Fear Not 2

This is a continuation of the talk given to the Women of the ELCA Convention for Southwestern Washington Convention on October 12, 2019. Some may make its way into my next book. This is a multipart blog, as I talked for a long time interspersed with sharing time for the ladies at the convention. Perhaps you would like to consider the questions I ask after section of my talk.

In 2015, I began hiking on the American Discovery Trail. I really just was looking for a flat place to walk a long way and not work too hard. So, I chose one day before Cincinnati, Ohio to Moline, Illinois on the Mississippi River. Now, the American Discovery Trail is a very different kind of trail. It is a waymarked trail for foot and/or bicycle. And it goes all the way across the United States.  Now, if you’re going across the United States, you might notice there’s not much wilderness from Cape Henlopen, Delaware to the Rocky Mountains. Except for a few smallish sections (like the AT running north and south while I hike east and west) it is private property, or common public space, like roads or parks, but not wilderness.

That means on this trail, I can’t just pitch my tent at any good flat spot I find or even get water from passing streams due to heavy pollution from towns, cars, businesses and the run-off of farm chemicals.   Nor can I take care of nature’s needs by popping a squat all by myself, whenever the need arises, like I can in the wilderness. Hiking on the American Discovery Trail means I must ask complete strangers for stuff – like a place to put my tent, or water to drink or a place to go to the bathroom. Because I must ask people for things, I meet locals all along the way. And that has turned out to be the charm of that trail for me. I have had marvelous, wonderful, incredible experiences meeting the people along the way.

On this trail, at the end of a day, I go up to a door, knock and say, “Hi, my name is Mary Davison. I’m hiking on the American Discovery Trail. It goes coast to coast across the United States. You probably have never heard of it; but it goes right by your house. I have been hiking all day and I’m tired and I need a place to put my tent. May I put up my tent in your yard, please.”

Often the conversation goes like this: “You’re WHAT?” And I repeat my little spiel. And as I talk, they are looking around me to see who is with me – nobody – and they ask in amazement, “Are you alone?” I explain, yes, I do long distance hiking and I have hiked other long trails. I and many long-distance hikers hike alone. And their response often is then, “Aren’t you afraid?”

The American Discovery Trail has given me the opportunity to reflect on and talk about fear with many people. Generally, I use images or stories as I talk about fear.

First is the illustration of packing a pack for backpacking. A truism in hiking circles is that we pack for our fears. Now, if you have some piece of gear to meet every possible contingency you can imagine you would ever run into, you will not be able to lift your pack; it will be too heavy to carry. On the other hand, there are some things one carries for a bit of insurance against possible disasters. We fear being hungry, so we carry food. We fear being wet or cold, so we carry a jacket, raingear and bring a tent. Our level of fear is often the determining factor in what or how much we carry. I’m an old lady for backpacking. I try to carry as little as possible – which means I think about what fears and gear I can leave behind.

Non-hikers have told me that’s a good image for life. Sometimes, they have said that it was a new concept to think that they might leave some of their fears behind because they have become too heavy to carry.

Why might you want to leave a fear behind? Here’s a hiking story.

In 2014, the anticipation of crossing a particular river in Wyoming that was a 3-4 days hike from a road in any direction, completely psyched me out with fear. Now, I had forded rivers before. I forded the Gila River in New Mexico solo more than 200 times. Fording a river was not new to me. I had learned the best ways to ford a river and, though it was a bit scary the first few times, I was experienced in fording rivers.

But that particular day, I was hiking with my friend, RockStar. We set up our tents and I went to the river to get our water. I saw the damage the Soda River had done in the spring run-off, ripping the river bank away, leaving large trees uprooted and tossed and I remembered all the horror stories I had ever heard of people falling in rivers and being washed under log jams and dying and I totally spooked myself.

I came back to our campsite with water and told my friend we were going to die the next day. And no one would ever find our bodies. She looked at me like I was nuts and said she would worry about it tomorrow. The next morning, with my friend’s calm presence it did not turn out to be any worse than numerous other rivers I have forded. There wasn’t anything different, except my fear.
Although fear can be a good thing to help keep us safe, fear does not always seem to be a particularly reliable guide in hiking or in life.  I have known people whose fears have crippled their lives in some way or another. Sometimes it is good to leave fears behind, to free our lives for new experiences or even for something God calls us to do with our lives.

