Friday, December 25, 2009

Dear Dad

I wonder sometimes how much of my personality and character come from you and mom. I think about the influence that you have had on my life, and the values that you have instilled in all of your children, but especially the ones that you have instilled in me. I do not think that I could have been blessed with a better set of parents. You and mom have modeled a good life for me.

You have taught me to value my relationship with God above all else, and to value my relationships with people after that. Each day as you study and apply the scripture, you set an example that I want to follow. Your critical analysis has taught me not to take things at face value, but to consider everything that I see, hear, or read in the light of reason, experience, and the things that I know to be true. You have also taught me that just because someone is wrong, it does not mean that it is my duty to correct them, a lesson that I am still learning. You have taught me the value of discipline and taking care of your body through careful eating and exercise.

Your accomplishments make me want to do great things. I am so proud every time that I tell people about your ultra marathons, the time you ran 100 miles, the time you ran down a rabbit, and the list goes on. I want to be like you. I want to know everything and to have done everything like you. I want to sail like you, and maintain my own home like you. I want to appreciate the outdoors as much as you do. I want to travel and learn for my entire life like you have done.

Thank you for teaching me to hunt and to shoot. Thank you for teaching me to travel. Thank you for teaching me to read everything and ask lots of questions (and follow up questions). Thank you for teaching me to have a good sense of humor (well, I don’t know how good it is ^_~ ). Thank you for teaching me to run, and helping me understand math and science. Thank you for trying to teach me about birds and plants. Thank you for giving me my first knife at the age of 5 (I miss that knife). Thank you for teaching me to make my own decisions and be responsible for those decisions. Thank you for teaching me that physical comfort is not the most important thing.

You have raised me from a child to a man, and that means so much to me. The best gift you ever gave me was telling me that I was a man, and that whatever decision I made would be a good one. The second best gift you ever gave me was your combat knife (that is my favorite possession).

I have too many fond memories of you to list them here (I guess that is a good thing), but I will mention a few of my favorites. I remember getting my first knife from you. I remember catching my first fish in yellow stone with you. I remember shooting my first deer at Mr. Wilsons with you (heart shot from a shooting house). I remember when we would go hunting off of the ground, and we would take turns sleeping. I remember running with you to get ready for my first season of Cross Country. I remember hunting for sharks teeth in Galveston with you. I remember when you took me to Costa Rica for the first time. I remember guiding the canoe at Tuscoba with you. I remember most of our hunting trips. I remember when I first started coming into your office in campus as a little kid, and then as a university student. I remember hiking barefoot across the Alaskan tundra with you. These are just a few of my favorites.

Basically what I am trying to say with this letter is that you are the best Dad ever and I really love you. Thank you for helping make me who I am today. Thank you for being the best Dad that anyone could hope for.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What Fools These Mortals Be

As I am sure you have gathered from reading my blog, I am a little bit crazy. I make a habit of referring to myself as a schemer on a regular basis. About every two or three weeks I have some crazy new idea which almost never comes to pass, but which nevertheless manages to get me excited. This week my idea is to build a ship.

Now I know that sounds ridiculous. How am I going to build a ship with no experience and little money while sitting on a farm in Costa Rica? Before you write me off completely, let me tell you a little bit of my story.

Three years ago I told a friend of mine that after she graduated, I would build a boat and that we would sail together to Alaska. I built her a toy boat, and a bamboo raft, but I never kept my word to my friend. As I was sitting on the front porch of our farm house, looking at the canoe that my fellow missionary Joshua had made, I began to think about my friend back home. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could finally keep part of my promise by giving her a canoe that I had made? But how could I get a heavy wooden canoe back to Alabama?

I started thinking about myself paddling back to Alabama in a canoe. No, I would definitely need something bigger, and preferably something with sails. I thought about a larger outrigger canoe with sails, but then I imagined myself being carried out to sea in a tiny little craft, waves crashing over my head, no land in sight. I would definitely need something bigger than a canoe if I wanted to cross the Caribbean. It was then that I had the idea to build a ship. I wanted something small enough to be managed by one or two people, but large enough to travel safely in the sea. Almost immediately I started drawing up plans for my small sail boat. It would be about 30 ft. long, 10 ft wide in the middle, with living quarters below deck and triangle sails above.

I am not so unrealistic that I believe that I am going to succeed at building a seaworthy vessel, but every day I become more hopeful as my designs are refined. The biggest challenge that I face at the moment is determining if this is just a silly idea that I have for my own gratification, or if this adventure actually has a purpose. Is keeping a silly, half-joking promise to a friend sufficient justification for building a ship and having a great adventure, or is it just an excuse. Does keeping my promise mean anything to anyone other than me?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

L-rd please rescue me from my brothers in Christ!

Please Father, protect me from the extreme right wing of dogmatic Christianity that preaches that there is something spiritually wrong with me because I do not feel extreme conviction at the idea of drinking alcohol. Please deliver me from my brothers in Christ, who stand and point at me (with 3 fingers pointing right back at themselves) to condemn me for having friendships with sinners, for not being as conservative as they are, for not condemning anyone who partakes of alcohol or cigarettes or who listens to non-religious music and dances, for not wanting to loudly and dogmatically evangelize anything with two legs and a pulse. L-rd please give me your peace and fill me with your love to the point that it cannot help but overflow into the lives of these people. I earnestly want your help in this L-rd. I am in a desert, begging for a sip of the water of life that will allow me to love my brother instead of being disgusted by the words of his lips.

I do not want to slander my brother or hate him or condemn him as I am being condemned by him. I want to show him the same love that you have given me for those who do not believe in you. It is so much harder for me to have love for a fellow Christian who behaves in this way than it is for me to love a non-believer who is only acting according to the flesh by which he is bound. Please soften my heart L-rd and forgive me for hating my brother and judging him according to my prejudices. It is easy to see why non-believers so often hate Christians, but I ask that you would forgive me of that attitude and change me so that I cannot see why anyone would hate another person who is not blaspheming your name. Please forgive me for being equally guilty of the same actions that I am condemning.

