As kids, our vacations were always camping vacations.  Don’t get me wrong, it was a nice camper.  But as an adult, camping is really not my preference.  But back then, it was all I knew.  Had I tasted the comforts of an air conditioned cabin or hotel room, my opinion might have swayed.  But based on the parents God blessed me with, camping it was.

On more than one occasion, we found ourselves at Brown County State Park in Indiana.  It was a majestic location, filled with trees, wildlife, and a pool.  The deer were actually so tame that they’d eat right out of your hand.  Not sure they’d allow that today, but back then, it must not have mattered if a wild animal would nibble off the fingers of innocent children.  Mom would always pack an extra box of crackers for the awaiting deer, aloof to the possibility of malfeasance.

My sister (officially Lynette…we call her Net…some call her Nettie) and I would bring our bikes and ride them all over the place, all day long.  Mom and dad would relax at the campsite while we would ride around and explore every nook and cranny of the park.  On one of our vacations, we booked a spot at Taylor Ridge Campground in Brown County on the outskirts of the park.  Within our section was the trailhead to Trail 9.  My sister and I rode back the trail a bit on our bikes, surveyed the landscape, turned around, and headed back.  The next day, we surmised, we’d conquer the entire trail.  Little did we know that Trail 9 was 3 miles long and classified as “Rugged”.  For those curious, the ranking, in order, was Easy, Moderate, Rugged.  My sister and I, being 11 and 7 years old respectively, didn’t a) read the sign or b) understand what it meant anyhow.  Nor did we comprehend what 3 miles of rugged terrain would entail.  All we knew was the next day was going to be fun…or so we thought.

The next morning, off we went with our janky kid bikes and no water, but a will in our hearts to complete the trail.  I mean, the first 20 yards that we embarked on the day before seemed flat and nice, how hard could it be?  We’d soon find out.

As the hills got steeper and the marked trail got narrower and the day got warmer, we knew we’d made a bad choice.  But, once you’ve committed, it’s hard to determine when to turn around, or when to push forward.  Each turn we thought for sure would be the end, but each turn proved to lead to another turn, then another.  Soon, my sister’s asthma took hold.  I’m not sure if it was from the physical exertion, or the fear of the unknown, or the responsibility she had to make sure I, her younger brother, made it out alive with her…or all of the above.  But all told, it was a harrowing experience for 2 young kids.

Lest you wonder why our parents would have allowed us to embark on such an adventure, rest assured, they didn’t know.  It’s not like we purposefully didn’t tell them, it just that it didn’t seem important.  I mean, it was supposed to be an easy bike ride around a short trail.  But when we didn’t return to the campsite in more time than should have elapsed, they became nervous wrecks.  They feared the worst as normal parents would.  All the while, my sister and I trudged forward.  Sometimes riding our bikes, sometimes walking them, sometimes letting them coast down the hill rider-less because the terrain was too steep to walk them down.  Wondering if this trail would ever end, wondering if we should turn around, assuming the end was near, but each turn only leading to more trail.

Neither of us cried, that seemed pointless.  But both of us, in our own way, imagined a life of doom and torment as we’d have to live in the woods the rest of our lives.  We imagined not having parents to take care of us.  We imagined our friends back home being replaced by the nibbling deer and rabbits.  But forward we went, deciding we’d come too far to turn around now.  Assuming the trail would eventually come to an end.  Hoping it’d be soon.

Then, against all odds, there it was…the trailhead!  The place where this nightmare had all begun!  A seven and eleven year old had accidentally conquered a 3 mile rugged trail with bikes in tow.  We made it back to the campsite just in time as Mom was about to head to the Camp Office to report 2 missing children to the Ranger.  Instead, we were home, safe and sound.  My sister recovered from her asthma attack, and we gulped down more water than a modern-day camel.  All was well.

~~~

While the lessons in this story abound (we suffer more from imagination than reality, prepare better when heading into the unknown, always tell someone where you’re going before your leave), the one I’d like to camp on today (ha, see what I did there?) is buried a bit underneath the story.

Baggage.  You see, we were naïve to the fact that this trail was going to be as rugged as it was.  And we, being woefully immature and unprepared for the journey that awaited…rode our bikes.  As Net and I approached the trail, we had incorrectly assumed that the journey would be flat and advantageous to a bike.  Little did we comprehend that the bikes served to be our greatest challenge.  Not only did we have to traverse the terrain with our own bodies, but we also had to navigate how to get our bikes to come along with us.  This caused an immense amount of extra effort, and ultimately led to sheer physical exhaustion long before it normally should have.  Without our bikes, we likely would have had a much less painful experience.  With our bikes, it slowed us down, made us work twice as hard, depleted our energy, and dehydrated us quicker.

What about you?  What bike are you toting along with you today?  What toxic friend or dating partner do you have in your life that’s sapping the energy straight out of you?  What addiction or pill are you swallowing that is dehydrating your fountain of life?  What ‘wish I was’ this or that is preventing you from being who God designed you to be?  What unnecessary baggage are you holding on to that if released, would allow you to survive…even thrive?

The butterfly starts in a chrysalis.  Then, it sheds that outer layer, spreads its wings, and flies.  Perhaps you need to shed some things today.  Not sure where to start?  Ask a trusted friend, speak to your brother or sister, or reply to this blog and I’ll reach out to you.  Either way, shed your baggage.  Drop your bike.  Hike the trail of life.  Put a smile on your face.

And, like the butterfly, soar…

~~~

Author’s Endnote:

Some of you are wondering why we didn’t just ditch the bikes.  Remember, we were so young.  We thought we’d get in trouble if we did that or worse yet, that someone would steal them (no chance in that setting).

In 2009, our family went back to Brown County State Park.  This was when Mom was still alive.  This time, we took our spouses, Net’s husband, Mark, and my wife, Keri.  The goal… hike Trail 9, now as adults.  No bikes, plenty of water, we embarked with our spouses on the adventure.  As expected, Trail 9 wasn’t as daunting to us as adults as it was to a couple kids.  But it proved moderately difficult, but mostly fun.  Upon returning to the cabin (no camper this time), Mom smiled…that was the best part.