So, what fears would you like to leave behind? Have you ever thought that it might be possible to leave a fear behind you? What would that look like? You have three minutes now to turn to your neighbor and share a couple fears you might like to leave behind.

Fear Not 1

Well I have been off trail for a month. About time I got something up on this website. I have been writing, preparing to be keynote speaker for Southwestern Washington Lutheran Women’s Convention on October 12.

I decided to put that talk up on this site in installments. (Speaking for 1 hr, 15 minutes is a lot of words.) The format is to talk a while and then have people turn to their neighbor and share where this talk is leading them. Perhaps some of my followers on this site will find this interesting too.

Some of the illustrations are trail stories. Some are other life experiences. I am speaking as a hiker, mom and pastor. Some of this may make its way into my next book.

Fear Not

When I was asked to be the speaker, I wondered what I should talk about. Yes, I am an old long distance hiker, and yes, I did write a book about that. But it didn’t seem appropriate to just brag about where I have hiked, although I can certainly talk for hours about hiking. The topic was up to me. Well, one of the major threads in my next book I will write is fear. So, fear it is, or more precisely, questions about fear and fearing not.

Since I am a pastor and you are Lutherans, let’s start with the 23rd Psalm is probably the most well-known passage in the Bible, if only because it is so often read at funerals.

“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 fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; thou annointest my head with oil, my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.”

Is that Psalm only for our life’s end? Our funerals? Or is it for our living?

For today, let’s hold on to those center verses of the 23rd Psalm: “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow off death, I fear no evil for thou art with me.” That is a very big claim. Can we live that? What does living that look like? For me or for you.

I stumbled into this topic partly because one of the most commonly asked questions about my trekking has always been, “Aren’t you afraid of the bears?” Well, I have certainly seen bears. I respect bears. They are bigger than me. They are strong and have teeth and claws. I probably would lose a fight. But I have never had to fight either Black or Grizzly Bear.

The short answer in my relationship with bears is that they live in the wilderness. I just visit. It is up to me to learn about them and to be a good visitor. Most black bear don’t want to be around humans, unless they are habituated to know that hikers carry food, It is my job to keep my food away from them. And to make noise, even yell to let bears know I am there and not surprise them in their home. And good bears generally run away. The two I saw last month in Colorado did just that. Grizzlies are not quite so predictable. But the two grizzlies I saw in Montana while I was singing at the top of my lungs, didn’t even look at me. Like most long-distance hikers I am thrilled to see big game and I have seen cougar, black and grizzly bear, moose, deer, elk, porcupine, racoon, badgers, coyotes, fox, marmots, lynx, martins, squirrels, chipmunks, pikas, mice, rattlesnakes, lots of creatures who actually live in the wilderness. I have been happy to share the wilderness with them.

I really don’t consider the wilderness to be the valley of the shadow of death. Quite the opposite, the wilderness is filled with life. Wilderness trails are safer than you might imagine if you are not a hiker. One does need to learn about the wilderness and wilderness skills, to know something about what to do and how to act in the wilderness.

There are dangers and challenges in the wilderness. The weather can kill you. Hypothermia, snow and ice, floods, tornados and earthquakes happen. You can be killed by rock-slide or an avalanche or a falling tree you happen to be under. I could come to harm in the wilderness. Wilderness creatures and the forces of nature are amazing and wonderful, and also, potentially, dangerous.

Yet, there are generally less than 2 fatalities from bears per year in the Continental United States and thousands of fatalities from cars. Once, when I said that at one of my hiking presentations, someone popped up and said, “Yes, but we’re used to cars.” Hiking a long trail is taking a risk. So is getting behind the wheel of a car. Learning about how to do either is recommended.

Pastor Mark Johnson, my pastor now that I am retired, once asked in a sermon, why does God keep sending angels who say, Fear not. Or Don’t be afraid.?” I loved the answer someone in the congregation gave. “Because we are so blinkin’ afraid of everything.”

So, are we never supposed to be afraid? Is fear always bad?

We all are afraid of some things. Bears and lions and Tigers, Oh my. Amos 3:8 says “The lion has roared. Who will not be afraid?”

