We read about Jesus’ miracles in the bible. There are so many! Turning water to wine, healing the sick, casting out demons, walking on water, just to name a few. In your mind, have you considered that miracles still occur today? I knew miracles occurred everyday, I mean, take a look at a newborn baby. Or cast your eyes on a valley from the top of a mountain. Listen to a stream or smell the fragrance of wildflowers in a field. Experience the caterpillar change to a butterfly or a tadpole change to a frog. Yes, these are all beautiful, everyday miracles. However, this week, I experienced a miracle that was unlike any of these.
I decided to go hiking. I have taken up this past-time this summer and despite my trepidation, I have even ventured out solo a few times. In my mind, it goes against everything my parents have taught me. However, it is the most solitary, peaceful, beautiful time a person can imagine. I can hear a stream almost a mile out before I reach it. Bird calls have never sounded so clear and distinct. This time gives me a chance to escape life for a short time and think, pray and experience a part of our world that so many have not seen.
I took many precautions before heading out solo. I learned that the trails are well marked and safe. Most injuries on the trails are not from violent crimes. I learned some of the basic gear I would need and also got myself a pair of good hiking boots. I bought a map of our area and some Clif Bars as well. Then, for added security and safety, I got myself a knife and some pepper spray. I was ready to head out!
Some of the trails around here are short, one mile hikes. Others are longer and require a few hours on the trail. The shorter ones, I have completed several times and have even brought the girls and Pat with me on more than one occasion. The longer ones I am in the process of tackling myself. It is on one of these trails where my miracle occurred.
We had gotten home from church on Sunday. Our family had no plans that afternoon. My husband had been out to mountain bike on Friday and Saturday and he suggested I go hiking on Sunday to get some fresh air and some alone time. I readily agreed! Picking up my map, I plotted out a good course to take. I planned to park my car in a lot at Mile Post 9 off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. I would walk back along the parkway to Mile Post 6 and pick up the trails here. Then, I would hike the AT South back to Mile Post 9 where my car was. It would take me a good 3 hours to accomplish this, maybe a little more. I was excited!
As I was driving the parkway, I paid close attention to the road between miles 6 and 9, noticing the little to no shoulder. This is where I would need to be walking shortly. It was also very curvy with many blind turns. I would have to be very careful. I arrived at MP 9 and parked my car. Sent hubby a text and began my adventure.
I prayed my first prayer. I asked God to keep safe my family while I was away and to be with me on my hike, most especially on the parkway where walking might be challenging. Each turn and blind spot I came to, I prayed for safety in getting to the next spot. Within 45 minutes, I had completed the 3 miles of parkway safely. Along the way, I had a butterfly land on me and was witness to about 100 others fluttering about landing on flowers right before my eyes. I was able to stop on an overlook and take in the beautiful valley below and I was able to listen to a stream somewhere in the mountains that I had never heard before riding in my car. By the time I reached the trail head at MP 6, I was already full of excitement and I was thanking God for protection and also for the beauty I experienced.
I jumped on the trail and it is here I made my first mistake. I chose the wrong starting path. There are three to choose from. Although it was not the best choice for me to start with, it still would take me to where I needed to go if I followed it closely. I hiked about a mile up and was expecting a junction where I would head south on the AT. I came to the junction and turned the direction I thought to be south. However, it was in fact north. The south trail was hidden from the direction I was headed. (Had I been turned around, it was very clearly marked and easy to see). I went on about 1/4 mile and something in my head was telling me that maybe I went the wrong way. I do have a keen sense of direction. I should have listened to my inner voice, but I convinced myself that I was on the right path and that there really was not another way to go. Well, 2 miles down this path I come to a stream that I am familiar with. It is a beautiful stream, however, it is north, not south of where I need to be heading. I am now 2 miles down the wrong path. I have two choices, keep heading north and have my husband pick me up at the next parking lot or back track and head south again. Well, the next point out of the wood north was another 5 miles at least. So, I turned around and headed south, a bit frustrated with myself and realizing I was now over an hour behind where I needed to be.
It is important to keep in mind here that 3 miles of parkway road does not equal 3 miles of hiking trails. While the road will be relatively direct in route, the hiking path will wind and curve with switchbacks up and down the mountain. It could very well be double the mileage or more even depending on the terrain.
As I am heading back, I begin realize how far I am now from my car. I also realize that I began this hike in the middle of that afternoon and that I needed to be conscious of the time or I would find myself in the dark before I reached my car. I began praying that God would guide me and get me safely to my car. I had sent my husband a text message to let him know I had taken a wrong turn and was behind by more than an hour. I kept on trekking.
