Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Hat Tip To Some Fellow Christ Hikers

Membership in the Lone Star Hiking Trail Yahoo Group comes with many benefits.  One can get all the latest information on road and trail closures, prescribed burns, new Forest Service Regulations, etc.  This morning I opened my email and found that one can also find other Christ centered men getting together to hike the Lone Star Trail.  These guys are an inspiration.

Here's a link to their website "Go Beyond" and the Facebook Page Lone Star Pastors that was used to daily chronicle their Thru-Hike of the Lone Star Trail.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Psalm 127:1 & 2

Unless the Lord builds the house,
    the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the guards stand watch in vain.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Our First Trip

Here's the general plan for the first time we're getting together:

Saturday, April 5 thru Sunday morning April 6.

Riverpointe guys will meet for breakfast around O Dark Thirty in Richmond, either in the church parking lot or at a restaurant.

Folks coming from other points on the compass are welcome to meet us there, or head on out to Lone Star Hiking Trail Parking Lot #2 on Bethel Road approximately 8 miles North of Montgomery.

General map of Parking Lots for the Lone Star Trail is found here

Trail map can be found here

USGS topographical map with trails can be found here

We will hike West on the Lone Star Trail for about a tenth of a mile until it intersects with the West Fork Trail, then head Southwest until that trail ends at the Little Lake Creek Loop Trail, then hike about two tenths of a mile South in the Little Lake Creek Loop Trail until it crosses Forest Service Road 211A to an open area on the West (right hand) side of the trail a few yards south of the road.

Saturday's supper we will break bread together.  I will be providing hot dogs and buns, and you guys can bring anything else you wish to bring to share with others.  We can drop coolers, etc. at the end of FS211A and hike down to them to carry them up to the campsite after we've set up our shelters, etc.

You'll need shelter for Saturday night, lunch for Saturday, and breakfast Sunday morning.

After camp has been set up, we'll have some alone time for prayer and meditation, or join together for some exploration of God's Creation.

Saturday evening will be time for us to discuss what we think God might want this to be, where He might lead us from here, and getting to know each other.

May this endeavor be blessed by God to be used for His purpose and Glory.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Can I Bring My Son?

I can't think of any scenario where a Dad and his Son go into the woods to camp in a place where other men are discussing their Faith and modeling Jesus would be harmful to the boy or the other men.

We should keep in mind the following, however:

Your son should be able to walk up to 8 miles in a day.

You are responsible for his safety and well being on the trail and in camp.

Right now, this is primarily a Mens Small Group organized for the purpose of eventually reaching out to Youth Ministries and disadvantaged youth. 

God may will that it become a Father/Son Small Group, or that a Father/Son Small Group grows out of this.

In fact, I rather hope that it does.

Sunday, March 9, 2014


I Want To Go Backpacking For The First Time

This is another post I did on another blog.  Its here if you've never been backpacking before

There was a post on Hammock Forums a couple of days ago:
Moving from car camping to backpacking
I'm looking to make the move from car camping to backpacking, but I really have no idea where to start. I love to do hiking, but I've never really trekked longer than a day hike, or very far away from the safety of a base camp.

Looking at all the vast array of gear, hearing all the talk of weight weenies, and figuring out what I actually need makes my head spin. Where did all you guys learn the ropes? Is there a backpacking forum that is as informative and supportive as hammock forums?

I know I have a far way to go from my current setup for it to be backpack friendly, as I'm currently using poncho UQ/TQs. I figure this will give me something to obsess over as I save up some money for gear.

There followed a couple of pages of very good advice---all of which missed the point. The guy didn't know where to start.

I'll have to confess right now that I really can't remember the first time I went backpacking, or camping for that matter.  My Grampa gave my Dad a half acre in the woods as a wedding present and he dragged an old line shack onto it, then built onto it until he had a fairly decent little cabin that we lived in during the summers.  I literally lived in the woods while I was in diapers.

My earliest memory of car camping is a trip my Dad took my brother an I on.  We slept on a mattress in the back of an old Nash Rambler Beachwagon.  I was probably 5 years old.