Always the Cynic

Two years ago, my friend and mentor (and now brother in law) Ben was giving a talk to a group of Campus Life staff at one of our “three story evangelism” training seminars. I will never forget what he said.

“When I first heard about ‘three story evangelism’, I was not completely sure if I bought into it or not. It was not until I saw Andrew Bishop, who is extremely critical and cynical of everything, whole heartedly embrace ‘three story’ that I knew for sure that this is good stuff.”

Fifth Story

I have just finished reading Donald Miller’s latest book, and I am about to start reading it again. I talks about stories in a way that is real, but that still inspires me to make my own life into a better story.

Reading this book has really helped me to take a look at my life and start evaluating the stories that I am living. I have realized that most of the stories that I am living are really not great stories so much as great adventures. They are mostly fun and interesting and challenging, and I believe that they help me to grow, but they are also mostly self serving. Most of my life is done because of a desire to gratify my own curiosity, rather than a desire to serve others. There is, however, one exception. My time with Campus Life is the best story that I have lived. It is the best thing that I have done with my life, and it is something that I greatly miss. I want to live more great stories like that, rather than devoting my whole life to personal adventures.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Higher Pastures

The farm in Delta (the name of the region), is located on the banks of a river which floods every year. Like much of the Amazon basin, the land is actually highest at the riverbanks, sloping gently down into swamps and lagoons as you move farther from the river. Parts of our farm are high enough that they only flood by a few inches, while other parts can be submerged up to waist or even chest height.

Our cows need a place to rest at night where they can be dry, and because of this need, we are currently in the process of building a mound of earth which will act as a base for our future corral. We began the process by hauling old and rotting lumber into a large rectangle that is roughly 8 meters by 10 meters. Using two shovels and a wheel barrow we have spent the last few days hauling earth from different parts of the farm in order to raise the level of the ground by as much as two feet in places. When we finish, we will start construction of the corral that we need and eventually we will build a roof as well.

I feel like so little of my time actually goes to working on spiritual matters. On Sunday we lead a church service, and we do spend some time with neighbors, but it is a difficult transition for me to go from spending 20 hours a week working with students through Campus Life to spending about 5 hours a week leading a church service. It is such a different pace here.

I would love to be in the schools leading bible studies, but we have certain jobs that we must get done quickly before the floods arrive, and to travel to the schools and talk to the teachers in Jobo and Zapotal is an entire days worth of work, and costs about $20 worth of gasoline. We are going to try to talk to the teachers this Sunday, but even if we can get permission to start, we wont have time to visit all the schools until we have finished the corral, and Juan has finished the boat that he was contracted to build for the neighbors.

I have been praying and I ask that you also will pray for opportunities to share the gospel and talk with people about the word of God throughout the week. Also please pray as I am making decisions about whether to start teaching (English, and maybe math and reading) in a local school that currently has no teacher (they may not even want me to teach).

One neat thing did happen this week. One of our neighbors has a 15 year old sun named Alfredo. Alfredo loves to be around gringos, and the other day we invited him to eat with us. Before eating, we asked him to pray over the meal. He claimed that he did not know how, but after we explained to him that praying simply means talking to God, and gave him some ideas about things to pray about, he lead me and Juan in a wonderful blessing over our meal.

Monday, November 30, 2009


“Did anyone ring the doorbell while I was gone?”
“I thought someone did at one point, but when I went to check nobody was there.”
“I am just asking because the neighbors were held up at gun point just a few minutes ago.”

I do not think I could stand to live in a city like San Jose for more than a year or two. The streets of San Jose are packed with people, the air smells of diesel fuel, and every street crossing is a gamble with your life. Sometimes it is hard for me to see why anyone would want to live in a place like this. On the other hand, as I browsed the aisles of the farmers market in San Jose, I began to better understand the culture of the city, as well as the access to resources and jobs that would make a city attractive to many people.

As I spend more time in the Delta, I am slowly beginning to learn the needs of the mission, and how I can fit into those needs. As much as I love hunting and fishing, gardening, making dugout canoes (more on that later), and building desks and beds, the real reason that I am here has to do with people. The school in Delta has 14 students and no teacher. Because there is no teacher, the students do not come to school and we cannot begin a bible study there.

Please pray for me, because Juan and I are strongly considering talking to the board of education in Delta to see if we can begin teaching English, math, and reading to the students there. This could be a great opportunity to get more involved in the community, to open doors for sharing the gospel, and to serve people as we are called to do by Christ. Juan and I are hoping to talk with the school teachers this week so that we can quickly begin Bible studies in the schools in Jobo Costa Rica, Jobo Nicaragua, Zapotal, and the Delta school.

Interesting things I have done to this point:
Built a desk and shelves
Started construction of a dugout canoe
Started learning how to drive and repair a motor boat
Attended an all Spanish church planting through story telling conference
Stepped on a rust nail
Bathed with a bucket
Hunted multiple creatures that I wont list
Fished a Central American river
Had fresh delicious churros in the farmers market
Shelled fresh grown coffee beans
Visited a Spanish church where 50 strangers sang happy birthday to me

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Please pray for me. Yesterday I remembered just how important prayer is. The day started well. Juan, Anita and I spent the morning collecting bananas and cutting bad banana trees in a big field surrounded by swamp. After a morning of work, it was time for a little fun.

We set out with Juan’s rifle to do a bit of hunting. Between shooting a coin off of a tree, and bagging two animals with two shots, I really impressed everyone with my shooting ability. The pride that this caused was very dangerous.

