Its taken me a couple of weeks to put this post together. Part of it was "busy-ness" with church, work, and life, and part of it was I was struggling with a way to digest and describe what I felt was a wonderfully rewarding experience that occurred in the context of several things going wrong. In a purely secular sense, some folks might even consider this trip as something of a failure in several respects. But then, there IS a reason why these are not trips that are organized with any real secular intent.
The "theme" of this trip was to be "Faith". The destination for the Saturday hike, Niederhoffer Lake, was chosen for several reasons that I thought might be illustrative of the concept. My plan was to give a short talk at the beginning of the hike explaining that the folks embarking on the trip should put their Faith in God, and not me, as I'd never been to that lake and I have been lost TWICE in the same area looking for another lake and then once arriving at the lake I would reveal that the distance traveled---4.2 miles---was the "best guess" estimate of the distance Jesus walked on the water to the boatload of Disciples, who had been in a terrible storm for that distance as well. What happened was that God gave me a lesson about leaning on my own understanding and putting Faith in men to provide and not Him.
John Moore and I met at Riverpointe Church where we transferred his gear into my car for the trip to LSHT Parking Lot #8, then made a quick trip to Subway to pick up some sammiches to eat once we got there. An hour or so later found us in the parking lot of the HQ for Sam Houston National Forest where I was supposed to pick up the permit to camp at Neiderhoffer Lake---and where I learned my lesson about leaning on my own understanding and putting my Faith in the wrong place.
I'd first heard about Niederhoffer Lake on the Lone Star Trail Hiking Club's Yahoo group. There had been a discussion about a camp out they had had there for Trail Days. I made inquires to the Group about how one goes about securing the site and was told the process entailed going to the SHNF HQ and signing for it. I asked if I'd have any trouble getting the site if I went in the day I needed it and was told there'd be no problem at all. At least that was my understanding. Which I leaned on. You see where this is going, don't you?
So anyway, John and I walked into the HQ office, my understanding barely holding up under the strain it was taking from my leaning on it so hard, and were greeted by a courteous and cheerful staff behind a rustic counter. In answer to my inquiry as to the availability of Niederhoffer Lake, the young lady flipped open a day planner where we could plainly see that a group of 20 campers were already at the lake, had been for the last week, and would be for several more days. As I'm also involved in planning another hike that was supposed to have Niederhoffer as a destination campsite at the beginning of August I inquired about that date. As she flipped through the day planner to get to that August date, it became fairly obvious that Niederhoffer was not the rarely visited site that one could have by taking the time to wander into the office on a Friday morning and picking up the keys. The lake had bookings every weekend all summer long. It was at this point that my understanding completely collapsed due to its taking a load for which it was not designed.
God had not forsaken us, as there is an excellent alternate campsite convenient to Parking Lot #8, but the idea of a 4.2 mile hike to illustrate Christ's walk on the water and the distance/time the Disciples had been in a boat tossed about by a raging storm had gone right out the window, as had my plans for the little speech I'd planned on making. To make matters worse, the maps I'd posted had shown a clear trail to a well marked destination along with a narrative description of the trail and landmarks to look out for. The alternative site was a shorter distance, but on an unmarked trail that doesn't show up well on the map----and I'd gotten lost trying to find it before. Twice.
John and I arrived at Parking Lot #8 around lunch. This was the first time he'd set up his hammock and tarp other than a quick familiarization and gear check we'd done at church one afternoon. We added a ridgeline to his Skeeter Beater to hold the bug net up off his face and to guarantee a consistent hang, and then added some quick shock cord line tensioners to his new tarp, then I hung the Big Green Weenie and a new DIY tarp I'd traded an old ENO Doublenest for. We took a short jaunt down the first half mile of the 4 Notch Loop to judge trail conditions and to test out a rig I'd made to mount my Chrome Dome hiking umbrella to my pack harness so that I could use both hiking sticks while the umbrella is in use. It met with marginal success as John had to do some quick stepping a couple of times to keep the umbrella out of his face.
|The Big Green Weenie with a $5.00 gear hammock and DIY 13' tarp|
|John's Skeeter Beater and Hennessy Hex Tarp|
Uncle Mike showed up shortly after our return, followed in quick order by Justin, Sooz Wells, Croaker Choker, and Lost Again (we're working on trail names for those without them). In short order, everyone had gone about the business of setting up hammocks and gear and started preparations for the Pot Luck dinner.
