Thursday, September 27, 2007

Entry: REACH FOR YOUR DREAMS

A Trail of a Dream
by Lauralee Bliss


Have you ever contemplated a lifelong dream? One you conceived perhaps as a child but wondered as an adult if it would ever come true? You begin to ponder the dream. Consider the possibility. Fantasize a little. Do a little research by buying a book or two. Take a few steps of faith. Allow the life God has planned for you to unfold while the dream lingers in the background.

At last the day arrives, many years later, the dream once conceived in ages past, now ready to be experienced.

Here’s mine… Thru hiking the Appalachian Trail.

What is a thru hike? Hiking the entire trail in one long, continuous trip. Over 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine. Fourteen states. Carrying your house – a loaded pack with sleeping gear, food, water, clothes - on your back for six months. A backbreaking, knee-buckling, grueling but rewarding adventure that takes you along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains spanning the eastern United States.

It was the essence of a God-given dream of mine that never diminished, despite the passage of time. Thirty years of time, to be exact. It began as a small seed through family camping trips we took to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. As a young teen I used to stare at these white rectangles neatly painted on the trees and read the concrete posts bearing the words “Appalachian Trail” etched into them. I asked what was so special about this particular trail. A ranger explained, “It’s a trail that starts in Georgia and goes all the way to Maine. And there are hikers who hike the entire route. It’s the longest footpath in the world.”

Wow! What a great thing to do one day. Travel all the way from Georgia to Maine. Not by car, by bus, by plane but by my own two feet that the Good Lord gave me. Putting one foot in front of the other, walking the entire route, crossing state borders, seeing new places and meeting new people.

From that moment on I was hooked. Soon after, I used my babysitting money to purchase material about the trail. A journal written by an older man, one of original hikers who did the entire trail back in the 70’s. A small gray data book put out by a trail organization that gave the mileage points to significant crossings along the route. Not much to hang on to but good enough to keep the dream alive. Then came the pleas when we visited Caledonia State Park in Pennsylvania and a place where the trail crossed. “Mom, Dad, can we please hike part of the trail?” And they take a snapshot of me, at age fifteen, standing by an Appalachian Trail sign with my candy striped day pack on my back.

Then there were road maps. I studied maps all the time to see where the trail meandered and if the road we were on would intersect it. My nose would press against the car window, staring for a white blaze, a trail marker, an Appalachian Trail sign at the many road crossings. At the crossing of Route 17 near Harriman State Park, New York. Along a footbridge spanning the Massachusetts turnpike. In many state parks. And of course, within my beloved Shenandoah National Park where we made yearly pilgrimages.

Fast forward to many years later. I am no longer a child but a grown Christian woman with new plans and dreams. I am married to the man I dreamt about for two years (but that is another story). I have a son named Joshua. But that other dream of long ago, that one conceived as a child, still lingers in the background. One day I shared with my husband these immortal words – which I’m not sure he truly understood amid the frenzy of parenthood and mounting responsibilities.

“When Joshua is of age, like seventeen, we are going to hike the Appalachian Trail together.”

“Hmmm, uh, huh,” he responded absentmindedly.

I smiled to myself and let it lie while buying more books about the trail. Data books. Journals by other hikers who have completed their dream. And I reread the book every year that I bought at age fourteen, the book an older gentleman wrote about his hike on the Appalachian Trail in the 1970’s. The cover has become creased and ratty but the contents continue to fascinate me. Meanwhile I home school my son who is the only child the Lord gives me. I write novels of adventure that are published. And patiently wait for my own personal adventure to come to pass. I know too, as a Christian, that if this is not God's best for me, this dream of mine will fade into oblivion. But it never does grow faint with time. It only seems to grow stronger.

In 2003 I finally decide to put feet of faith to my dream and begin walking. I set a date for the start of the hike and create an online trail journal. The hike will be in 2007. Joshua will be 16 and in-between high school and college. A perfect time to do the trail, or so it would appear.

It is now 2005. Two years and counting. The time is drawing nigh and I need the support and blessing of loved ones if this dream of mine is going to happen. I must somehow convince both husband and son that the year to do the full hike is approaching, and I need their support.

First, my husband. He listens as I explain how I would like to start the Appalachian Trail in Georgia in March and that 2007 looks to be the year. “You can’t leave in March and be gone for six months. Why don’t you do it over several summers, then I can come along.”