I remember a frying pan, eggs sunnyside up, and bacon.  We were camped at the base of a mountain in southern NH where Pawtuckaway State Park is now.  At the top of the mountain was a Fire Tower.  When my Dad was a boy he used to hike up there and visit the Ranger.  I remember that before we could eat breakfast Dad said we had to hike to the top of the mountain to watch the sunrise.  It wasn't a long trip, we were parked in what was the parking area for the tower.  It was in that time of the day called "the gloaming," just before the dawn.  My brother and I were hungry and complaining a bit, but Dad told us we'd like the tower.

The sky was just turning purple when we got to the tower and climbed the stairs.  Dad was hoping to get into the observation room, but there was a padlock on the trap door, so we sat on the last couple of steps and I watched the sun rise for the first time in my life.  I remember Dad making a sound like "poop" when the last bit of the sun crossed the horizon on its way up and the sun formed a full circle.  The tower has now been refurbished and is a popular hiking destination at the Park.  I was surprised to find so many pictures of it on the web.  The one below is exactly the view I remember.

We went back down to the Rambler and Dad pulled out that frying pan and some eggs and bacon and made us breakfast.  I remember my brother and I saying that the eggs looked just like the sun rise.  I still think of that when I eat eggs sunny side up.

Now I'm straying off the subject, but Old Men are allowed to do that aren't they?

Here's my advice to folks who want to go backpacking for the first time:

Ignore all the advice you're going to get regarding equipment.  Don't worry about being a noob, and don't worry about going out in the woods looking like a noob.  Here's the ugly truth on that:  you're going to look like a noob no matter what you do gearwise, so don't even bother trying to find the "He doesn't look like a noob." gear before going out.

One of the most famous hikers of all time was a lady named Grandma Gatewood.  The first time she ever took a hike was when she just one day up and decided to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail.  She was 67 years old and her equipment consisted of an old Army blanket, an old shower curtain for shelter, and a raincoat---she carried that stuff in a canvas tote sack.

She carried canned and fresh food, and wore tennis shoes the whole length of the trail---several pair.  Then she went and did it one more time before she died

Now I'm not saying you should do what Grandmam Gatewood did.  Its actually pretty insane, but I mention her just to make the point that the equipment is not the secret.  Its not about the gear, its about the journey.  You're going to be dissatisfied with the first gear you get anyway.  Once you get hit with the bug, you'll always be looking for improvement on gear, technique, destinations, and all sorts of variables impossible to think of ahead of time.  I've been hiking and camping since climbing that fire tower 55 years ago, and I still don't have my gear the way I want it.

So here's what you do:

Set an achievable goal: one night in the woods.  Let's plan for that, OK?

The watchword is KISS:  Keep It Simple Stupid.

First, we're going to go out in Summer.  We're keeping it simple and cold weather camping takes experience in using and selecting your gear for safety.

You will need one lunch, one supper, and one breakfast.  To keep things simple, lets not cook anything.  Lets go to the store and get one of those pre-packaged Lunchables for lunch, make a couple of sammiches for supper, plus maybe a can of mandarin oranges for desert, and some Pop Tarts for breakfast.  Bring about a half gallon of water, and a cup to drink out of.  If you want you can bring some Tang or other drink powders to flavor the water you drink with your meals.

Get a sleeping bag, almost anything will do.  You could get a cheap tent, but keeping it simple really means checking the weather and making sure there's little to no chance of rain.  You could also get a small tarp to put on top of you or to lay on.  You should get a small First Aid kit and a flashlight.  Get a good book.

Now put all that stuff together, look at how much room it takes up, then go to WalMart and buy a backpack that will fit all that stuff.  One good way to figure that out is to put it all in a box, calculate the cubic inches of the box, and buy a pack of roughly the same capacity.

Now.  Stuff all that stuff into the pack, go to a State or National Park that lets you camp on the trail, or has a parking area a mile or so from one of their developed campsites.  Sling the pack on your back and start walking.  If you're camping on the trail, don't go too far from your car, just far enough away that you can't see it, maybe out of earshot of the road. 

