On vacation this week, my son, Grant, and I decided we would hike one of the trails in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park next to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I really wanted to see Ramsey Cascades and the hike was listed as being eight miles round trip which was daunting enough to someone who doesn’t hike much and is used to driving everywhere. Then I saw that the National Park Service listed it as “S” for “strenuous”; that caused me to pause more and give it some more thought, but I quickly brushed it aside and thought that it couldn’t be that bad. My wife and daughter drove us into the woods to what looked like another world. When we finally got to trail head, there was a certain amount of separation anxiety already as if we were marching off to war or some other life-threatening situation.
We started our hike and the path was wide enough for several people to walk together. Grant spotted this very large rock about 500’ up the trail and ran up there to pounce on it and claim it as his territory. I had to remind him that we had a long way to go and he needed to pace himself if he was going to make it to the top. We kept hiking completely uphill most of the time and it was getting more tiring with each step. We didn’t bring any water and figured we could drink it from the waterfall as we went along. When we got about a mile and a half up, I went down into the creek which was loaded with large boulders and rapidly flowing water that looked very inviting for a cold drink. Some new shoes I wore didn’t have the grips that I thought they had and I slipped and fell in up to my neck. My phone, wallet, and camera all got a drink, too. It was like on one of those shows you watch where the person falls in the rapids and washes down stream for a ways before being washed up somewhere or someone rescues them. It was not that dramatic for me because I didn’t go further than a few feet downstream before I got hold of a boulder and Grant had already come running down there to rescue his dad. That extended hand was a welcome sight and certainly aided in getting out of that mess. I was completely wet, but certainly cooled off and ready to get back on the trail.
The path of the trail kept getting narrower the higher that we climbed the 2,000 feet ascent to the prize at the end. As we were climbing this one section of the trail, there was a very noticeable rock which was white in color and I kept looking at it as we got closer to find out that it was the largest single piece of quartz that I have ever seen. It is up high enough that no one has enough energy left in them to even possibly give any serious thought to taking home a souvenir, not to mention that it is prohibited to remove anything anyway. Grant told me that he had heard that where there is quartz, there is gold. I thought then that there is some truth to that statement beyond the mere words of it.
My legs were hurting and we had to take breaks more often as we kept climbing. We crossed the creek twice on these half-hewn logs with a single rail to hold onto. I noticed that the people who kept coming back from the top had a very weary look and I began to wonder if I would make it up there, but I knew that if they made it, then we could, too. In spite of the aches and pains and weariness of those who had made it from the top, they all said one thing similar: it is worth it all to make it to the top. The hope of seeing something and experiencing something that I never had before gave me renewed vigor to keep trudging forward on this trail that had taken on a new meaning to me.
The path got as narrow as it could get up close to the top when only one person could pass on it at a time. There were more and more rock steps that had been carefully placed to aid in climbing up more steep areas and there was even a very large boulder off to the side of one of those stepped areas. The boulder was large enough that two or three people could actually hide under its over-arching upper section. If rain started falling, it would be a perfect shelter until it passed. Some of the largest trees that I have ever seen were high up there along the trail and towered above us as if they were watching over our every step from above. There was nothing of the world up there; just the creation. The commercialized city of Gatlinburg was down in the valley below and this trail that led up to the top of the mountain had its pain, but the rewards were worth more than what could be bought in any store down below. When we finally arrived at our destination; it was well worth it as we beheld a one hundred feet waterfall that cascaded over several rocks on its way down.
My thoughts turned to that biblical river of life written about in Revelation 22. I certainly had depended upon its waters many times along that path we trod and it gave me life and renewed energy. Along the path that each of us is walking as Christians, we are like that quartz, but there is gold somewhere close by and the Potter changes us into that before we come to the end of the path. God sends us those along our way who remind us of the prize that we all long to receive one day. They tell us to hold on and just keep trudging forward because we are closer now than we were just a little while before that moment. We might fall sometimes, but our family and friends help to pick us up and encourage us; actually, our “accidents” are part of His plan as well because He towers above us and guides our steps as we keep going forward, even though it’s sometimes slow. The path that seems so broad at the beginning of our journey becomes narrower the closer we get to the prize, but we have to stay on the trail that God has marked out for each of us. We are not in a sprint, but a marathon. As we seek His will for our lives, we must turn away from our will first to truly find what path He has for us. Part of that path is found in the Bible and we as Christians cannot make our own path to God any more than I could have cut a new trail to the top of that mountain.
After sitting atop of that trail and basking in the accomplishment of it all, I thanked God for letting me have the blessing not of just going up the trail that day, but getting to commune with Him along the way. Just as the book of Romans tells us, His creation testifies of Him. The air was so cool and refreshing; it was actually a little chilly, while the city down below was in the mid-nineties in temperature. On the way back down, we certainly had an easier time and finally got to the bottom again to find the girls waiting on us. We had timed it just about right for them to have some time together that day, too. God is good to His children.