I went with Juan that afternoon to examine a broken boat motor, and after that, he wanted to show off my shooting ability to a friend, so we got in the boat and went hunting. As you can probably imagine, a moving boat in a river is not the best position to shoot from, especially when your target is high in a tree and is barely larger than a squirrel (no, we were not hunting monkeys).

I spent 5 shots and managed to hit my target once or twice, but it did not fall from the tree. We decided to disembark and try again from the ground. We walked a short distance and then, POW! The gun went off in my hand. As we were hiking on the island, my hand must have pushed the safety button to the fire position because a branch managed to snag the trigger of the rifle and set it off. Luckily it was pointed at the ground, but this frightened me greatly because the bullet hit the ground only a couple of feet from the foot of a boy named Kenny who was hunting with us.

I have learned a lesson about pride, but also about prayer. If things had gone differently and the rifle had been pointed at Kenny rather than at the ground, I don’t like to think about what could have happened.

On a slightly happier note.

We went to Jobo on Sunday. Jobo is a small town on the San Juan River that is located half in Costa Rica, and half in Nicaragua. There we met in a school house to hold a Sunday church service. Anita preached, and Juan and I lead children’s bible study and memory verse. It was a great learning experience, and a great opportunity to share part of God’s word with the people of Jobo and especially the children, who outnumbered the adults 19 to 3.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What's the Point?

I was reading a book by the overweight, self-absorbed, obnoxious guy that always manages to speak directly to me even though we have not met. The book that I was reading was about him and some guys trying to make another book of his into a movie, but really it was about his attempt to make his life into a more compelling story.

After reading a section of this guy’s book that was copied almost verbatim from his first book, I began to think about the story of my life. In this story there is a well developed character, but there does not seem to be a key problem for the character to overcome. Sure this character has many interesting experiences and adventures, but what is the point? What moves the story along? What is the great mission that unifies the life of the protagonist?

I will think more about this as I sit and listen to the rain beating down on the tin roof of our house in the Delta. At the moment there is not much else to do. During the day, Juan Ruiz has to work on work on a boat that he is building to supplement his almost non-existent financial support, and Anita and I are left to cook, and prepare bible lessons for the kids. Anita is staying at the Delta with me and Juan for a few days to teach me how to cook, how to sing Spanish children’s songs, and how to lead the bible studies.

Since arriving at the delta yesterday, I have organized my room, begun construction of a brand new set of shelves, fished, killed a chicken, learned to cook rice, and learned the first bible lesson, complete with memory verse and songs. Who knows what we will do tomorrow.

I do know that I already miss my family, and that I am very much looking forward to Christmas. Maybe I have traveled to much?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

How Many Roads

I woke up at 4:45 this morning. That is too early. It is still dark and cold outside, and if it was not for the bitter coffee that my brother Daniel made for me, I would most definitely be falling asleep right now. Atlanta is not as peaceful in the morning as the airport in Anchorage. People here seem a little bit more agitated than the people in Alaska. Maybe this is just a result of my own feelings of agitation.

Last night something finally hit me and I started to feel nervous about traveling to Costa Rica. I remember being a student in the missionary training school down here. I remember always feeling like I had done something wrong. That is how I feel now. For no rational reason, I feel like I have done something wrong and Ana will be mad at me. Maybe this is the result of being under her authority again for the first time in years, or maybe I feel this way because of the stress of leaving my parents again.

“I am tired of traveling. I just want to be home.”

My dad tells me that I am lucky, and that most people never get the opportunity to get tired of traveling.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Long Road Home

As my journey comes to an end, I am starting to feel home calling to me. It is like a siren's song growing louder and stronger by the mile, pulling me back to the inevitable embrace of the people I love and the town that never seemed to small for me. I am not going back to a place diminished by what I have seen, but illuminated by it.

There is something about returning home that I cannot really describe. Seeing the strange give way to the familiar, feeling the damp air in my lungs, smelling the earthy, dirty smell of the Black Warrior River. An orchestra of insects serenades me like a military band welcoming back heroes of war from a long campaign in distant lands. I feel like a child again as I pull into the driveway, comforted again by the routine of coming home, a routine that is only reinforced by the slight deviations that accompany each individual trip.

I have come home early and in secret. My brother is in the living room distracting my parents with his digital video camera. I stalk quietly onto the porch, and then after a moments pause, I burst through the front door and yell "Surprise!"


My story is not a new one. Millions of people have made billions of journeys throughout the ages, some for pleasure, most for necessity, and all an act of discovery. The experiences that I have had and the wisdom that I have gained is not uncommon to man, and yet, in spite of their universal nature, the things that I have learned are simultaneously unique to me.

I see that truth as fundamental to the beauty of this side of life. We are all the same, and yet we are all really and truly unique. If this were not so, what would be the point in experiencing anything?

Every snow flake is made of the same substance with the same chemical properties and basic structure, and yet every snow flake is different from every other snow flake. Are we not amazingly more complex than a bit of frozen water?

I praise Him for I am fearfully and wonderfully made!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Long Walk

Mesa Verde was much more than I had imagined as a child. The culture and history of the people who lived here was enough to keep me wandering through museums and cliff dwellings for hours, until my whole body ached and I simply did not have the energy to see another Kiva, or read another informational plaque.

I left Mesa Verde excited to have seen something that I had always wanted to see. I made my way east from the National park all the way to the borders of Great Sand Dunes National Park, South of Colorado Springs. Camping for the night in a large sandy field of desert scrub, I was presented with more stars than I have seen at any other location on my travels.

The next morning I began the short drive into GSDNP, a drive punctuated by sighting of elk and prong horned antelope. The dunes themselves were amazing. In spite of the bitter cold wind and light rain, I made my way a quarter of a mile out into the foothills of sand. It was difficult hiking across the loose ground, my face constantly being stung by blowing particles of silica. Eventually I was forced to turn back, but my timing turned out to be good because I was rewarded with two sights on my way out of the park. The first was a menonite dad with his four happy daughters, the youngest of which was holding his hand as he skipped with her to make her happy. The second sight was a group of four really big bodied, large racked mule deer.

