Life on the Edge…(The Trail of Tears – Chapter 20)

“Bre, my backpack is too heavy,” I said. “I don’t feel like I can go any further.”

“Let me carry it for you,” she said.

“It’s really heavy, Bre. You don’t want to do that.”

“Of course I do,” she said. I reluctantly handed over the backpack and she shouldered it like it was a bag of feathers. “You know, this is just like it was when Simon carried the cross for Jesus.”

Her words penetrated the core of my being. “Wow, God sent you to carry my cross for me,” I said. Then I broke down. There I stood in the middle of the busy trail, with tons of people passing by, bawling my eyes out. I didn’t care who saw me. At that moment, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross became more real, and I began to fully grasp it’s significance. It was an amazing moment and one that I will never forget for as long as I live.

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 19)

Katelyn was such a joy to meet. I wished her and her family well, and then they were off. I inched further along, but then realized that I was pushing it too much and couldn’t continue. I was going to hurt myself badly if I tried to do more.

I had heard about the Sub Dome steps. The leader from one of the hiking groups I’m in had told me that the Sub Dome steps are enough to make you curse. He’s a professional hiker and in great shape. If those steps were difficult for him, I just knew there was no way I’d make it. Plus, there was no sign of my group and I was certain that they had gone up the cables by then.

My backpack was ridiculously heavy and I just wanted to find a place to sit down and wait for everyone. Just as I was about to find that seat on the sidelines, I heard a familiar voice call my name. I looked up and saw Bre heading toward me.

Oh no, they’re already coming back. I bet they’re so upset with me for just now making it here.

I felt horrible and embarrassed. But Bre was glowing, oozing with joy, and…smiling?

“Joyce, we waited for you!”

You did what?

“Oh, no,” I said. “You shouldn’t have done that.”

I was thinking that the entire group was held up waiting for me. I wanted to find the nearest rock to hide under.

“I thought y’all had gone up by now and were heading back down.”

“No,” Bre said. “Andy, Mike and I waited, but the rest of them went up. I was going back to get you so that the four of us could go up together.”

There are absolutely no words to describe what happened next.

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 17)

The turning point came when I met up with 13-year-old Katelyn and her family. Katelyn was with her parents and grandmother. They were doing the hike to celebrate her grandmother’s birthday. Katelyn had done the hike before with her parents and she was bubbling with energy and excitement.

For a while, I traded places along the trail with Katelyn and her peeps. When they stopped for a rest, I passed them, and vice versa. I walked with them for a while and learned that they were from Sacramento. I let them walk ahead of me as I had to stop for yet another break to catch my breath.

Just before I reached the vista point, I spoke with a woman on the trail that was resting with her crew. I told her how exhausted I was and that I didn’t think I could make it any further.

You’ve already completed about 90% of the hike. You’ve come too far to turn back now.

Come too far to turn back now. Those words echoed in my head. What a shame it would have been for me to turn back then. I had fought through so much to get to where I was. The thought of turning back was unfathomable.

I was so grateful for the words of encouragement that came my way when I was feeling at my lowest and about to give up. It was like being caught in the middle of a battle. First, the negative thoughts attacked. Then, positive words of affirmation and life were spoken to me to combat those thoughts and send them packing.

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.
2 Corinthians 2:4-5 (New King James Version)

I never fully grasped the true meaning of that scripture until after the hike. At the time I wrote the outline for this essay, I recorded all the thoughts I had along the journey, both negative and positive. It was then that I was able to see in writing the beauty of the situation. It was like catching those negative thoughts and putting them into a box, then filling that box up with positive words and affirmations until all the negative thoughts spilled out of the box and were replaced with the positive ones.

That is how you bring thoughts into captivity to the obedience of Christ! Once I grasped this principle, I began arresting my negative thoughts on a daily basis.

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 15)

I went further up the switchbacks and then out of nowhere:

There’s always next year. I can start conditioning myself now to prepare and by then I will be more than ready. After all, Half Dome isn’t going anywhere. I can just sit on this stump and wait. The others have to come back this way. I can meet them when they return.

