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Blog post by Susan Yates / Introduction by Sarah Wells

Author and speaker Susan Alexander Yates has discovered a deep passion for hiking in the wilderness with good friends. Over the last several years, she’s gone on five different long hikes, and each time, God has met her needs in powerful ways. Susan shares her experiences meeting God on the trail in this blog series, “Finding God in the Wilderness.”

Susan’s work can be found on Amazon, or on Facebook and Instagram. Blog posts reprinted with permission.

Hike at Kendall Katwalk, part of the Pacific Crest Trail. Image: Kelly Bork

My Third Big Hike: The Pacific Crest Trail—Mt. Rainier

My friend Melody and I just completed our third big hike. After 2 years of hiking sections of the Appalachian Trail in the East, we decided to experience the West coast! Melody recently moved to the Seattle area so this was a good fit.

This year our theme was, “Come and see what God has done”

Psalm 66:5

We wanted not merely to race through the hike but also to slow down in an attempt to see in deeper ways the beauty of God, the heart of God, and the presence of God in the wilds of his wilderness.

We packed lighter, getting our backpacks down to about 30 pounds each, took less food, fewer clothes, not a brush or comb, just a tiny pocket Psalms, and a small journal. We counted every ounce!

Setting out on day one.

Over 3 nights and 4 days we hiked north from White Pass to Chinook Pass (approximately 30 miles) in Washington State. Pitching our tent each night we camped by some sparkling creeks and lakes, cooked packaged pasta on our tiny stove, and went to sleep listening to the gurgling of a mountain stream and the howls of coyotes or wolves.

Because we were in a remote section of the mountains, we were completely cut off from cell service so we turned our phones off. I think it was the first time in my life I was completely unreachable for this long a period. I must confess that once I adjusted, it was great. Being unplugged forced me to let God handle all the problems of life—concerns about friends, kids, decisions, lists, etc. I could no longer try to “fix” anything or anyone! I imagine God chuckles just hearing me say this.

To help us leave our concerns behind and really “see” God’s grandeur we had a small ceremony our first morning. Each of us got a pile of sticks and took turns naming aloud a concern we wanted to let go of over these days. We threw each stick into a pile as a symbol of giving it to God. We also knew these concerns would creep back into our minds so we agreed that when one did we’d simply say a name aloud and the other would respond, “I’ve got it” and pray silently over it. This was a way of “bearing one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). It takes real discipline and we didn’t get it perfectly, but it made a big difference in our ability to focus on God’s majesty and to enjoy our hike rather than chewing over life’s concerns.

Filtering drinking water.

So what were our favorite things?

  • DEET—the North West has HUGE flies and mosquitos!
  • The Views of Mt. Rainier, spectacular even though covered by smoke from the southern fires.
  • The giant, tall, straight trees reaching towards the heavens.
  • The dry, cool air—no southern humidity to sweat through!
  • Hiking miles without talking at all! Learning to listen and to soak in the silence.
  • But also having meaningful discussions about suffering and how one processes it. And sharing where we’ve seen God’s faithfulness over the previous decades in our lives. One advantage of getting older—you have more decades!
  • Finding water. Water is the number one need on the trail. We filter it from streams and creeks but our new filter makes it easier. Everything takes more time on a hike. This is good for us. We need to slow down.

And the funny things!

  • Susan: “Mel, we’re going downhill and I don’t know if it’s good or bad.” Mel: “It’s never good. ”
  • Mel: “Susan, you really have to pick up every piece of rice and your egg shells. It’s preserving the trail.” Susan: “You have to be kidding. I’m just feeding ants.”
  • Mel doing surgery on my really infected toe by cutting out the infection with a pocketknife. Hint: a knife is a trail necessity.
  • A guy emerging from a lake swim and running au naturel right through our camp back to his. I almost had heart failure, but Mel responded, “It’s the Northwest, Susan.”
  • Me jumping into a lake fully clothed after a long day. These lakes are freezing!

This year—this hike—we felt we did a better job of “soaking it in” rather than just struggling through the next switchback. We did fewer miles, had lighter packs, and tried to simplify. Yes, we had some hard climbs—ascending 1000 feet one morning. But the satisfaction at the top made the sweat sweet rather than torrid as we paused to rejoice that we had made it through a hard climb and could now rest in the beauty.

We don’t want to look back later and regret that we didn’t soak in more of this experience.

A hike is a bit like life. We can race through it or we can take time to embellish it, experiencing His presence in the good times and the hard times. And learning from both.

One of my regrets, as I look back over my life, is that I tried to pack too much in. I wish I had simply soaked in each season instead of being in such a hurry to get to the next one.

Enjoying the grandeur of the trail.

My Mom once said in her deep southern drawl, “When I get to heaven, God is going to ask me with enthusiasm, ‘My child, how did you like my earth? Did you enjoy it?’”

I want to enjoy it. To make time to take it in.

A thought that kept coming to my mind during our hike is that we are under the “Shelter of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1). It’s easy to picture this in the wilderness but the reality is that wherever we are right now, whatever we are doing, we are under His shelter. What comfort. What reassurance. What an amazing God who cares this much. 

The end of the hike!

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A Symphony

God’s creation becomes an orchestra.  Leaves rustle gently, birds sing in different tunes, streams gurgle along in laughter, crickets chirp in joy, a large branch cracks to the ground like a drum beat, rocks tumble downhill in a noisy cadence.

His orchestra is presenting a masterpiece if only we have ears to hear and eyes to observe.

And those sounds I don’t hear—a leaf falling, a bug scurrying—there’s so much more going on than I can see or hear.

Lord, I want to hear your symphony in my life—yes even in the midst of the noisy, hurried pressures of every day. Slow me down. Open me up. You are doing so much more than I can imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21).