As I hiked north through Florida and Alabama I truly believed the driving force that brought me to the trail, there to propel me along, was simply the wanderlust that dwells down deep in all of us. But as I journeyed north through Florida and Alabama, then onto the Appalachian Trail in Georgia — and finally, and especially as I hiked alone on the International Appalachian Trail into Canada, I knew that wanderlust had very little to do with it. So what was the reason for going? Well, the answer to that question should not be all that surprising. For you see, the journey I was on — it’s the same one we all end up taking at some point in our life, quite often, as in my case, in total desperation. It’s the journey in search for peace — true peace.
When I departed the Florida National Scenic Trail on New Year’s Day, 1998, I was carrying an incredible burden, not the burden of my pack, but a burden that weighed so much heavier on my heart and on my mind. With time, and as I struggled along, I slowly realized — till the time came that I could truly look at myself, till I could face and overcome the anguish and revulsion of dealing with myself as a person, till then, I would have no peace. Finally, I began seeing those burdens for what they were — and finally, after nearly a lifetime, I managed (with divine intervention) to deal with them.
A hike the magnitude of trekking the Appalachian Trail, or a distance over twice that on the Eastern Continental Trail, challenges the individual on three separate planes. Each level represents a specific journey, separate in itself, yet dependent and intricately/intimately interwoven with the other two. I have chosen to name these journeys collectively after three well-known Biblical travelers, travelers from a far off place, from another time. They are: the “three wise men.”
Success as a long distance hiker is measured by one’s ability to excel in at least two of these three journeys, the first two being required, and the third purely optional. These journeys are: the “physical journey,” the “mental journey” and the “spiritual journey.” The physical journey is the first and easiest to master, the mental next, and the spiritual is the last and most elusive. But, you ask, “Aren’t these much the same journeys we all set out on and struggle with each and every day of our life?” Ah, indeed they are, but all truly successful long distance hikers (and trekkers along life’s way) take each of these three journeys to the wall, to the limit.
It has been determined that fully eight out of ten of those who fail, as long distance hikers, do not fail because of the physical challenge, but as a result of the mental one. Isn’t this an interesting statistic? For, wouldn’t we logically conclude that the physical demand of lugging a 30-50 pound pack o’er tall mountains and across broad valleys, for thousands of miles — wouldn’t we all agree that this grueling ordeal would most certainly be the ultimate challenge? But it is not. Ah, and so it seems, and now we know, that the second of the three wise men (not the first) is the true culprit!
After all is said and done, the question boils down to this; and it’s really quite simple: How many of us can honestly say we’ve ever dealt straight up with who we truly are as a person — as a kind, loving, caring, and forgiving person? Here’s the problem. When we start this thought process, when we begin probing, we become very uncomfortable, very fast! But with all the diversions and distractions around us — distractions that we create, along with all those that simply occur day-to-day here in the “real world,” we’re able to block out and avoid these painful thought processes. On the trail, however, where one is alone mile after mile, day after day, month after month, where these diversions don’t exist (and can’t be created), eventually all the masks, all the facades, all the little games played and replayed get stripped away. It is then you come face-to-face with yourself!
By now we’ve come to know the first of the three wise men. We’ve met the challenge of the daily grind, the endless miles along our physical journey. And we’ve opened up and have come to know the second of the three wise men on our mental journey, for we’ve dealt with, and have come to accept our human frailties — the person we truly are. This leaves the last of the three wise men, should we wish to seek him, and we all should, for the spiritual journey is the most rewarding journey of all. We’ve been preparing long; and we’re nearly there. Comes now the opportunity to experience the incredible wonders of life all around — and deep within our soul.
Problem is, there’s a gap that exists between the mental and spiritual journeys. It’s a very deep and very wide chasm that must be crossed before meeting the third of the three wise men. Spanning this chasm is a high and narrow *“bridge,” a crossing searched for by many, but found by few. For, until our mental journey is mastered, can we ever hope to find this bridge, much less take that first step. Sadly, of the few who find it, fewer choose to cross, for in the crossing there exists sacrifice.
And what will be required of us should we choose to cross? Well, first, we must be willing to face the task of fully extricating ourselves from that lofty, ego-centered pedestal whereon we’ve so long been firmly ensconced; a domain most assuredly bestowed as a divine gift. Indeed, did we not learn a little about this place (the high ground) that we so vigorously defended while struggling along on our mental journey? So, the task, a not so easy one, becomes that of wrestling our ego down — which might take awhile. But once accomplished, comes the time to take the first step.
Taking that step was an emotional experience for me, the most humbling in my life. For, once on the bridge (and thenceforth) I’ve worn my heart on my sleeve, vulnerability inconceivable to most. But on the bridge, it came perfectly natural. In the journey across the bridge, began then a mastering of the virtues of love, patience, compassion, and understanding. As I paused to peer into the chasm, it was then I realized that for the first time in my life I was standing (suspended) not by my own will, but purely by faith and trust. I was relying on a higher power. Once across the bridge, I met the third of the three wise men. There, we were all together for that glorious and wonderful beginning — my spiritual journey. Departing then, opened a wide and endless horizon seen only from that vantage. And the view from there? Well, it’s called “wisdom.” Wisdom comes through faith (and trust) — through a “trust.” And that trust is administered by God.
Onto the trail in the Everglades I lugged a pack of incredible burdens. They were the burdens of anger, bitterness, contempt, despair, envy, fear, greed, hatred, jealousy, resentment, and vain pride. There’s a word beginning with most every letter in the alphabet to describe some form of burden. I was lugging them all. But as I journeyed north with the first of the three wise men, then the second, began then a change in me, a very subtle change for sure, but a change none-the-less. For, as I struggled along on my mental journey, dragging this incredible load, it became painfully evident to me that I had missed the mark on living, truly living, in my nearly sixty years on this earth; not a very comforting revelation! As I began confronting these burdens, I quickly realized they were just too heavy for me to bear alone. It was then I decided to change my life; it was then I met the last of the three wise men — and it was then and there I set out on my spiritual journey. From that moment on I could feel the weight of each and every one of those burdens being lifted from me.
Slowly, one by one, they were leaving my heart and mind. With each step (and it is estimated there were Ten Million Steps), each burden slowly-but-surely released, to be drained from my body, to scatter the treadway beneath my feet, thence to be left to the path behind. That indeed, is exactly as it happened; for there those burdens lie today and there those burdens will remain — forever!
Ah yes, a
desperate search for peace. And how did the old Nimblewill Nomad
fare in his journey with the three wise men? Did he succeed, as did
they, in their journey toward that perfect light? Well, next you
see the countenance of this old man; pray tell you see there the
radiance of a man at peace — at peace with the world, at peace with
himself, and at peace with God.