Toss your sleeping bag on the ground, lay down on it.  Eat your lunch.  Read your book.  Close your eyes and listen to what's going on around you.  Eat your supper.  Go to sleep.  Wake up.  Eat breakfast.  Walk back to the car and go home.

Congratulations. You've gone backpacking for the first time.

Now come the most important part:

Evaluate your experience.  Think of what you needed and did not have.  Think about what you liked and didn't like.  What mistakes do you think you made?  What did you do that you think you can pat yourself on the back for?

Now, do your research.  Google Andrew Skurka and Ray Jardine. Join Whiteblaze or Hammock Forums.  Look for meet-up groups in your area.  Get gear that will address the results of your evaluation.  One of the great things about hiking and backpacking is that it is an intensely personal experience and each individual tailors his gear to his own needs and desires.  If you really think that pink fur anklets enhance your experience, get some pink fur anklets and wear them on the trail  Criminy, you'll become a frikkin local legend.  (I'm not recommending anklets of any sort here, just making a point, OK?)

If you're like most people, you have set yourself up for a lifetime.  You will never be in want of something to do with your weekend.  You will meet wonderful people and you will see wonderful things.  You will be intensely uncomfortable, and will thank the Lord for the experience.  My worst night in the woods was better than my best day at work.

I'll leave you with two bits of advice that are probably the most important words of wisdom I could impart on you as a first time backpacker:

Get out into the woods.

Hike Your Own Hike.

See you on the trail.

The message here is KISS:  Keep It Simple, Stupid. 

I'm actually of the opinion that if you've never been backpacking before, you'll get more out of this program than somebody like me who has been at it all of their lives.  You'll not only grow Spiritually, but you'll learn how simple it is to get out into Creation to enjoy the most immense gift, in terms of physical size, that God has given us.  Keeping it simple will reduce the weight you carry and the impact on your pocket book.  Using some failry simple concepts you can also do your part in being a good Steward of not only those things that God has given you in your daily life, but also Stewards of His Creation.

OK---So what kind of camping will we be doing?

Well, we're going to need a definition of terms.  This is a post I made on another blog that explains things a bit.

"Camping" is a term that is used and abused by a lot of folks.  That's mainly because its a very general term for a lot of different outdoor activities.  Below is just my philosophy, an opinion, really.  Take it or leave it, you're the one who clicked on the link. 

There are, according to me, three distinct activities which many people erroneously lump together under the rubric "Camping."

First, there's Hiking.  To me, Hiking is a separate activity from camping, although can be included as a component of "camping" activities.  The folks who I define as "Hikers" are those who's activity on the trail is confined to walking distances with no real purpose at all (as opposed to going to the store), and that walk is planned to begin and end on the same day, usually at the starting point.  A hike is quite simply a long walk, usually in a wild or semi-wild place, but can also be done in urban or sub-urban settings.  It is usually done along a distinct trail or road, public or private.  The duration of the hike is usually long enough that it is necessary to carry along one or two meals and a quantity of water.

When we get to discussing "Camping", there are many different types. While these can be divided up into the various modes of transportation used to get to the campsite, "camping" is generally a sedentary activity.  Sometimes its a means to have a place to eat and sleep between destinations, sometimes the campsite is the destination in and of itself.  Car camping, Bike Camping (motorcycle or human powered), Kayak or Canoe Camping, RV Camping, etc. all fall into the general category of "Camping" as they generally fit that description.  Camping, when defined this way (and its my durn blog so we'll define it that way), allows the participant to bring along as much equipment, food, water, etc. as his mode of transportation will allow, and if he's on a long trip, the ability to re-stock between destinations.  Gas or charcoal grills, boom boxes, TVs, cots, multi-room tents, volleyball nets, coolers, chairs----you get the picture----that's what camping is.  Its popular with families who have children and fat old men who have given up on backpacking because they haven't discovered hammocks yet. Sometimes, Hiking is included as an activity during Camping in that the trip is a mile or two and begins and ends at the cooler on top of the picnic table.  Campsites are generally developed, easily accessed by road with parking nearby, usually with firepits and picnic tables, and there's probably running water and some kind of toilet facility nearby. The campsite can be commercial or public, or it can be on private property.

