Dear Grand Finale, I’m leaving your mom along with your brothers and sister tomorrow to go on a four-day, 52-mile backpacking trip. Many people don’t understand why I’d do such a thing, or, for that matter, why your mom would allow me to do it. And I certainly don’t want you to fall in that category.
Accordingly, here are 10 things I want you to know.
1. It’s a long-term deal: See, Grand Finale, a friend and I committed a while back to hike the entire Appalachian Trail in annual sections. All told, if we succeed, we won’t finish until we’re well into our 60s as the trail is over 2,200 miles. And though my friend and I made that commitment to each other, we really made it to ourselves. I can’t really quite explain why, but you’d understand if you were hiking alongside of me. Maybe one day, you’ll want to do just that.
2. It takes discipline and organization: Daddy’s about to trade his complicated yet comfortable life for a simple but arduous one. In so doing, every single thing I’ll need must fit into my backpack. Because of that, I have to be highly organized. To get that tight, much discipline is required.
3. It’s a faith thing: You know what’s funny? Each and every year before I go, I have a hard time sleeping for a couple of nights prior to my departure. I think it has something to do with the unknown. It’s hard to predict what each trip will be like. But, you know what I’ve learned? We don’t really know what’s going to happen in the real world, either, we just think we do. A false comfort, indeed. No such false comfort out in the woods. Still, each year, all my anxiety disappears as soon as I take my initial step. Like most anything, Grand Finale, the leap is always the biggest hurdle. But with faith, even that is something which can be overcome.
4. The joy: Whenever you spend several consecutive days outside, you’re in for quite a treat. For as you ascent 3,000-foot gains, the views are often as incredible as they are indescribable. Such sights are accompanied by a joy that’s borderline miraculous.
5. The struggle: But there are also great difficulties as well. Whenever you decide to brave the elements and rely upon only that which you can carry upon your back as you traverse difficult terrain, there will often bring situations which can bring you to your knees. I’m not ashamed to tell you that I’ve cried more than once while on these challenging journeys. Sometimes I’m not even sure the reason for my tears, other than the fact that it’s just plain hard.
6. Mental fortitude: It’s for that reason that one must develop a certain degree of mental fortitude when backpacking. And in those moments when the challenge seems to be more than I bargained for, I have to remind myself that virtually anything is possible. It’s remarkable how much better I do when my mind is right.
7. Physical strength: But the mental fortitude would not amount to a hill of beans if my body weren’t ready for the trail. So each year, I make certain that it’s just that. Which is why it’s imperative I maintain a high level of fitness.
8. Youth: If the price of admission to go on these trips is both mental and physical strength, then the payoff is the youth these sojourns bring me. They instill in me a certain bravado that’s hard for me to articulate. But it has to do with refusing to grow old in the manner in which many seem content to do. I want to always possess such youth. Even when I’m old.
9. It’s a God thing: When you’re outside for four straight days trekking up and down paths which carve their way through the mountains, you’re often left to do little more than reflect. It’s somewhere in all of those reflections where God exists. I speak to him regularly at home. But in the woods, our conversations can go on for hours.
10. The metaphor: The previous nine points bring me to my tenth—the true reason I do this trip every year son. The commitment I made in trying to hike the entire Appalachian Trail is a wonderful metaphor for commitments in general. And that’s why I go. To honor all the commitments in my life. Including the one I’m making to you.
For that commitment is also a long-term deal, one which will require tremendous discipline and organization. Just like I’m anxious to begin my hike tomorrow, I’m also anxious for your arrival. Like the trail, you can bet that you’re imminent birth has caused me more than a few sleepless nights as I toss and turn in anticipation for the beginning of our journey together. I have faith that it will go well.
Just like I have faith that we’ll experience unspeakable joy together. Yet I also know that there will be many difficult times, some of which will likely reduce us both to tears. Which is okay. It’s more than okay. Because I promise to do everything in my power to develop the mental fortitude to help us navigate the tough times.
And I promise that I’ll always try to stay in good shape. I’ll be nearly 60 when you graduate from high school, but I plan on being the youngest 60-year-old you know, if for no other reason than because we have a lot of living to do together. And I intend on being young enough to enjoy every single bit of it.
The trail is, indeed, a God thing, and so, too, is your conception. And believe me when I tell you that I plan on thanking Him time and time again in the four days to come for the gift he’s given us in you.
Each year, I fight many battles on the trail, but they’re typically waged by me—whether I’m questioning my endurance, challenging my perseverance, or pushing my resolve to the absolute limit. Those battles motivate my body to keep moving through the last two miles of a long day. Those battles motivate my mind to ignore the burn in my thighs as I ascend the final 1,500 feet which separate me from my destination.
This year, I’ll have an extra incentive. For this year, I’ll know that each successive step I take will bring me one step closer to you.
I love you, Grand Finale. You be good while I’m gone, you hear?