Where Is the Trail?

Hiking always brings a risk of not being able to find the trail. It happens to nearly everyone. You plan the hike, you watch your map, you follow the trial signs. And then…often without warning…the trail just seems to disappear. The signs are not visible. No hint in any direction. You look up and you simply don’t know where to go! Then what?

My spring hikes have been full of beauty and a couple of them have also included moments of not being able to find the trail. Perhaps it’s true that the more you hike, the more often you’ll have this experience. I’m not sure, but I’ll admit, it’s happened to me several times. I love to hike so I’ve learned to accept the reality that part of the adventure does include the occasional angst that comes with losing the trail.

But I don’t have to like that part; right? It is such an exercise in patience, strategy, and trust. Experience is a great teacher. Still, whether you’ve been hiking two years or seventy years, sometimes you’re going to look up and say, “where is the trail?’

Twin Arches Loop

Four things I do pretty much every time I lose sight of the trail:

1. Stop and look at my surroundings. There is a trail, I just need to see it again. Pay attention to exactly where I am in that moment. Listen. Look.
2. Check the map. Does anything on the map match what I’m seeing around me? Does anything on the map match what I’m hearing…like water or other hikers nearby?
3. Pray: “Lord, help me see the trail.”
4. Backtrack some steps, if possible, that return me to a trail marker or path that clearly marks the way. Stop often and check. Look and listen.

Sometimes trusting the signs is hard if that little wind of doubt has entered my mind. Careful, attentive steps in the direction of those signs, is a way to keep moving, or to simply not panic! Hiking with a friend or group, or simply engaging others you find on the trail obviously makes “seeing” or finding the trail a lot easier.

There was one moment in a recent hike when we had to backtrack. Within moments we ran upon other hikers on the same trail. We went forward together and with their different eyes and assistance, we finally identified the trail. It was well disguised but it was also clear once we found it.

Relieved and encouraged, we all traveled on our way with gratitude. And we were all reminded: the signs aren’t always easy to see; we need each other.

For me, hiking has always been one of the ways God teaches me and reminds me of things I need for my journey through life. I am encouraged by the way God so carefully created beauty and nature.

The dance of spring flowers in the woods
Ferns and flowers: new life emerging after winter
Spring dogwood in bloom

I am sharpened by the friends that journey with me. Their companionship, conversation, and challenge often help me hear my own voice a little clearer. Compassion and wisdom are nurtured along the way.

I am restored in the solitude and magnificence of God’s creation. The God who created all of this, is surely watching over me! God is watching over us. Faith and trust are strengthened; humility comes.

God’s presence with us doesn’t mean that life will always be easy. Life is challenging and heartbreaking; it is amazingly beautiful and full of unexpected miracles.

God’s presence with us means we are never alone and there is a trail. Sometimes we just need a little help to see it. Occasionally we are even asked to help blaze it.

If you are in a moment or a season that has you asking, “where is the trail?”, take a deep breath. You are not alone. There is a trail and you will find it. One faithful step at a time.

God, please open our eyes to see the trail you have provided. We especially struggle to see when it looks different than we expected. Help us to embrace the adventure of discovery! We love you and we trust you completely. Thank you for loving us.

Swinging Bridge over Wolf River

3 thoughts on “Where Is the Trail?

  • Where is the path? I have asked myself that in many seasons of my life. Your pictures of nature are stunning and your words cause me to think. Thank you

  • I love this post. Love it. Thank you for taking me on a mental hike with your words and for (occasionally) being a hiking buddy. Your photographs are beautiful and record the beginning of a new season and are a history of trails you’ve hiked. In truth, we are all on a trail, whether in the forest or at our desks. Finding our way is the important task.

  • As I go further into my eighties, life can be confusing at times and discouraging at others. There seem to be continually new obstacles to overcome. As I read your column this morning, I am reminded that there is still a trail and that God is still leading me and watching over me. I enjoyed the beautiful photographs.

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