Now we come to Backpacking. Hikers use backpacks, whether or not they have just left the house that morning and plan to return there the same day, or if they're doing something to keep the kids busy while camping, but they are not backpackers.  The difference between Hikers and Backpackers is that Backpackers intentionally stay in the woods far from his origin point overnight after hiking.  The difference between Backpackers and Campers is that the Backpacker's mode of transportation between campsites is his feet, and all of the food and equipment he needs is carried on his back.  He has no ability to restock along his route, unless he has pre-planned and pre-located sites to cache supplies.

What we'll normally be doing is backpacking, but not long distance backpacking or anything of any long duration.  We'll meet up early on a Saturday morning and drive to a trail head no more than two hours from the Houston Metro Area, and hike a distance to a primitive campsite.  That means not plumbing, no toilets, no picnic table, no lights, and maybe no cell phone service.  The hike can be anywhere between three to 8 miles.

Now some of you saw "3 to 8 miles" and thought it was a huge distance than might take a long time to achieve.  Well, a normal man in reasonably good health can easily hike three mile in an hour and a half, and 8 miles can be done in less than six hours.  I recently had a friend report that he walked the entire 96 miles of the Lone Star Hiking Trail in less than 3 1/2 days.

The hikes will also be planned that you won't be much further than a half a mile from where a car is parked.  sometimes this will be because the hike is a long loop that ends at the parking spot, sometimes it will involve parking cars at the beginning trail head and at the ending trail head.  This is called Trail Shuttling.  You should be home for lunch on Sunday.

So What's It All About?

A while ago, I had a disturbing experience.  I was camping with some friends.  Several of us began talking about our Faith.  One of the guys at the campfire said words to the effect:  "I know you guys are religious and all, but I don't want to hear about it because I feel like you're shoving it down my throat."

I was disappointed that all of us around that campfire stopped talking Faith, and was deeply disappointed in myself for doing so.  I determined at that time to try and do something about that.

God led me to several places in that pursuit.  First, it was to this book:  Christian Outdoor Leadership: Theology, Theory, and Practice. He made some of the points made below about how the Father and the Son used the Wilderness as a teaching tool. The next place he led me was to a Men's series at my church: 33 The Series, The Quest For Authentic Manhood. Session 2 of the first series was called "Create and Cultivate" and made the point that as God has created Man in his image, so also has he created Man to imitate him to Create and Cultivate actions in our lives to carry out His plan. While the program was focused primarily on our relationships, it occurred to me that imitating His methods of teaching and learning might also be something He wishes for us to do.

So here I am, asking you to join me in Creating a Men's Small Group, with the goal of Cultivating it so that it grows into something that can be used to bring other men to Christ--particularly the young men that surround us who are being increasingly poisoned by a culture falling away from God.

God created Man in a Wilderness. A beautiful and perfect Wilderness, but a Wilderness nonetheless. God tempered Moses in the Wilderness for 40 years, then sent him to gather His People so that He could lead them through that same Wilderness to deliver them from the Egyptians. He left them in that Wilderness for a Generation before entry into the Promised Land. David fled from Saul to refuge in a cave in The Wilderness.  The Old Testament is replete with stories of God's messengers and heroes being tested, prepared, or sheltered in The Wilderness.

This is meant to be a Christ centered Discipleship Program that gets us out of our comfort zones in our relatively cushy church chairs and out into the middle of the middle of God’s Creation to Worship, Praise, Fellowship, and Learn.  The hiking and camping are but a means towards that end, not the end itself.  We will not be on vacation, we will use Wilderness in the same way Jesus and the Apostles did:  as a teaching and learning tool to understand the nature of God, His Kingdom, and how we fit into His plan. 