I becoming anxious about the end of my trip, so I will sum up my remaining adventures in one paragraph. I made my way north, where I went rock climbing in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs and stopped to give a homeless lady a bag of groceries as well as a bible that she asked for. From there I visited Denver, where my truck was assaulted by wind to the point that as I slept it felt like my vehicle was being physically pushed by people outside. I made a brief visit to Boulder, where I met up with my friend and former boss, Laura, who showed me around campus, took me out to eat, and then allowed me to stay the night on her very comfortable couch. The next morning I had a fun photoshoot with a 19 year old argentine foster mom. That afternoon I set out on a two day, 22 hour, 1200 mile drive east and south through Kansas, Missouri (where I saw two horse and buggies riding down the highway), Arkansas (where a friendly guy gave me 5 quarts of oil for my truck even though I told him that I had plenty), mississippi, and finally sweet home Alabama.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Why Did The Coyote Cross The Road?

I feel like the L-rd has decided to bless me above and beyond the norm today, beginning with the two coyotes that I saw running full tilt across the highway. As I descended from the 8,000 feet of elevation at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, the terrain slowly shifted from forest back to desert.

I do not claim to be an expert on the Navajo, also called the Dineh (or Dine, or Dinae), but for most of my childhood I have been led to believe that they did not believe in the private ownership of land, and that they cared greatly about nature. For this reason, I find it slightly ironic that just outside of the town of Page, where I stopped to get my oil changed, I saw my first Navajo power plant, as well as Antelope Canyon, the first of many natural wonders that they charge to visit because it is on “private property”.

I am a little sad about Antelope Canyon because I have always wanted to visit it, but I did not have the time or the money to see it this trip (at least that is what I am telling myself). Instead, I got back on the road heading for Mesa Verde. I spent a large chunk of the trip talking on the phone to my mom and dad and my friends Mary Katherine. I stopped briefly at a pull off on the side of the road where a lady built a stone house in the 1930s using natural boulders as part of the architecture. I drove right past the Four Corners National Monument, because once again, the Navajo Nation charges an admission fee.

Finally, around evening, I arrived at Mesa Verde. I have wanted to visit this place ever since I was a young child and learned about it in my history books. The cliff palace in Mesa Verde National Park is a pueblo village dating back to 1200 B.C. which is built entirely in the under clung side of a cliff (like a huge, shallow cave). The Mesa is both huge and beautiful, covered in dead trees and low red and yellow colored scrub brush. The road to the cliff dwellings snakes more than 23 miles from the park entrance to the terminal loop that passes the majority of the dwellings.

I made it just in time to see the cliff palace before sunset. It was breath taking to see the ancient architecture, still in a good state of repair after all these years, due to the shelter of the cliff. I spoke to Morine, a fellow traveler who convinced me to return in the morning to take the tour. She had spent the entire day at Mesa Verde and she insured me that the tour was worth it. I guess we will find out tomorrow!

As I made my way back to the rest stop where I will spend the night, I was surprised to hear celtic music on the radio. It was Thistle and Shamrock with Fiona Ritchie, one of my favorite radio shows, and one that never fails to make me want to move to Scotland or Ireland to marry a red headed, green eyed princess.

Maybe next summer….

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Return to Eden

If you ever visit the Grand Canyon, consider the North Rim as a more beautiful and secluded alternative to the overly touristy South Rim. I feel so much happier when I am in wooded forests. I feel like I can appreciate G-d and hear him better in the wilderness. This is definitely how I felt on the North Rim, as I sat on a rocky out cropping more than 100 feet high beside the North Kaibab Trail. There are few hikers late in the day, and the valley below me is covered in dense firs. It looks like a northern California forest, rather than the Arizona desert of the South Rim.

The L-rd has been speaking to me through the Psalms for a while now. I was reading about kind David, watching his tongue around his enemies. I began to think about watching my own tongue, and how I had failed to watch myself when I was fussing at my drunken friend about the semantics behind her concept of spirituality. In spite of my complete lack of compassion and love in that instant, G-d still touched my friend, and she spoke honestly for the first time about her beliefs.

As I sat on a rock reflecting on this, I felt like the L-rd was telling me that his good works were not at all dependant upon my good works. I have no control over him or power to stop his good works through my own bad deeds. He is to far above me for that.

As if to further manifest his Love for me in spite of my failures, as I drove out of the park that evening, I passed massive herds of mule deer, grazing in the grassy meadows, bounded by firs and yellow leafed aspens. I even had the honor of seeing a doe nursing twin fawns.

I camped in a beautiful clearing that night, surrounded by open forest. My tiny campfire crackled with the mixture of cool burning fir, and hot burning, popping aspen branches. I sat their and smoked my own hand rolled version of a cigar (pipe tobacco and rolling papers), enjoying the solitude of the forest before I finally crawled into my truck for a very cold night’s sleep.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Good Riddance

Honestly, I am not sad to see my Vegas experience end. I will miss my friends and it was really good to hang out with someone that I knew for a little while, but I am just not cut out for the life of debauchery that is best suited for the Sin City. I am not into strip clubs or sex shops, I am not a heavy drinker, I do not enjoy crowds, I am too poor for shows, and I do not understand the appeal of gambling (even though I did come out ahead on the slot machines).

To be honest, I spent a lot of my trip frustrated. My friends are nice, but they have a very different set of beliefs than I do. This is not usually a problem, but when I catch one of them shoplifting and then have to spend an hour and a half trying to reason/argue with her while she is drunk until I finally force her to return the stolen item, suddenly our difference in beliefs becomes a problem. I love these individuals, but I am not about to go to jail for being an accomplice to shoplifting.