At some point in my hike, I saw a coiled up snake in my path. Snakes are one of my least favorite creatures. I have a fear of them and I do not even really like seeing pictures of them. Now, here I was looking right at one. My heart skipped a beat, but I remained calm as I watched it for a moment. I even took a quick picture. Although he was quite long, he was very thin. I did not disturb him and ventured around him to continue my hike.
A few hours later, I was ascending the mountain, trying to reach what is called Humpback Rocks. It is a beautiful mountain top made of all rock that you can climb out onto. You feel like you could touch heaven up there! I knew it was at the top of the switchbacks, which I was climbing, but the switchbacks were never ending. I could not see the top and it was getting late. The girls and Pat were probably eating dinner already and I had not even made it to the rocks, which was still close to MP 6. I still needed to get all the way to 9 before dark. I started to worry that I may not make it in time.
Right around this time, I glanced forward, and there in front of me was a bear. She was about 15 yards away maybe. Right when I saw here, she also saw me. As we stared at each other for the briefest of moments, I had many thoughts race through my head. I was trying to remember what to do if you encounter a bear, freeze or run! Before I had to decide, the bear turned and ran off. However, she ran up the switchbacks I was climbing. So, now I need to keep on the path knowing there is a bear in the area. I must admit, I was a bit scared.
I slowly and cautiously walked on, convincing myself that the top of the rocks had to come sooner than later. I watched the woods carefully and kept my ears alert. I prayed fervently for God’s protection once more. I also started realizing very quickly that I was not going to make it to my car by sundown. You see, in the deep woods, it gets dark very quickly and much earlier than in a town or neighborhood. The canopy of the trees keeps much sunlight out and as the sun sets, nightfall and night animals are welcomed into the woods. I sent my husband a text message asking him to meet met at MP 6 to pick me up since I was not going to make to 9, where my car was. However, just as I finished typing my message, my phone died.
So, here I am in the woods with a dead cell phone, a bear close by and I have no idea how far I am from the rocks. Now my prayers began to change. I needed help. I had not come across a single person since I started hiking 4 hours ago. I prayed to God and asked him to protect me from the bear and any other creatures. I asked him to guide me safely to the rocks and I also asked that there be someone safe at the rocks with whom I could hike the rest of the way down the mountain with. I had no idea how I would know who this person was or how I would judge if they were safe to hike with. But, I did know that at dusk, it was not safe for me to be hiking all alone down the mountain.
From the rocks to the parking lot at MP6 is just one mile. I’ve hiked it many times. My plan was to get to the rocks, hopefully find a kind hiker to tag along with and get out of the woods. When I got to the lot,I would find a way to call my husband to come rescue me!
Well, about 1/2 hour later, I finally reached the top of the rocks. And here is where the miracle hits me straight in the face. Hiking on this Sunday evening at dusk, on a day where i had been hiking for almost 5 hours now and had not seen one single soul, was a church youth group of about 20 kids/adults. I was so overjoyed to see them, I almost cried!
I went to speak with one the the men who looked to be in charge. He happened to be the youth pastor. I am sure he was a bit taken aback and weary of my story, but I simply asked if it would be ok to tag along back down the mountain so I did not have to go alone at this hour. He agreed. I made myself comfortable as the group took in the sights. I chatted with one of the youth for quite a while. His name was Jacob and he is an 18 year old special needs boy. He was quite intrigued by my tale of the bear!
I was also able to borrow a cell phone from another in the group to call home and tell Pat I was ok. I asked him to pick me up at MP 6. Shortly after, the church group began their decent and I tagged along. I hiked with Jacob and Pastor Shannon. We shared some good conversation and I told them how I had prayed for safely and for someone to be able to walk with me down the mountain. I told Jacob that God had sent his youth group to be my angels! He found that to be pretty awesome!
At the end of the trail, we parted. They loaded their church van and I found my husband. I had probably hiked about 14 miles up and down mountainous terrain. I had encountered a snake and a bear. I had played with butterflies and enjoyed the bird songs and the streams. I had had conversations with God.
God heard my prayers. I never doubted that He hears my prayers, but He heard my prayers and sent me that youth group. He kept me safe that day!
I have added some items to my gear since this adventure occurred. I will now be heading out with a GPS loaded with trail maps, a flashlight and a bear bell! I also have a back up battery for my phone.
While taking a wrong path in the woods is frightening, it was extremely comforting to know that God was with me. It was an amazing feeling to see that youth group waiting for me! I will take precautions to keep myself safe, but I know that God is the ultimate protector. I have experienced His protection first hand!
2Samuel 22:3-4 my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence. 4 I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.
Psalm 23:1-4 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.