Jesus went into the Wilderness for 40 days to prepare for his Ministry.  As a matter of course, Jesus would take his disciples into the Wilderness for Teaching. If you add up all of the times the Bible describes Jesus engaged in Teaching, more than 50% of the time it occurred in an outdoor setting, while only 16% of it occurred indoors.  (Of the remaining 33%, the context is unknown.)[1]  

What its not:

This isn’t an alternative to Church Worship. It is not meant to promote one method or place of worship over any other.

This isn't Wilderness Survival training.  Bear Grylls is not going to show up and teach you how to eat a snake.  You will not learn how to walk barefoot in the woods for days on end, eating insects, making your own shelter out of bark and twigs, and your clothing from the skins of animals.

This isn't preparedness training for a complete societal breakdown.  You will not learn how to store food, live off the grid, conceal your identity from the gummint, or self defense tactics.

This isn't a Boot Camp.  We will not be intentionally inflicting undue pain or discomfort or engage in any activity that is designed to “break you down in order to build you up.”

This isn't a Gear Seminar.  The last thing we will be concerned with is promoting in any way, shape, or manner expensive camping or adventure gear.

This isn't “Adventure Christianity” nor will we engage in extreme hiking or camping.  No zip lines, no rock climbing walls, no mountain climbing, not even any real long distance hiking.

This isn't an exercise program designed to help you lose weight or develop muscles. 
This isn't even “camping”.

What it can't be: 

What this can't be is an excuse to go camping.  I know that's a strange thing to say given that we'll be camping, but its the truth.  If all you're looking for is a way to get your wife to let you go out into the woods camping by saying "It's for Church, sweetie."  then I firmly believe you won't get out of this all that you can, and you might not be as enthusiastic when it comes to the work that will eventually be done should God will it.

The general idea is to gather a handful of men for Small Group fellowship and study in the Wilderness and start talking about how we can grow it into something that can be used to execute the Will of God.  I don't have all the answers, and I don't have all the ideas.  Right now I have decided to not only put out this invitation, but to put myself in places along the Trail with people who's life I may be able to affect through Christian Fellowship, words, and deeds.

What I see right now is that if this handful of men spends some time together learning the practicalities of executing this method of fellowship and study, along with the Spiritual growth than can occur we can, in conjunction with and through guidance from our church, use it for the Glory of God.  I personally see this as a program that can grow into a leadership and Discipleship program for the young men in our Youth Ministry and as an outreach program to the poor of Fort Bend County to give those young people both an experience they are not likely going to be able to attain themselves, and models of authentic Christian men.

In the next few days, I'll be posting some practical information about what kind of wilderness experience I see as being the most effective in pursuit of the goal of modeling His teaching method.  The good news is that you need not be an experienced backpacker or hiker, and buying all sorts of expensive gear is actually going to be discouraged as being counter indicated by the need to be good stewards of the gifts God has given us, and in order to make this as accessible to as many men as possible.

Thank you for your interest and the time it took you to read this.  I hope you consider coming along on this journey, but I hope more that whatever journey you choose that you go with God.

[1]Denton, Ashley, Christian Outdoor Leadership: Theology, Theory, and Practice

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Every endeavor should start with a statement of principles.

I believe in God the Father,
Almighty Maker of heaven and Maker of earth,
And in Jesus Christ
His only begotten son our Lord.
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary.
Suffered under Pontius Pilot
where he was crucified dead and buried.

And I believe what I believe in
is what makes me what I am.
And I did not make it,
no it is making me
It is the very truth of God
and not the invention of any man.

I believe that He who suffered
was crucified, buried and dead.
He descended into hell
and on the third day He rose again.
He ascended into heaven
where He sits at God's mighty right hand.
I believe that He's returning to judge
the quick and the dead of the sons of men.

I believe it, I believe it. I believe it.
I believe it, I believe it. I believe it.

I believe in God the Father,
Almighty Maker of Heaven and Maker of earth
And in Jesus Christ His
only begotten Son our Lord.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
one Holy Church
The communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sin
I believe in the resurrection
I believe in a life that never ends.