The voice of reason can sometimes be detrimental to your success. There are times when it’s necessary, but there are also times when you have to ignore it. This was one such time.

I thought of other moments in my life when I heard some of these same thoughts, reasoning and excuses. I hear them every day, and sometimes, they make me feel discouraged and want to quit on everything that God has created me to do because it hurts, is out of my comfort zone, and looks like it’s never going to happen.

Sometimes, I get so frustrated that I begin to think maybe this isn’t what God wants me to do after all. If He wanted me to do this, it shouldn’t be this hard. I feel like I’m going to faint out here and die in this wilderness season of drought.

I felt like I was going to faint and die on the trail to Half Dome, then I realized something very important, which turned out to be one of the keys to finishing.

I was hiking through a heavily wooded area going up an endless set of brutal switchbacks. Then, I suddenly had an epiphany. I was hiking through the woods and the goal was hidden from view because of the tall trees in the forest. I was tempted to give up because I had no vision and that vision was linked to my hope of making it to the end.

The illusion was that I was getting nowhere and that all my effort was never going to pay off. However, the presence of trees obscuring my view did not mean the absence of the goal or that progress toward the goal had ceased.

Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.
Proverbs 29:18 (King James Version)

I couldn’t see the goal with my natural eyes, so I had to visualize the goal internally and focus on that image in order to keep myself going.

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.
Philippians 4:8 (New King James Version)

While we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:18 (New King James Version)

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 11)

It took a while for the caffeine in the Gu drops to take effect. By the time I got a fourth of the way up the steps, I wanted to curse. That’s how brutal the steps were to my already aching body. I had to start singing. I remembered singing in the choir at Lakewood Church in Houston when we sang worship songs on Sunday mornings and Tuesday nights at choir practice. I pictured myself standing in the choir loft with my beautiful brothers and sisters, my hands lifted high, praising and worshiping God. Whenever I felt that curse word coming on:

“Glorify your name, glorify your name, glorify the name above all names.”

And one of my favorites:

“Sing over me songs of deliverance. Lord, cover me with your mighty hand. Sing over me, God of the second chance. Sing over me once again.”

The next phase of the journey took us through Little Yosemite Valley, a virtually flat place where the trail is laden with beach sand, which is somewhat difficult to hike through.  Our group reassembled at a rest spot and then we headed further up the trail.  At this point, we were beginning to gain altitude, and by the time we reached the switchbacks coming up out of the Valley, I felt it big time.

My initial perception of this part of the hike was that it was going to be fairly easy.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  This was the part where I encountered hell and some awful thoughts began churning in my head.

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 10)

Ms. Rosemarie and I hiked together until we met up with the rest of the group at the Vernal Fall Bridge. I had made it a point not to take many photos on this hike since we had done a portion of the trail earlier in the week and I had already taken, literally, hundreds of photos. My aim was to concentrate on the hike itself and not worry about trying to be the next Ansel Adams.

The sun had come up by the time we made it to the bridge, so we put away our headlamps. The next leg of the journey was the Mist Trail, which would lead us to the top of Vernal Fall. This was my third time hiking the Mist Trail, the second within three days that week. On the Mist Trail was a seemingly endless set of about 700 or so stone steps that passed right in front of the seriously gushing Vernal Fall.

The reason for the trail’s name is that you get doused with mist from the waterfall as you proceed up the steps. Depending on the time of year you go, the mist could be refreshing or it could make you turn into an icicle. Most people wear ponchos or some other type of rain gear when going up the steps. I wore my poncho, but even with that protection, I was soaked to the core.

I got separated from the group on the Mist Trail steps. Even Ms. Rosemarie passed me up this time. It wasn’t because I was taking pictures, though. I got left behind because of the frequent stops I made to catch my breath. Those steps were no joke. I was also feeling more and more fatigued. The lack of sleep was catching up to me in a major way.

This is my favorite stopping point before ascending the next set of steps.

