Last summer, I worked at a guest ranch in Colorado — waiting tables and wrangling teenagers and spending as much time as possible in the surrounding mountains.
Of all the towering peaks, 54 are 14ers — mountains whose summits jut 14,000-plus feet into the sky, beautiful and awe-inspiring and begging to be climbed. Everyone on summer staff wanted to bag a 14er. With just one day off per week and a whole list of things I wanted to do, I determined that I was probably only going to summit one, and I better make it count.
Once enough snow melted and I landed a day off with a good friend (Hi, Ray!) and two adventurous boys from that week's teen group (Hi, Drew and Ethan!), we set exceedingly early alarms, stuffed our backpacks with lunches and water, and took off for Mount Elbert.
At 14,433 feet, Elbert is the tallest mountain in the state, though surprisingly not one of the more difficult climbs. The Northeast and East routes are both class 1; and the Southeast route (which we ended up taking when we couldn't make it to the East trailhead sans four-wheel drive) was only a class 2, even with considerable added mileage.
A 14er is a 14er, though. And it's definitely a 14er if you're sick, which I was.
Me being me, I had stubbornly rejected any hey maybe you shouldn't climb a mountain while queasy thoughts, however persistent and/or logical, in days prior. An hour into the hike, I realized I had way underestimated the effect increased altitude would have on what had simply been light nausea a few thousand feet lower. There were multiple times that I considered stopping or turning around.
This is the hardest thing I have ever done, I thought in 100% seriousness as I hiked a fine line between sucking in enough oxygen-thin air and not puking my guts out.
At a snail's pace and with encouragement from my fellow hikers, I continued up the trail; all the while figuring we had to be, you know, at least relatively close to the top.
Here's the thing about hiking a really big mountain, though: for like 90% of the hike, you have no idea how close you are to the top, because you can't see the top.
You can see the top from far away, and you can see the top when you're right up close. As far as the in between goes, though, good luck seeing further than the next stretch of trail — a couple of miles or a couple of feet, depending on where you're at in the climb.
At the outset, I kept looking up and around; trying with everything in me to gauge how long it would be till I arrived; surprised every time another upward slog dipped into a new saddle. By the end, I'd long given up the agonizing game. I put my head down and focused on plucking along one step at a time.
I'll be honest, I didn't take anything profound away from that at the time. It was nothing more than a fleeting thought — man, for such a tall mountain, it's weird how you can barely ever see the top — crossing my mind and then immediately drifting on.
But recently, thanks to Facebook's memory-bots pulling up Colorado photos on a daily basis and some big decisions I've been making, the thought returned — and this time, stayed. When I sat down last week to write another cheeky "adulting update," all I could think about was that hike, and what a metaphor it turned out to be for life in general.
I'm always looking for the top — trying to figure out an end point so I can plot my route there. I'm sure, with each new peak that comes into view, that this one will definitely be where my journey stops. What I'm aiming for. Where I'll camp out and stay.
I thought it that summer, with an impending return to Virginia and a full-time job. I thought it after that position fell through and I set my eyes on finding a job in sports — preferably up north, with my friends. I even dared to hope it months later when I accepted a marketing position back home in Austin.
Without fail, though, the path twists a direction I never would have predicted. I've given up trying to guess where it's going or plan beyond the stretch I can see.
Because the truth of the matter is that I'm on a really long hike with no end in sight — and even if it was, the odds of me taking the same route God has mapped out are highly unlikely. My plans look like a linear progression from point A to point B, with little diversion. God's plan is point A to point Z via every letter in between, on a path that resembles my earbuds after I stick them in my pocket. (How does that kind of tangle even happen?)
I'm just focusing on the next step as it comes into view; trusting that the route is better — really, better — than what I'd plot on my own, and that it leads to good and beauty. Just like it has every time I defer to God's direction over my own.
Three weeks ago, I accepted a job in Katy, Texas. It wasn't anywhere on my radar until just weeks before. If life is a hike, my six months in Austin have been one of the sweetest and most rewarding stretches of trail, full of people I love. I wasn't looking for a detour, per say, but the opportunity seemed to arise straight from my prayers — in line with Scripture and insight from those around me. Every sign and provision I needed (and even those I simply wanted) as confirmation came to be. This is the path God wants me on for now, and instead of trying to figure out why or where the heck we're headed, I'm just going to walk.
That doesn't mean it's not bittersweet. It is. The sweet, of course, is excitement (and, let's be honest, the comfort that I'm transitioning just two hours down the road this time around). The bitter, on the other hand, is giving up a weekly small group of women who've become like sisters and a youth group full of teenagers I love fiercely and Saturday morning coffee on the Bartons' back porch. I've experienced that tension full-force since making the decision, and I doubt it lessens anytime soon.
But moving to Austin taught me that God's plans are generous and good, and leaving is a chance to see him prove his faithfulness once more.
I can't see the top of the mountain, I get that now; but I'm going to forge ahead because it will be worth it, and it will be beautiful, and at the very least I know it won't be as boring as whatever I'd come up with on my own.
There is no better or more secure place to be than in the center of God's will — I really, truly believe that. And I can't wait to see what happens next.