Walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want…

Psalm 23

I hadn’t quite walked in the desert for 40 years but after 38 days and 558 miles of walking in Southern California, it was starting to feel like it. This was in 2017, when I attempted a thru-hike of the PCT, the year hikers called “The year of fire and ice” due to a heavy snowfall year, combined with a year of rampant forest fires. I felt like I was walking in the valley of death… or at least despair.

My hiking partner and I were just south of Tehachapi, and a range of emotions and questions were stewing in my mind. “Should I continue hiking?” “There’s a lot of snow in the mountains ahead, was it too dangerous?” “I’m so exhausted… do I want to continue?” “Is it safe to continue?” “Am I failing?” “Am I weak for wanting to quit, or is it the right choice?”

We’d really come to the conclusion that we were quitting. I remember hiking with tears streaming down my face but relieved as well.

One thing about hiking is that you think about food a lot. On this particular day, my hiking buddy and I were sitting in the sand taking a break, We were talking about our decision and about the food we would eat at home. I mentioned I was in love with oranges and wanted to eat 20 and Sherry said “Oh I’d kill for an orange right now.” We get to our camping spot for the night, which is also a water cache where trail angels (people who out of the goodness of their heart do nice things for thru-hikers) had cookies, peaches, one apple… and exactly TWO ORANGES. It’s moments like these that I feel God’s presence in my life so deeply. Even when it seems like everything is falling apart, when something you worked so hard for or really wanted falls through. It’s just a little reminder that He’s there and He’s for me and has my best interests in mind even if I don’t know what’s on the path ahead.

God, thank you for being my shepherd on the path of life, for reminding me that you walk beside me, keep me safe, and have my best interests in mind. I pray that I can learn to trust in your guidance, and experience the peace of knowing you have a plan for me!