Finally, I reached the top of Vernal Fall where I got to take a bit of a break with the rest of the group. After we passed the Emerald Pool, which is a cool-looking emerald colored body of water that supplies Vernal Fall with its beautiful, gushing torrents of water, we began the ascent up toward Nevada Fall and another set of stone steps. There were probably about as many steps there as at Vernal Fall, if not more.

The view of Vernal Fall from the stone steps.

Looking down from atop Vernal Fall

The Emerald Pool filled with logs

After we crossed over the Silver Apron Bridge, I fell further and further behind and became so fatigued that I was a bit disoriented. I was coherent, for the most part, just extremely exhausted. I made slower progress and became worried that I would never catch up to the group.

Getting ready to cross the Silver Apron Bridge toward Nevada Fall

Before I completely gave out, I remembered the Gu drops I had stashed into my backpack. Filled with caffeine, Gu drops give you a fresh wind when you feel like you’re on your last leg, which I certainly was at that point. I ate a package of Gu drops as I walked through a section of trees. I could hear the waterfall nearby and when I got a visual of it through the trees, I knew I was getting closer to the next segment of stone steps.

Nevada Fall beyond the trees

I cringed at the thought of tackling yet another set of those atrocious steps when I already felt like I had been run over by a truck.

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 7)

I’m an avid rock collector and consider myself a geologist by hobby only as I love exploring rock formations and seismic activity underground, caves, waves, hurricanes, tornadoes, all of those exciting natural phenomena.

I rode out Hurricane Ike in Houston 3 years ago and slept peacefully while pellets of rain and fierce winds beat against the house all night long. One of my friends, who shall remain nameless, was so scared that she camped out in the bathtub cowering under a mattress. I laughed when I saw her, but she was genuinely frightened. To me, it was a great adventure.

Many years ago, I was in my parents’ driveway and a rock caught my eye. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but thought it looked interesting because it had crystals in it. Later, I discovered that it was just a piece of limestone with some quartz deposits. The rock became a part of my collection.

Throughout the years, I’ve moved several times, but somehow this rock stayed with me. I even brought it all the way to California when I moved here. I had forgotten about the rock, to be honest. Prior to the Half Dome trip, I spoke to Lynn, our leader, about a long time issue that had been troubling me. It was an issue that I didn’t think had much significance in my life early on, but I came to the realization that it really did. It was a lie that somebody told me when I was in high school that I accepted as truth.

I was in tenth or eleventh grade getting some books out of my locker when a classmate stopped what he was doing to look me in the eye and tell me, “Do you know that you are hideously ugly?” I wasn’t even bothering the guy. I was at my locker minding my own business. I had never really spoken much with this boy at all, so it was beyond me why he would even say such a thing when I did nothing to provoke him. I was very hurt, but I let it go, or at least I thought I did. Little did I know that Darren’s comment would haunt me well into my adult life.

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 6)

We had just left the Happy Isles Nature Center and arrived at the trailhead. The steady incline began shortly afterward and, as I foreknew, I began to lose the lead. I had such a rush from being in front of the group that I hiked faster to try and maintain the lead. That was a bad idea. I was already tired from the lack of sleep and by exerting myself so much at the beginning, I used up what little energy I had in reserve and became instantly exhausted.

I’ll just stick with Ms. Rosemarie, I thought. Rosemarie is a beautiful woman in her mid-70s, who accompanied us on the hike. This was her fourth trip to Half Dome. She was my inspiration. I believed that if a 70-something-year-old woman could do that hike, then why couldn’t I,being less than half her age, do it too?

Rosemarie knew the art of pacing. She steadily walked at the same pace, using her walking stick, and never stopped. I also knew the art of pacing. I had trained for weeks at the gym on the treadmill with the incline as steep as it would go. I practiced my breathing technique as well. However, training doesn’t amount to anything if you don’t utilize the skills you learned.

There I was, keeping time with Ms. Rosemarie, and thinking of my mission to Half Dome. The trek was a mission for me. Other than food and water, my backpack contained another piece of precious cargo. Just as Frodo’s mission in The Lord of the Rings was to take the One Ring back to Mordor to be destroyed, I carried something that I wanted to leave at the top of Half Dome, which represented a piece of me that needed to be destroyed.