Another challenge of Vegas is the hours that people keep. I like to go to sleep by 10 each night and wake up around 8 or 9 in the morning. Vegas likes to keep you up until 4:30 and then get you up 3:30 hours later. This is okay for one day, but then it starts to take its toll, and I become irritable and unpleasant to be around.

All in all, I am glad that I can say that I went to Las Vegas and saw what it is like, but I don’t think I will be going back any time soon. I especially do not want to be anything like the gentle man in the elevator who said that he did not like living in Vegas because half his pay check went to bills, and the other half went to casinos.

PS: One of my friends borrowed my camera

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Road To Vegas

It is hard to believe that I have traveled so many highways in my journey around the U.S. and yet, I am only just now driving on the infamous Route 66. I find it appropriate that I am traveling on Route 66(6) toward Sin City. The funny thing is that I always thought the road to hell would be a little more enticing, but Route 66 is nothing but boring black top and low speed limits, occasionally bordered by abandoned restaurants and auto-body shops.

The Hoover Dam is a marvel of not-so-modern engineering. Containing hundreds of thousands (or is it millions?) of tons of concrete, and holding back what was at the time, the largest man made lake in the world, the Hoover Dam was somehow built ahead of schedule and under budget. In fact, revenue from the Dam has more than paid back the entire cost of construction.

Driving across the dam I am surprised as much by the hundreds of tourists, as I am by the sheer magnitude of what is beneath me. The Dam is huge and beautiful. I would like to tell you more, but it costs $8 just to enter the visitors center, never mind the cost of actually touring the dam.

It is only a short ride from the Hoover Dam to Las Vegas where I have a $9 hotel room awaiting my arrival. I am excited because I have friends traveling up from Tucson to visit for a few days.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Grand Canyon: Day 3

Needless to say, I was relieved when I awoke for the fifteenth time to see that the sun was finally rising and I could see well enough to use the bathroom and start breakfast. While I ate, I saw Carol walking around, and I called her over.

“Why don’t you take some trail mix and water, and leave the bag with me. I will catch up to you in about thirty minutes and we can hike together some more.”

“Andrew, I know how much you wanted to hike fast after talking to those guys yesterday. You don’t have to wait up for me. I don’t want to hold you back.”

“Nahh, its fine. As long as I am out by noon, I will be happy.”

After our short exchange, we set off. It seemed like every person that we passed, including a park ranger, we would stop so that Carol could tell the story and then try to give me credit as though it was hard for me to hike slower and carry an extra eight pounds of gear.

She was irritated that Ed had not been able to make it to Indian Garden because of a shift change, and that ranger Ken had been very unfriendly and unhelpful, but she seemed to be in overall better spirits than the day before.

She was finally able to eat more food, and was encouraged by how far we had come, and as we slowly made our way to the top, I could sense her getting more and more happy. She was also becoming more open, telling me much more of her life story which was fascinating, though sad at times. I have learned over the last few years that there are very few people in life who have not faced some sort of serious trials and hardships in their life, and Carol was not the exception to that rule.

The trail gets very steep, and passes through several short stone archways as you get very near the top. The trail also becomes much more crowded. I began to see many of the people that I had seen at Phantom Ranch passing us by. I saw the group that I met on the bus ride a two days before. I also saw my neighbors from Phantom ranch, when I was within a quarter mile of the top.

My excitement was building and I started to push Carol harder, until finally the end was just one switchback away. My adrenaline was really pumping as I crossed the last couple of feet and was finally surrounded by tired hikers and tourists gawking at the canyon that I had just descended and ascended. I was in a great mood as I said my good byes and headed to my truck.

I felt so good for the rest of the day that I went to the Laundromat in the campground and did all of my laundry, cleaned and completely reorganized my truck, and got a shower which was supposed to last 8 minutes, but due to some blessing from G-d, did not turn off till I eventually got bored, quite a feat when you have not had a shower in a week, and turned it off of my own volition.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Grand Canyon: Day 2, Part 2

After hearing Carol’s story, I realized that she did not just need my help for a little way, she really needed my help for the entire hike. I had prayed to G-d for someone to hike with, and he had provided me with an opportunity to serve.

I borrowed a pen and paper from Carol, and while she sat and rested, I ran the half mile to catch up with Marian.

“Do you need us to get a ranger!?” she yelled as I approached.
“No!” I shouted back, “But she is going to need my help the rest of the way, so I wanted to get your and your dad’s email addresses because I think you are very interesting people.”

I got her to scribble down the addresses, and began to head back down the trail as her dad called from around the bend for her to catch up. That was the last I saw of Marian and her father.

I spent the rest of the morning hiking with Carol, stopping every hundred yards for her to let her heart calm down. We talked about all kinds of things that morning. She told me stories about her daughters, and her ex-husband. She told me about her eccentric friend Ken, who lived in Ashville, NC and owned a motorcycle, sail plane, and a goat. She told me about her desire to go to Africa, which she did, and about how she had just signed up for the Peace Corps after being laid off from her job.

Before we new it, it was 11:00 and we had made it to Indian Gardens, a beautiful micro-forest where the NPS located a pump house which actually pumps water up hill to the rim lodges. Indian Garden is a much busier location than Phantom Ranch, so I spent several hours just sitting in the shade by the water fountain, talking to different hikers as they came through.

I started to get really excited as I talked to a spread out group from Intel. There were 28 of them doing their second rim to rim day hike in the last week. They started out on the South Rim, and hiked across to the North Rim a few days before, and after some resting and a little partying, they were crossing back to their vehicles on the South Rim.

Each of the hikers wore fancy synthetic cloths, a green wrist band, and some tags to identify them. They also carried radios and an assortment of snacks in their lightweight Camelbacks, miniature backpacks with built in drinking bladders. Most of them had hiked the Grand Canyon before, and were trying to meet personal goals as far as hiking time, which ranged from barely over five hours to about fourteen hours to make the rim to rim crossing.

