It is my great pleasure to feature Stephen Garner for the first time. I hope you enjoy my father’s unique blend of biblical insights, illuminating anecdotes, and punny repartée. Our numerous hikes together over the past decade have then a powerful connecting force during my young adult years. Read more of his work at https://hikerdude.wordpress.com/.
Someone asked me once how I became interested in hiking. I hadn’t really given it that much thought, but as I reflected on it I could trace it back to about two decades earlier. I was looking for more in my spiritual life. Our church was teaching Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God. My prayer life had gotten bogged down in a ritual and routine, and my relationship with God seemed so stagnant. It was during this study that I was introduced to the concept of prayer-walks. Instead of just praying in my study at home, I began to walk down our driveway early in the morning and pray. Now we live in the country and our driveway is about 800 feet long. So I would walk up the driveway to our mailbox and back praying. Part of the time I would just invite God to speak to me, and then I would remain silent. Part of the time I would make prayer requests. This revitalized my prayer life and my walk with God.
As time progressed I started driving to the Silver Comet Trail, a nearby paved bike path, and I would go on extended prayer walks there. Later, I went to some conferences at The Cove, Billy Graham’s Training Center near Ashville, North Carolina. There I had some great prayer walks on the trails up the side of a mountain. There was something special about getting off the pavement for these prayer-walks. One day I was in a local Sam’s Club and saw some hiking boots on sale. Instinctively, I knew I would need them, so I bought them. It was about that time that a member of my prayer group gave me a wooden staff for hiking. I’m not sure if he was suggesting that I was getting old and needed it, but I started using this staff, nonetheless. I later traded the wooden staff for a more modern trekking pole, with some sort of spring-loaded device to absorb the shock as you plant the pole along the path.
In 2006, I was invited to take a hike with some editors and writers at a Christian Writers’ Conference at Ridgecrest, North Carolina. We saw a sunset from a summit. The thing about sunsets from summits is that the hike back down will be in darkness. We later got “lost”/separated as we returned to the conference center, but we all made it back safely. It was a wonderful time of fellowship. It was great exercise. It was a challenge. It was breathtakingly beautiful. It was an adventure. It was for me! I was hooked on hiking. This is how I became a hiker dude. I had already thought of this term as I saw the “biker dudes” in the mountains, but when I got home from a hike one time my wife, Terri, said, “Well, I guess you’ve become a hiker dude now.”
I want to make an observation. Jesus was a hiker dude. Only occasionally do we read that He took a boat, and only once do we read of Him riding a donkey. And His riding on the white horse doesn’t happen until the fulfillment of Revelation prophesies. He hikes miles and miles in the desert, over mountains, and in the wilderness. And He did not have any cushioned Thurlo hiking socks either. Once, He even took a hike on the surface of a stormy sea. I think the Messiah is a pretty good model to follow as we walk with God. There is just something about the walking in the wilderness that seems to wash my worries away and set my spirit free.
Some time ago, I took a Thursday off from work and went on a hike with my son, Grant. He had no college classes on Thursday, and we decided to go to Cloudland Canyon State Park to hike the west rim of the canyon. There had been several stressful situations at work recently, and I needed a little sanity break. It was a beautiful, cloudless January day, with temperatures in the low 50’s. It was a great day for a hike. John Muir once said, “Go to the mountains and receive their good tidings.” That we did.
In the Book of Genesis, angels directed Lot and his family to the mountains so that they might be saved. Sodom and its evil twin city, Gomorrah, were about to be destroyed, and if Lot and his lineage remained in these sinful cities they would be also. Now the destruction that awaits most men if they remain city-dwellers is not as dramatic as fire and brimstone, but it is no less destructive to their souls. There is an insidious soul-sapping stress found in the urgency associated with urban life in the new millennium. Sometimes, we must escape back to nature. It is almost as if I can hear the warning, “’Escape to the mountains, lest you be destroyed.’” (Genesis 19:17). Then, I know it is time to take a hike.
I once reflected on Lot’s response to the angels’ warning. Lot argued, “But I cannot escape to the mountains, lest some evil overtake me and I die. See how this city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one; please let me escape there (is it not a little one?) and my soul shall live” (Genesis 19:20). Lot had apparently become too civilized and urbanized to feel comfortable in outside the shelter of a city. If he couldn’t stay in a big city, he, at least wanted to remain in a little city. I find it interesting that he was fearful of evil in the mountains after having lived in Sodom. But, ultimately, he did leave the little city of Zoar and went to the mountains because he was afraid to dwell in that city (Genesis 19:30).
I guess it is the unknown and the uncontrollable nature of the mountains which scares many men away from them. However, God must know we need the mountains (lest we be destroyed), for these very reasons. By my last count, He made all the mountains and not one city. Cities and civilization give us the illusion that man is all-knowing, and that he is in control. So, I think the mountains are necessary to shatter that illusion and reintroduce mystery into our lives. Mountains are a reminder that it is not us, but the Grand Architect of these cathedrals of creation, who arranges our daily affairs. It is when I escape to the mountains that I am able to return to the natural rhythm of life. The pace slows down. The rocks, trees, and streams all seem to whisper comforting words like “patience, beauty, wonder, and restoration.” I may not quite be back in the Garden of Eden, but I think this is as close as it gets on this side of eternity.
I am reminded that near the beginning of the movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, Bilbo Baggins says, “I want to see mountains again, mountains Gandalf, and then find someplace quiet where I can finish my book…I feel old. I know I don’t look it. But I’m beginning to feel it inside my heart. I feel thin, sort of stretched…like butter scraped over too much bread. I need a holiday, a very long holiday…” I know exactly how you feel Bilbo. I think the mountains would be a good place to finish my story as well. May I join you?
Make sure to check out my father’s blog at https://hikerdude.wordpress.com/