adventure, Backpacking, Costa Rica, death, Dying to Self, Forest, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Outward Bound, Perseverence, Rainforest, Risk Taking, River, Uncategorized, Water, wilderness

Over, Under, Around or Through?

It is a fact that the human being is easily dehydrated, because our physiological thirst mechanism is not very reliable. So, often, we go through a day thirsty for water without even knowing it. The brain can override the thirst signal so that we can keep on chug-chugging without stopping for water. The headache and fatigue we attribute to stress and overwork may just be the natural fallout of being dehydrated. In the longer term, it becomes downright dangerous.

When we went to Costa Rica on an Outward Bound trip (see blog post of Feb. 6, 2018), our weather was hot, humid, steamy and stifling. All of our drinking water had to be tediously filtered. One day my group hiked high along a rainforest ridge, then descended quickly to find our way blocked by a swiftly moving river. The only bridge was up and over a mountain a ways downstream. After walking up and down the riverbank looking for a place to cross, our guide taught us how to cross together. We hitched our backpacks as high onto our shoulders as possible, squaring off our appearance so that we looked like so many Sponge Bob Square Pants characters. This left our hands free, but she warned us that this also raised our center of gravity and, when in the water, buoyancy, in itself an added challenge to balance. We sent one person far downstream with the emergency rope bag to throw in the event someone lost footing and was swept away. Then we lined up, interlocked forearms, and walked-in our boots- one by one into the icy river at an angle to the current. I thought the challenge quite enjoyable until the water rose to meet my rib cage and the footing among boulders dicey. But, the tight grip on and of my nearest companions was enough to stay upright and walk across and out of that river. It was an altogether exhilarating experience to test those waters.

My husband’s group leader later reached that same spot and decided a river crossing was too dangerous. So they went up and over that high mountain, short on drinking water, on the hottest day yet of the trip. It took them a long time in unrelenting sun, and it was a desperate slog. My husband, the oldest in that group, became severely dehydrated, and, at one point simply had to lie down unable to breathe.  He recalls that he very nearly panicked. He was suffocating.  The guide plied him with fluids, and about an hour later he was able to continue.

Water. Life-giving. Life-taking.

There are always decisions we must make when faced with daunting barriers; do we go up-over-around, or just plow right on through?

Do we take the long view (and route) though ill-equipped for the endurance and time required, only to be forced flat onto our back unable to breathe, living in breathless panic? Or do we risk the shortcut, get floated off our feet, maybe even swept away?

Either way, it is our companions in life that make the difference. They hold us tight, guide us as wisely as they can, recognize our needs, and offer assistance. They hold out their hands, to steady us or offer us a drink. This is one reason Jesus established the church, so that we’d never have to face our challenges alone.  So we’d have others who could recognize our deep thirst for love and belonging, and hand us the only water that satisfies.

Keep a tight grip on your life companions. You need each other along the way.

~J.A.P. Walton

 

 

 

adventure, Adventure Tourism, Affirmation, Camping, canoeing, Faithful Living, God, Lessons from Mom, Lessons from the Wilderness, Outdoor Adventures, Rainforest, Religion, Travel, Uncategorized, wilderness

Thanks Mom

It is the last week of a month in France for us, and I find I have been thinking much about my mother, who first took me to France when I was eighteen.  She is no longer the robust, tireless woman of my youth, now frail in mind and body, though not in spirit. I have been missing her!

My mom taught me much of what I know about outdoor adventure. The first lesson in camping was how to squat to “go” in the woods: heels apart, elbows inside knees flanged wide, facing up a slight incline so the stream trickles downhill without pooling at your feet. My first attempt at the age of 5 exasperated her, as I haplessly filled my sneakers to the brim.

We camped a good deal back then, so I learned about tent setting and sweeping out, about food handling, about packing, site selection and more. We had a wonderful old tin breadbox that was the “kitchen” filled with cutlery, salt & pepper in Tupperware shakers, metal plates and coffee cups, tightly rolled dish towels, and, of course, matches. I still have it, and memories flood in whenever I open it.