I wanted to hike out at that point, but I was not willing to leave Carol behind, and I already had a permit to camp for the night, so I made do by enjoying the creek for a while, finishing Searching for G-d Knows What, and hiking out to Plateau Point where another hiker found a small rattlesnake. Indian Gardens was a very friendly place, and I was able to talk to a lot of cool people including Christine, a 40 year old geographer from Colorado/Wyoming.

Finally it was time to sleep, so I made my way to my campsite for the worst night of sleep I have had in weeks. There was a very cold wind blowing all night. For those of you who don’t know, wind passes right through fleece and almost completely negates its effectiveness as insulation, which is probably why there is such a huge market for “wind-stopper fleece”. In addition to the unexpected cold and wind, mice crawled all over my sleeping bag throughout the night. At least, I assume they were mice. They could have been tarantulas…

To Be Continued…

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Grand Canyon: Day 2, Part 1

I woke up early the next morning. My little fleece mummy bag was more than warm enough, and I slept well after making a pillow out of my shirt. I am not a breakfast person, but I somehow managed to force down four delicious packs of strawberry oatmeal before setting out on the trail around 6:30.

Before I even made it out of Phantom Ranch, I found my first bit of company on the trail. Two does and two fauns blocked my path for about ten minutes as they casually grazed just ten paces away from where I stood. There is something extremely peaceful about mornings at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The weather is warm, but not hot. The people camping next to me barely stirred as they slept off last night’s revelries. I could really feel the presence of the L-rd in that quiet place.

Shortly after crossing the Colorado River on Bright Angel trail, I encountered another pair of Hikers, a father and daughter hiking the Grand Canyon together. The father is a surgeon, originally from the Middle East, but now living outside Washington D.C., and the daughter, Marian, is a fifth year senior, studying physiology in Los Angeles. It was the daughter’s first serious hike, but as we walked she asked my advice about other hikes in different national parks that I would recommend. She talked about forcing her friends to do more of this kind of thing, and also about a triathlon that she wanted to compete in with her friends.

For the next mile and a half we walked together, discussing travel, bikes, jobs, and anything else that came up. Her father had a lot of good advice about not wasting time.

“If you don’t know what to do, just try something. Then you will know if you want to do that or not.”
“Time is the most precious thing that we have.”
“Life is like a one hundred dollar bill. If I gave you a hundred dollars, you would spend the first ten carelessly, but you would be very careful about how you spent the last ten. You should spend the entire one hundred as carefully as you spend the last ten.”

I was really enjoying my new hiking companions, not to mention Marian was very beautiful, but it seems that G-d had a different hiking companion in mind for me. After about a mile and a half, we met up with Carol, a lady that I had met in the campground earlier. Carol looked like she really needed some help, so after talking to her for a moment, I offered to help her carry her bag for a little way. Carol is in her sixties, and was having a very hard time forcing herself to eat and drink so the going was slow.

After a short time, I told Marian and her father to go on, that I would catch up with them later. Me and Carol continued to hike for quite some time while she told me her story.

“I read all of the literature before I came out here. Everything that I read said that normal people can make the hike down the Grand Canyon and back. I figured, I am in good shape, why couldn’t I do that? So I spent some time talking to different people who were doing the hike, some overweight, some very old, and I thought, surely if they can do it, I can do it, so I set out with my backpack, some snacks and water, a jacket, and my hat.

“Twelve hours later, I was finally in sight of the bridge crossing the Colorado River, but I absolutely could not go on! I sat there, in sight of the bridge, for a long time until a couple came by. Their names were Angie and Jake, and they gave me some water. Then Jake helped me to walk, while Angie force fed me trail mix. Finally I arrived at Phantom Ranch where the rangers put me in a bunk house.

“I slept all of Saturday and Sunday, occasionally trying to eat a few bites of whatever they were serving in the canteen. Ranger Mandy asked me what I had been able to eat, and I told her I was able to eat the eggs they served at breakfast, so she scrambled me a bunch of delicious eggs, then later, ranger Ed gave me a bag full of snacks and Gatorade, and told me that if I could stand and talk, I could hike out.

“Ed told me to start very early in the morning and to hike as far as Indian Garden where he would give me a place to sleep, and a camp stove so I could have a hot meal. He told me not to worry about the hike, that he would pass me on the way up, and that there would be 180 other hikers out that day who would help me. And here I am”

To Be Continued…

Monday, October 19, 2009

Grand Canyon: Day 1, Part 2

If the South Kaibab Trail is a desert, Phantom Ranch is paradise. The Ranch is located in a long valley, shaded by trees and covered in lush grass and cattails. The campsite is kept green by a series of shallow irrigation ditches, and the main channel of the creek is full of small dams and pools for hikers to “swim” in. There is also an impressive array of wildlife for such a small area including a grey fox, mule deer, skunks, rats, scorpions, ravens, and fish.

The strangest thing about hiking the Grand Canyon so far has been the huge amounts of “forced relaxation”. The climate is such that you have to take a long break in the middle of the day, from 10:00 till 4:00, to avoid heat exhaustion. I am used to having more down time when I hike, but 6 hours was downright boring!

I spent much of that time reading in the creek. I got most of the way through Searching For G-d Knows What, a book by Donald Miller that is vaguely about evangelism and the message of scriptures.

If I met Donald Miller in person, I don’t think we would get along. I think that he would strike me as lazy, politically inflammatory, and kinda stupid. On the other hand, I love how Donald Miller writes, and I think that most of his work is very good in that it makes people think and it brings spirituality into real life. Even though I doubt we would get along, I highly recommend all of Miller’s books that I have read, including Blue Like Jazz, Through Painted Deserts, and Searching For G-d Knows What.