And from my son. “Why do I need to go? I don’t want to be gone that long. I’ll miss my friends. Band. The computer. It’s your dream anyway, Mom. Not mine.”

Sigh. I say nothing. I hold fast to the belief that – “God, if this is from You, it will work out.” So I decide to begin at least part of the hike, inviting my loved ones along for the trip and see what happens. We will do the section of the Appalachian Trail closest to my home and, yes, my heart. Shenandoah National Park where the dream first took root. And being a lover of the outdoors like I, my husband wholeheartedly agrees to the hike. We complete this section of the Appalachian Trail over several weekends. Husband and son hike the trail, meeting other long distance hikers along the way. My son is given the trail name “Paul Bunyan” from a fellow hiker after trying to break up tree limbs bigger than he. My husband laughs and jokes with fellow hikers at the trail shelters where we find refuge in the midst of spring storms.

Both husband and son arrive home, thrilled by the experience.

One day my husband says to me, “If you were to leave for the trail in March, I can probably join you for several weeks during the summer.” His support was solid for my hike from that moment on.

And from my son. “I guess I’ll come, Mom. But we have to do it from Georgia to Maine.”

Thank you, Lord! I didn’t have to suffer anxiety attacks over it all. Or feel stressed. I allowed God to change people’s hearts and minds. And it was only the beginning of answered prayers. God did the convincing. I stood by and watched in awe. I stepped forward with baby steps toward my dream, and He paved the way.

I then tell friends and church leadership about my dream. I believed in the covering of prayer and the wise counsel of leaders. One friend calls it the thing. “Are you really going to do that thing?” Then she gives me money so I can buy supplies for my thing. The pastor’s wife listens, nodding her head, then reveals her own personal dream of one day hiking Kilimanjaro. Another gives me a book for my birthday, having never heard of my personal dream until the moment I received the book. The title is - “Live Like You Were Dying.” All confirmations. All pointing to that thing, that dream planted long ago and now growing by leaps and bounds.

Time is quickly growing short. There is gear to purchase. Food to dehydrate. So many plans to make. And book editors to notify and who give their wholeheartedly support for the endeavor. Everything appears to be falling into place. I am amazed yet terrified. This is a huge undertaking. Dreams can also be nerve wracking. They challenge you to step out of your comfort zone. They test your faith to the limit. And this is a huge test of faith to venture out into the virtual unknown with my teenage son, putting our lives and our livelihood in God’s hands. But He would not have it any other way. He wants us to trust Him. To allow Him to care for us. To allow our dreams to become His dreams so He is glorified. And so we do. We finalize plans, boxes of food and supplies to be mailed to us. I call family and friends for their prayers.

And the journey begins. Almost. Our start date was March 1st down in Georgia. I catch a cold. Joshua has a fever and a bad cough. The rain pours down in Georgia. We are delayed until March 5th when we finally begin. But only a mile up the trail, called the Approach Trail that will lead us to our first steps on the Appalachian Trail at Springer Mountain, the trials are mounting. My knees and feet hurt. Joshua can barely move and falls far behind. The wind is so strong on Springer Mountain my tent collapses three times, and in my confusion, I lay on my glasses and break them. I begin to panic, wondering if I have made the biggest mistake of my life.

And then we meet two other hikers who are also beginning their quest of a long distance hike. They give all kinds of encouragement and support to our family. They were sent by God to help us in those early days. And we make it that first day, the beginning of many days to come. Days of trial, of pain, of nearly wanting to quit, of rattlesnakes and rocks and sickness and fatigue, and mountain terrain so steep one can barely climb them. But days of glory. Of mountain views and sunlight streaming through the woods. Of snow-covered pines and mighty rivers. Of blue tinted ponds and people with smiles, offering food and rides and ice for an injured ankle when I needed it.

And then the victory lap. September 18, 2007. The mighty Mt. Katahdin in Maine and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Grasping the hand of my son as we stand by the sign marking the end, having completed all 2, 174 miles of trail, it truly is a miracle of miracles. But it is also a dream that has come true to the fullest, marked by days, weeks, months, years. A dream realized on that spectacular day atop Mt. Katahdin in northern Maine.

We, the dreamers, who dare to dream big. And God, the Giver, for whom no dream is too large.


Lauralee Bliss is a published author of twelve novels as well as an avid hiker. You can read about her day-by-day adventure on the Appalachian Trail and see photos at – http://www.trailjournals.com/blissful
To find out about her novels, visit http://www.lauraleebliss.com/

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