The Abusive Hike (A Short Story on a Fortunate Event)

Short story on how a man who four years ago would’ve stomped away in a subtle rage, managed to see beyond himself and care for other people.

If you’re interested in stories with classical happy endings, you might be better off reading something else…

Naturally, it depends on how you define “happy endings.”

The prince and the princess elope and breed a royal family inside the walls of a mammoth castle on a hill in England.

The fumbling Iowan outcast wins the school presidency, finds someone to play tether ball with and gets back the girl.

Or the restless penguin breaks free from domestic monotony to surf the biggest waves with his childhood hero.

Those, in the classic sense, are happy endings. This story, however, is not like those.

But it ends happily. I think.

This story begins one day on the Appalachian Trail. Five hikers who embark on a forty-six mile journey.

Our first mile was a dirty, abusive mile. The trail, like a rocket, rose rapidly in elevation. No one was prepared. It took us one hour to cover one mile. We were exhausted. AND we were in trouble. In many ways.

One, we needed to cover about two miles an hour to stay on schedule. Two, according to our stupid maps, the trail continued to climb. Three, one of the hikers was battling a nagging leg cramp.

That leg cramped turned into frequent stops. Eventually the hiker could no longer carry his pack. That meant that everyone else took turns sharing the extra load…

Yes, at times each of us had one pack on the back. One pack on the front. Other times we’d hike our packs to the top, run down and hike the other pack to the top.

Our pace was pathetic.

Competitive and selfish, I bristled that we were moving so slowly. And by the end of the first day we were four miles off target. At the end of the second day, eight miles off target.

At that point somebody mentioned the unmentionable: Maybe we should cut the hike short. Calculations determined we’d arrive at the end of our 46 mile hike about 9 P. M. on Monday. Not helpful if you had to immediately drive ten hours.

So, on the third day, we decided to do just that: Hike to mile 34 and call someone in to pick us up.

Often, during that day, I wandered far ahead of the pack, ambling on in the sunshine over the narrow dirt path. Often I contemplated leaving them behind. Pushing forward by myself. Knocking the remaining 12–or whatever miles–and accomplish the goal we set out to achieve.

But my conscience wouldn’t let me do that. In fact, I didn’t even feel it was appropritae to ask permission to finish.

As much as the thought made me want to vomit, we came in as a team…we leave as a team.

So, around 3 pm on the third day I climbed into the van that would take us back to the cabin. Climbed in smarting like hell that I couldn’t finish the hike.

The only reason I tell you this story is because, by the time you read this I’ll probably be on the Appalachian Trail, half way up Clingman’s Dome.

At 6,643,  is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park I’ll spend the next four days in. Trying to hike 42 miles this time.

And while you wait for me to get back on Tuesday, I thought it might do some good to tell you this story and the moral behind it…

How a man who four years ago would’ve stomped away–arms folded, chin into chest, teeth grit–in a subtle rage, managed by God’s grace to see beyond himself and care for the feelings and needs of other people.

That’s a happy ending via God’s gift of grace. Pray for that grace again. Happy Labor Day. And see you soon.

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