When I was not reading that book, I was reading Psalms. I have been working my way through Psalms since I left the JH Ranch, and reviewing my Wilderness First Responder handbook.

Man’s Search for Meaning

I have been wrestling with my future for the entirety of my road trip. Every place I go seems to reveal something new that I want to pursue. It is amazing to me that G-d can give me so many different interests!

Through my experience with the druggie in Vancouver G-d showed me an entire world of poor and homeless people who have no one to listen to them and actually care what they have to say (as incoherent as it often is). I really want to love them.

Reading Donald Miller’s work reminded me of the kinds of missions work that I feel passionate about. I want to help people in areas with severe need, such as the sex slaves of S.E. Asia, the AIDs patients and orphans of Africa and South America, and really any kind of pressing need anywhere.

Passing through Eugene, OR made me realize how much I want to go back to school and get a PhD.

Traveling through the National Parks, and talking to ranger Ed and ranger Mandy have really showed me how much I need to work in nature and have a flexible job. Talking with them has me considering seasonal work with the NPS (National Park Service). There are actually many people who work for the NPS seasonally and draw unemployment in the off season (a practice that I find unethical). I have always been under the impression that it was extremely difficult to get NPS jobs, but talking with Ed and Mandy has me very encouraged. I would love to work for part of the year and do missions work for the remainder.

A Mule and a Shot Block

One thing that you quickly learn while hiking the Grand Canyon is that most people are extremely friendly. For example, the people camping next to me invited me over to hand out and enjoy a drink with them, for no reason other than that I was backpacking alone.

They were really interesting people, if a bit sketchy. They came from all over the U.S. but currently they all live in Flagstaff, AZ. The guy who sat directly next to me is a cab driver, and spent most of the evening drunkenly telling me about hunting, cooking elk meat, and how I should not travel to third world countries because of the land mines.

I was amused to learn that, not only had they brought down a ton of food and alcohol, but they purchased a block of ice at the ranch so that they could make their own shot block, a sort of ice slide for your alcoholic beverage of choice. Even though I am a very moderate drinker and have not been drunk, I still find drunken people to be entertaining, especially when they are located a mile deep in a crack in the earth.

I sat and talked with these guys until 7:30 when a short interpretive program, lead by ranger Mandy, got my attention. It was mostly a question and answer session, which was surprisingly interesting, but the best part was the scorpion hunt at the end. Apparently, all of the scorpions at Phantom Ranch glow green under a black light. It was fun to see all of the little eight legers running around just before I went to sleep on the ground with no tent.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Grand Canyon: Day 1, Part 1

I woke up every one or two hours during the night, partially because of the cold, and partially because of my excitement and fear of oversleeping. Nearby, a large herd of Elk bugled all through the night. I was relieved when my alarm finally went off in the wee hours of the morning.

It took me all of five minutes to break camp in the national forest and get on the road to the backcountry permitting office. It was freezing cold at the bus stop outside of the office, but I decided against carrying the extra weight of a jacket, knowing that it would be warm in the canyon. As I waited for the bus to Yaki Point, the head of the South Kaibab trail, I struck up a conversation with a group from Seattle that had driven down to hike the canyon. There were four of them, all in their thirties. One of the guys, with a dark curly Mohawk and olive complexion, was especially friendly. We talked about traveling all the way to the trail head, where I left him, his wife, and their friends to start down the trail.

Honestly, the South Kaibab Trail was fairly uneventful. From the rim, I descended dozens of steep switchbacks, losing a thousand feet of elevation in just minutes. The Grand Canyon is rather unusual in that it is really a canyon within a canyon. Rather than being the steep continual descent that I had sometimes imagined, the trail actually levels out for significant portions of the hike.

After descending the initial rim, I hiked along the Tonto plateau for several miles, slowly going lower as the air around me began to get hotter. From the plateau on, there is virtually no shade, so I hiked very fast to avoid the midday heat, a feat which is virtually impossible because the climate gets continually warmer as you descend, with the temperature at the Colorado River being about 20-30 degrees hotter than the temperature at the south rim.

After only two hours of hiking, I began the final steep descent from a lower plateau, down the side of the inner canyon, to the mighty Colorado River. At the edge of the Colorado, the trail disappears into a cave, about 40 feet deep. The other side of the cave ends at a shear drop off, where Blacks Bridge, a ridged suspension bridge, carries you the couple hundred feet over the Colorado.

The trail was long and hot, but surprisingly not difficult, and I found as I finally saw the campground, less than three hours after I began the hike, that I was not especially tired. I passed many people who were also heading down, some of whom seemed to be struggling, and some of whom were fine, and I somehow managed to be the first camper at the camp ground, having started nearly an hour later than some of the other hikers that I passed.

To Be Continued…

Thursday, October 15, 2009

It is hard to believe that I am finally here! Tomorrow morning around 6:00 I will begin my descent into the Grand Canyon, the hike that has been the center point around which my entire trip has revolved. It is an intense feeling. I saw the Canyon for the first time today, and it is definitely a big hole. I am kinda scared to think about carrying all of the junk in my pack from the bottom to the top of this thing. My one consolation is that the majority of my weight is food and water, which will get lighter as my hike nears the final day (and hardest climb).

In order of difficulty, the steepest hikes that I have ever done are:

1. Baxter Creek Trail in the Great Smokey Mountains (4,000 ft. gain over 6 miles, 3 day trip).
2. Mt. Rainier National Park (3,500 ft gain over 5 miles).
3. Payne’s Lake near Etna California (~3,000 ft. over 6 miles)
4. Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park (1,500 ft over 2.5 miles).
5. Ostrander Lake in Yosemite National Park (cant remember but it was steep).