|Uncle Mikes Home In The Woods|
|Justin's Dream Hammock|
|And his brand new pack|
|My HHDJ & Hex Tarp, loaned out to Sooz|
|Josh setting up his HH|
|Justin watches as Uncle Mike gets things going in the kitchen|
Then came the bounteous repast
|Sausages and Taters|
|Nope. Not a bucket of sand. 'Nanner puddin' with a topping of crushed Vanilla wafers and Oreo cookies|
|See? We eat healthy. There was a salad.|
|Sausage and beef|
|The Corn Bread nicely browned|
|Some damage been done to that puddin'|
After dinner, we engaged in a few hours of "campfire fellowship". It was noted that this Ministry has been set up to provide what could be described as a 'safe environment" to discuss our Faith. As we listened to the chirping of the tree frogs and the whine of the cicadas, it was noted that these were among the many sounds of Creation that God put in place to teach us music, and how feeble our attempts at recreating those sounds really are. It was also noted that such things prove God's existence. Not the sounds themselves, but the fact that we have been created to appreciate them as beautiful. Being able to appreciate the beauty of a sunrise or the songs of the forest, for instance, gives humankind no evolutionary advantage over other animals, it must serve some other purpose or hold much larger meaning.
The next morning brought with it evidence of one of the drawbacks to camping in a hammock: its hard to wake up early. Waking up early is easy in a tent. You're uncomfortable and haven't slept well anyway. Late rising made us change our plans yet again. We decided that decamping, to include packing and stowage of all the impedimenta associated with the Pot Luck would take too long and result in our having to hike during the hottest part of the day, so we decided to do an out and back to Hidden Lake. Uncle Mike had to leave as he was giving a sermon on Sunday, Sooz and Justin decided to do some hammock maintenance, then head for home, leaving four of us to go on the hike.
|Lost Again, John, Me, Croaker Choker|
We followed an old logging road to the lake. I turned on my Maprika and Backpacker GPS Trial apps on my tablet so that I could follow our progress on the maps posted to the LSHT website, and to record the track for future reference. This would be the third trip I'd made on this track---and I'd gotten lost on the first two. The hike was interesting, if uneventful, except for our meeting a box turtle on the trail, and an hour and a half later we were negotiating the creek crossing just south of the lake. The drought had left a lot of debris in the creek channels, and when the recent heavy rains came all that stuff floated down creating what was essentially a combination battering ram and scrub brush---God's way of altering the landscape to suit His desires. Trees near the edges of the creek had fallen into the creek bed, the trunks and roots creating obstacles along the sides and creek bottom, while the leaves and branches created obstacles at the creek edge. Choosing a route down, over, and up the creek was a challenge.
Arrival at Hidden Lake was just a minute or so after the crossing, and we were rewarded with a great view of the lake and a lot of cooling shade near the shore. We shucked our packs and set about eating lunch. As I squirted peanut butter and jelly packets into my Ezekiel pocket bread slices, I glanced at the map and recorded track on my tablet. The track recorded 2.1 miles from our departure point at Parking Lot #8 to our lunch spot at Hidden Lake.
|Ezekial pocket bread, penut butter and jelly--the lunch of champions|
|Takin in the view|
Our hike back was as enjoyable as the hike in, although we could tell it was getting a lot warmer and that storm clouds were coming in. With one eye on the trail and another on the clouds (when we could see them through the trees), we trudged on. The last quarter mile or so was road march on the Forest Service road and we did not enjoy the benefit of any shade, although my umbrella did an excellent job of addressing that for me. The clouds were looking ominous and the wind was picking up so we hustled a bit to get to camp. Just as we all reached our hammock set ups, the drops began to fall. As soon as I laid in my hammock, a cooling breeze came up and washed over me, as thunder started to rumble in the distance. Before too long, the wind had picked up to a respectable clip, and a flash of lighting and a thunder clap sounded, and it seemed as if it had happened just on the other side of the trees. But we were all safe in our nylon cocoons, hammocks gently swaying as God played a symphony of raindrops on that tarp, wind in the branches, and thunder rumbling off in the distance. Everyone enjoyed a long, cool nap.
As I lay there I realized that the trip out to Hidden lake was 2.1 miles, as was the trip back. God had given us that 4.2 mile hike I was looking for---but he did it on His terms, not mine. He even provided us with a storm. But in that provision, he kept us safe and comfortable. The four of us pretty much agreed that nothing could be added to the enjoyment of this trip by spending another night---and I had the feeling that God had taught me all he wanted me to learn. It seems to me that he was saying "Forget about the themes. You came here to learn from Me through My creation. Let my creation do the talking." Then He forgave my lack of Faith and my leaning on my own understanding and rewarded us all with exactly what we needed at the end of that hike.
An even greater lesson, I believe, is that The Lord does approve of what we are doing, but He underlined the notion that it is He who is the Teacher, and his tool will be the Wilderness. So, from now on, no more "themes". God said yes to the campfire fellowship, yes to walk in the woods, yes to listening to Him through Creation, and I think He also said "Thanks for the help, but if you come to meet me here, I don't need any."