On Climbing Cardigan: August

A dear friend gifted me a couple kayaks recently.

One was a large yellow ocean behemoth that requires two brawny handler-paddlers, so I left that one leaning against the shed and lifted up the sporty little red model.

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Placing it on its two-wheeled axel-pulley-thingy, I felt bold and adventurous as I tugged it down my street to the lake.

The launch was sandy but uneventful, and soon I found myself in the middle of the water looking around at a totally different landscape.

The lake that I had been driving around, walking around, running, biking, praying around for the past year did not appear, from my kayak perch, to be even the same lake.

Houses that, from the road, seemed small and perhaps a bit dingy, looked inviting and friendly with their shorelines crowded with raft floats and deck chairs and fire pits.

The road hugging the lake seemed straight where I remembered it twisty and twisty where I imagined it straight. This optical illusion, I discovered, was caused mainly by the many rivulets and inlets that studded the lake that one could not see from the road-looking-out.

The more I nosed the elegant little vessel around, the more surprising the view became until I finally coasted into a sea of lily pads to think.

It was all about perspective.

I realized that sometimes we can look and look and look upon a thing, sometimes for years, and never really see it for what it is, or even in its entirety.

Perhaps this is a gift of another sort, a kindness God bestows, because if we were ever to see our lives – the blessings and trials, summits and sufferings – unveiled all at once, I don’t imagine any of us would be able to bear up under the force of it all.

The small peeks and partial gazes we get of harvest and famine help us to maintain our focus on the One who can sustain us, through all that messy plenty and drought.

Speaking of summits, I’ve had an experiment in my head the past few months that I thought might be able to teach me more about this idea of perspective.

I’ve decided to climb a nearby mountain, Mt. Cardigan, once a month for the next twelve months and try to see how and where and why my perspective might change each time I go.

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At 3,155 feet, Mt. Cardigan is not particularly grand on the scale of, say, a Mt. Washington or even one of the lesser Presidentials, but it holds a place in my heart that is perhaps dearer than any other New Hampshire peak.

Cardigan is the namesake of the place I live and work, eat and dream, laugh with friends and daily attempt to instill stillness into always-active, mostly-mischievous middle school boys.

Cardigan is the namesake of the school that shaped my own three boys into someone’s quite nearly resembling men.

It is one of the few mountains my son, the one in heaven, agreed to climb on multiple occasions with his classmates and friends, a school tradition of new students watching the sun rise and soon-to-be-graduates, its set.

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This was the same boy who, at the age of eight, standing with his mother and sibs on the flank of Mt. Monadnock with only a rock-scramble standing between him and the pinnacle, declared, “I’ll just sit here with the lunches until you guys get back, Mom.”

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I laugh now, remembering.

I can see Cardigan’s granite crest from most places on campus, can watch the trees that skirt the ridge color and fall, glimpse the first white crown descend like a halo when the snow spills.

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It’s a peak that requires very little in the way of athleticism or ability to reach the fire tower on its bare summit slabs; I’ve seen toddlers in flip-flops, out-of-shape middle-agers in blue jeans, puppies, and scores of other unlikely hikers all happily pulling themselves up Cardigan’s pitch. Resolve is really all it takes to walk the 1.5 miles from trailhead to top.

Sometimes the climb up a mountain is an embrace, but time was short the summer-waning day I chose to look afresh at the mountain I loved, so August’s inaugural ascent was more of an assault.

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The parking lot was full and woods busily traffic’d as I trotted up the trail, making the summit in a respectable 38 minutes, stopping only to take photos of the one waterfall en route, barely flowing, and the many people crawling around above treeline.

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It was windy at the top.

Cool.

Clean.

I snapped a photo of the bracelet I wear as a reminder that my son was loved, that I can carry him with me until we see each other again.

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On the car ride up to the trailhead, I had been sad and burdened by many things, but as I looked below to where Cardigan School sat spooning in the valley, I could only see myself as highly blessed: I am employed, I live in a wildly beautiful place, and my feet still take me where I want to go.

The apostle Paul once wrote a letter to the church at Corinth cataloguing the many brutalities he had suffered for the simple crime of telling people about Jesus. His perspective is one which leaves little room for capitulation:

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

I suppose if Paul can call being stoned, ship-wrecked, and beaten with rods small, then we can continue to find the strength to fight through our own present troubles.

I sometimes wish I had known in advance that my son was going to die, or my marriage. How this knowledge might have changed the way I lived, loved, only God knows.

Sometimes I’m mad that He didn’t intervene.