My mom taught me how to ride a horse. And canoe. And row. And sail. And hike. And travel. I have climbed to high mountain tarns in the Colorado Rockies with her (she herself summited the 14-er Longs Peak). Together we climbed Mount Snowden in Wales. We paddled rivers swift and lethargic, and sailed and sailed and sailed. I owe my love of nature and the outdoors to her. Mom took me to Europe for a month before I started college, finding ourselves in Paris in the middle of the hottest weather in recorded history. We traipsed the city from end to end: Eiffel Tower, Tuileries, Montmartre, Notre Dame. This was when I learned that the French don’t like COLD drinks, and that asking for ice-MORE ICE S’IL VOUS PLAIT-only brings looks of disdain from the server.  My mother taught me to seek out the adventure, to get out into a new place and explore by foot. We had escargot in Nice because it was important to try a culture’s exotic foods. Today I recognize the privilege of such an upbringing, with a mother who worked fulltime to pay for the adventuring.

The world is a kind of wilderness in its beauty and unpredictability.

Still, I am a more cautious traveler now. Just the other day, two women surrounded me with clipboards asking if I spoke English. This is a typical scam in France-for gangs to send out emissaries to distract a tourist with a petition for a charitable cause and lift her valuables while she is signing. I said “no.” When they pushed further into my personal space, I shouted, “NO!” They jumped back as if I had a communicable disease.

My vehemence surprised even me, giving me pause. I must thank you mom for everything you taught me, but most especially for taking me to church week after week where I would encounter the adventure of a life with God.  I am learning that the world is filled with people wandering in a different kind of wilderness, where God is remote and survival is everything.

So, I have spent this week contemplating the wide gulf between awe and pain. Between beauty and baseness. Between the fist that holds tight, and the open palm that gives away. Between pushing away with a shout and beckoning the lost by gently saying, “Jesus loves you.”

It’s an uphill climb, and I have miles to go, but my mother taught me well.

~J.A.P. Walton

Thanks for reading!

Backpacking, Costa Rica, Creation, Faithful Living, God, Hope, Lessons from the Wilderness, Outdoor Adventures, Outward Bound, Rainforest, Trees, Uncategorized, wilderness, wisdom

Lessons from the Rain Forest

I turned 46 the month I led a group of college students on an Outward Bound trip through the Costa Rica rainforest. Twenty year olds can go all day on enthusiasm alone, but my middle-aged middling fitness brought multiple challenges, the least of which was just keeping pace with my students.

The rainforest is as unforgiving as it is beautiful. On the first day, we hiked UP for 4 straight hours in a relentless rain that made the 90 degree heat unbearable. (Most people don’t even know that Costa Rica has high mountains with rugged wilderness terrain, and that you can easily get altitude sick and lost in the same day). Everything inside of me was, as the Brits say, upsot. Lungs desperate for air, sweat joined to raindrops with nowhere to evaporate, leg and back muscles screaming for relief from the 50 pound pack. Hot spots on both heels you pray are not becoming blisters. All while the young ones traipsed with joyful abandon happily shouting out lines from the Princess Bride movie.

It was hard for me to get outside of my own physical misery long enough to appreciate the stillness, the deep emerald greenness in a fine mist that nearly assaults the senses, the cheerfulness of my companions to finally be underway, and the teeming, fecund, inconceivable LIFE at every turn. Sapphire-tinged moths as big as your hand. Armies of leaf-cutting ants-whole platoons of them winding their way through the jungle, carrying, like me, a heavy load with unwavering duty. Cockroaches as fat as mice. Birds singing. Birds winging. Birds, birds, birds!

In matters of faith, it takes a willful choosing to be outwardly focused. To look at this hurting world with compassion and care even when we ourselves are hurting is, I think, the most difficult, and stridently unnatural thing that God calls us to do. The secret is in the abandon. The giving over in order to give out. To give out and not give up.

 Much of what Outward Bound teaches is how to keep going in the face of physical challenge, and how to embrace a physical challenge that you know will bring pain, tears, doubts, and, always, the bedeviling whisper that you can’t go another step. What God teaches is that there is a strength from unwavering belief that no man, certainly no devil can match. And it is true for all of our difficulties. In the midst of life’s wilderness of hurt, fear, doubt and misery, God is there to be our strength, our immovable rock. But, only if we let Him. Climb on, and BELIEVE that you need never climb alone. It is INCONCEIVABLE!

~J.A.P. Walton

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(more posts about the Costa Rica experience are in the offing, stay tuned. Oh, and lest you think me wimpy, on Day 2 of this trip a student asked if he could take something from my pack to lighten my load.  I was so grateful!  Only later, on the plane home, would I read his reaction in his trip journal:  “I took Dr. Walton’s food sack on the 2nd day to help her out.  HOLY CRAP!! It was heavy!”