“Rejoice in Hope, be Patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer”
Don’t give up friend. Just because you have been told you can’t and you believe it, or you feel the odds are not ever in your favor, DON’T STOP. Let’s not live the Langston Hughes poem Harlem (which IS totally relevant to my point even though I know he wrote it about African American struggles)
I am not ready for my dream to die. There are miles to walk and Mountains to climb. Grandma Gatewood said it best.
“I want to see what’s on the other side of the hill- THEN what’s beyond that.”
Emma “Grandma” Gatewood
Like Grandma Gatewood I want to know what is on the other side of the hill. To prove to myself that I CAN, even when I hear CAN’T . That’s my prayer for you friend. Whatever your dream, whatever your mountain to cross, remember to live out Philippians 4:13
“I can do ALL things through Christ who gives me strength”