What I do know, however, is that one day, as we continue to gaze upon things eternal, our perspective of everything we can see now will be a glory so vast it will take our collective breaths away.

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I paused for a moment away from the crowds, then jogged back down the way I had come. The whole enterprise took an hour and eleven minutes.

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I wonder what I’ll see in September?

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On Going Ultralight

I heard a commercial on Pandora recently while biking on the rail trail near my house.

Can I first describe how a rail trail is the perfect complement to an aging hip-and-knee’d athlete, for whom running, once an activity that held all the sweet answers to body and soul, has become like medieval torture?

Even I – even now – can fat-tire bike on a flatly graded, always shady, rarely rocky rail trail and can even, at times, illicit a comment from a small boy leaning upon handlebars who calls out as I fly past, “Wow, you like to go FAST!” while his sister, nearby, thoughtfully picks a bug out of her nose. It’s AARP thrilling.

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Without cars to contend with, I generally feel safe riding with my earbuds in, which is why I was listening to Crowder when this commercial came on.

A woman’s voice spoke of California Closets, describing how she asked her “closet consultant” if she could have a drawer devoted entirely to her sunglasses.

An entire drawer? Closet consultant?

I cannot tell you how much this disturbed me, having recently returned from a backpacking trip where I was trying ultralight for the first time.

For many trips, including Appalachian and Long Trail thru-hikes in 2010 and 2013, I used a standard weight backpack, full tent with fly, and carried not only changes of clothes and camp Crocs but also a stove, fuel, full-length sleeping pad and down bag.

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While there is nothing wrong with any of these items, I felt they were hindering my ability to walk longer days with speedier recovery times.

Lighter pack, happier feet.

This summer, I decided to ruthlessly evaluate the worth of each item I had been carrying and eliminate anything I deemed unnecessary, anything that I felt I could live without.

Camp Crocs? Nope. Longer days meant shorter times in camp, much of which would be spent in my sleeping bag, barefoot.

Camp stove? Yes, yes, 1,000 times yes! Coffee. Enough said.

Tent? How about a small tarp-and-Tyvek combo instead?

iPhone? Haha. Stop it. I may not be a digital native, but camera, iTunes, Audible, and emergency exit strategies are not optional.

Backpack? This was the tough one. Obviously, I needed a vessel to transport what gear made my cut, but my old Osprey was not only heavy, but also not waterproof. Don’t gear manufacturers think we will use their products outdoors? Where it rains? 

Sigh.

After visiting some local stores, reading various hiking blogs, and searching the internet, I settled on a Hyperlite pack with a few external pockets and smaller cubic capacity, which would force me to leave everything but the essentials behind. It weighed less than a loaf of bread.

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Armed with all this lightness, the Princess and son-in-law dropped me off in the Catskills for a week-long shake-down.

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One of the first benefits I discovered with my Hyperlite were two small hip belt pockets. These were the perfect size for snack and phone in the right and map and chapstick in the left, thus negating frequent stops with the takings-off of pack.

Two easily accessible water bottle pockets also allowed me to drink and walk without the awkward twisting required of my old pack, which kept the feet moving.

While pleased with my new kit, there is always an exchange.

Because I didn’t carry a tent with bug netting, I had to douse in DEET and camp at altitude – where wind could drive the pests away – making for long climbs on all-day tired legs.

Some nights were colder, and without the puffy coat I left behind, I had to crawl into my sleeping bag earlier than I might have previously, but, with judicious placement, I could still catch all the glowy rises and sets.

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There were other adjustments I had to make, but it felt good to go light.

I know I will continue to trade out and weigh, what is worthy and what is not, but in this season of my life, I feel it is time to let go of some sizable things that I was never meant to carry alone.

Fear of the future.

Unrealistic expectations.

 Sorrow.

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Actually, I think that last one might be with me a while longer, perhaps even forever. The excessiveness of it has shifted, though, and I know that I have a burden-bearer who lightens it day by day. He once said to the multitudes:

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

I really don’t ever want to get to a point in my life where I need a bigger closet to store the distracting weights that drag me away from the walk my Creator has mapped out for me, no matter the obstacles in the way.

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I want to yoke myself to Christ’s ample shoulders and let Him pull.

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The other day, The Princess called me a hoarder, and it stung.

I know she was talking about my propensity for stuff, which I am working on, truly; but sometimes we get so distracted by the challenges we face in this life that we forget the only thing of value that we can take into the next life IS life.

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So, be ruthless.

Why not start trying to live ultralight now?