Fear can be a good thing because being afraid can keep us from danger and keep us safe. It can also rule our lives and keep us from living the full and abundant lives God gives to us.

Life is a dangerous sport. We are born into this world and, our innate growth processes put us in danger. Children move. Even natural development is dangerous.

When my daughter was learning to walk, we lived in a house in Texas with no carpet. She learned to pull herself up to furniture and the dishwasher; but when she tried to go away on her own, she fell and bashed those nice sharp baby teeth through her lip. That made her slow to learn to walk independently. She feared having that happen again. Fortunately, growth and development are powerful forces that overcame her fear. That bad experience slowed her for a while, but she did learn to walk and to dance and now she chases her own 8 children, rather well.

When we learn to walk as children, we learn to take risks. Walking is essentially a continual process of losing our balance, almost falling and catching our balance again with each step we take. You can see that process if you watch a child learning to walk. You can see that we have difficulty with that process as we age. And along the way in between the time we are babies and we are aged, we have a lot of opportunity to take risks and to catch our balance in living. Fear can keep us safe. We fear putting our hands in fire, and fear can hinder our living, like keeping my daughter from walking, for a while.

I want you to think for a minute about your own lives and think of at least a couple of examples of fear keeping you safe and a couple of examples of fear that hinders your living. I want you to turn to your neighbor or to a couple of neighbors near you and share what you are afraid of – speak those fears out loud: two fears that keep you safe and two fears that hinder your living.

On the Trail Again

For a writer who has authored a book I have done precious little writing for the last two months. But I have been busy. In fact I have been way too busy.

And now I am off on another hike again. This time it is to be pieces of the American Discovery Trail in Utah and Colorado. These will not be in a straight line and I will, once again, not have a daily blog on my web site. Go to Trailjournals.com and look up Medicare Pastor on American Discovery Trail – 2019. The first part of this journal is about my spring hike but the current hike will start showing up within about 3 days or sooner. The journal will continue at the end of the spring journal.

I would love to write more but the truth is I am hiking tomorrow morning and I must get to bed or I will be staggering tomorrow instead of hiking.

Rehabbing the Knee

Some have expressed surprise at my planning a spring hike this year, so soon after my second knee replacement. (4&1/2 months) I did not schedule a spring hike after my first knee replacement. Perhaps that was more wise. But maybe not – time will tell.

Once upon a time I heard a Doc say it was impossible to tell the length of time necessary to recover from a total knee replacement. Perhaps someone could recover in two months. I thought then, well, that someone should be me.

Nope. It does take more time than two months.

But rehabbing a knee sometimes runs contrary to popular wisdom. Sitting and standing are both the worst things for me and my knee. The knee wants to keep moving or it stiffens up and hurts. Repetitive motion is the key.

Yes, one does have to work to retrain muscles and nerves. They don’t just automatically heal up and work as before. A knee replacement is a lot of trauma and cells don’t remember their function automatically. Retraining is not just a matter of time. It is also a matter of work.

But yes, of course, one can overdo it. Too much work at any given stage can set the knee back in recovery. It is a fine line to find the maximum work for optimum recovery in the shortest time without doing too much and setting back recovery.

I think my knee is doing very well for 4 months and one week post-pop. I will get one more week before setting foot on trail for my spring hike.This hike is not steep with lots of elevation gain and loss. But it is a lot of miles per day. Too much? Or just the amount of repetitive motion I need? Time will tell. I survived the plane ride across the country. (Remember, sitting is the worst thing, not moving.)

Now I am chasing grandchildren for a different kind of therapy and the knee continues it’s rehab.

A note to those who are following me on this website: Once I am on trail I will be writing on Trailjournals.com and will not post on this website until sometime after June 4. To follow me, just go to Trailjournals.com and post Medicare Pastor on line for hiker name. Click American Discovery Trail 2019 for my daily posts if you would like to read them.

Triple Crown Presentation

Coming up fast for those in the Seattle/Lynnwood area: This Sunday, March 3, I am giving a presentation about hiking the Triple Crown at Trinity Lutheran Church, 6215 196th St SW, Lynnwood, WA 98036. It is a potluck beginning at 11:45 and ending at approximately 2:00. It will have oodles of pictures for those who have missed having any in the book. All are welcome.