I will be interested to see how the Grand Canyon fits into this rubric, considering that the mileage will be split up over a few days, but the heat will be a new factor.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Does this mean I am anorexic?

Typically when someone hikes 12 miles on just a can of spaghetti, it is a sign of an eating disorder, but I think I am in the clear because it was not by choice.

I began my morning with a brisk 3 mile hike through the Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, ornately carved pillars of stone, created by erosion, which decorate the walls of the Amphitheatre, as this part of the canyon is known. After hiking to the bottom of the canyon and back up, I was on my way to Zion national park.

Now Zion is a beautiful park, and one of its claims to fame is that it is the 2nd most popular spot for big wall climbing in the US, after Yosemite National Park. I could easily see why as I stood at the edge of the canyon overlook, another 2 mile hike round trip.

From the canyon rim, I took a long scenic drive to the visitors center which involved passing through a mile of tunnel, and descending half a dozen steep switch backs. Upon arriving at the visitors’ center, I found an elderly lady who had fallen backwards in her wheel chair. Because of her neuropathy and pain meds I was unable to clear her spine, so I just stood their while others helped keep her comfortable until the EMTs arrived.

From there I hopped onto a free shuttle and made my way to the river walk, a 2 mile round trip hike through a narrow canyon which housed a rare, desert swamp. The water seeping from the sandstone walls of the canyon combined with the water from the Virgin River helped to form this rare ecosystem which included cattails, algae, frogs, and wild grapes. At the end of the hike, the canyon continues into an area known as the narrows, where you can hike up the river for quite a ways. I stopped after 100 yards.

From the canyon, I took a bus ride to Angels’ Landing, a 5 mile hike which ascends almost 1500 feet from the valley floor to the peak of Angels’ Landing. This is one of the greatest hikes that I have ever done, as I am sure you can see from the pictures. For someone who is scared of heights, climbing those chains was quite a challenge.

When I finally arrived at the top of the stone tower, I was struck by the beauty that surrounded me. G-d created all of this and he also saw fit to make me. I started to think about my worries about fund raising, which have still not gone away, but then my thoughts shifted. I started to think about all of the awesome experiences that the L-rd has given me. I thought about all the people he has placed in my life, and all of the opportunities that he has given me. Why would G-d bless his child so much and then not provide for him? He wouldn’t is the answer.

On my way back to the visitors’ center, I made one last stop for a quick 1 mile hike to Emerald Pond. After that I finally made it back to the visitors’ center, where I devoured two well deserved cups of shells and cheese, and a small can of baked beans. My mileage for the day totaled 12 miles when you subtract out the times that I rounded up the distance of a given hike.

Monday, October 5, 2009

It was a long drive from Arches to Bryce Canyon. I must have stopped a dozen times to photograph some new rock formation or scenic vista. It is hard to travel through such a diverse and beautiful landscape when you are a photographer and a wilderness enthusiast. Every bend in the road presents you with some new opportunity to explore or climb or photograph.

I was honestly relieved when I arrived at Bryce Canyon National Park. I had been traveling all day and I was exhausted. I was also beginning to become a little stressed about fund raising for my mission to Costa Rica which begins in November. I absolutely hate fund raising. It is not so much an issue of receiving money from people. That does not bother me. It is really an issue of not liking to ask and ask repeatedly for people to give you money when they already have other financial responsibilities. This just really stresses me out for some reason.

Luckily the L-rd saw it fit to give me a little rest and relaxation at Bryce Canyon in the form of star gazing. After a wonderful video/ interpretive program on the constellations and Native American mythology, we were invited to go behind the visitors’ center to see the stars through a number of very large telescopes.

Unfortunately, the sky was cloudy, and we were only able to see a couple of constellations, but we were able to see one thing of great interest. We got such a close up view of Jupiter that we could see 4 of its moons as well as the dark bands that encircle it.

Later that night, or really the next morning, I awoke in the back of my truck to see a beautiful night sky filled with stars, which are especially bright in Bryce Canyon. Apparently, the plateau surrounding the canyon is supposed to offer the best view of the stars of all of the National Parks, with the exception of Death Valley.

The heavens declare his glory!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Try Our New Exfoliant

“Mother Nature is Awesome!”

I almost threw up a little bit at that point.

It is disgusting to me how a 50 year old man can be standing at a view point in one of the most beautiful places in North America and think it appropriate to thank “Mother Nature” rather than the L-rd who shaped this landscape. The word says that “the firmament shows his handiwork”. This magnificent creation was not sculpted by chance, nor was it created by Mother Nature, a gentler, socially acceptable substitute for G-d. There is nothing gentle about the way this landscape was formed.

Any time a sculptor works to create something beautiful, the process is violent. Our national parks are no exception. They were shaped by floods, rivers, tectonic plates colliding, volcanic eruptions, earth quakes, glaciers, repeated freezing and thawing, acidic rain, the list does not stop. When you see the grandeur of Balancing Rock, you must remember Chip of the Old Block (the balancing rock 100 feet away that toppled in the 70s). When you see Landscape Arch, you must remember that in 1991, 180 tons of stone fell from the west side of the arch. That is how these features are created, and that is how they will be destroyed. It is sometimes a slow process, but it is almost never a gentle process.

I wonder if that is part of the reason why life can be really hard and messy sometimes. Are all of the challenges and difficulties that we face constantly just a part of G-d chipping away at the stone to shape us into something beautiful?

I really do believe that is the case. How beautiful would Arches National Park be if there were no violent forces to shape the stone there? Would it be worth visiting, or would it just be a large mound of rough, unshaped stone?

PS: Before anyone jumps on me, I am aware that Mother Nature is a part of many Native American religions, and is the counterpart of father sky. I am not putting down mothers, or Native American religions even though I do not believe in those religions. I am talking about the way that middle-class, Caucasian Americans use the term basically to mean a series of random occurrences which shaped the world.