Hiking in Allegheny National Forest

Last week a friend and I set off for a 7.5 mile hike in the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania. We had a trail map and our two dogs, some snacks and water. It was the beginning of hunting season so we stopped at Walmart and bought orange vests for us and orange t-shirts for the dogs…it was all we could find for them, but both dogs seemed happy with their matching tees. We arrived at the trailhead around 12:30. Experienced hikers might have said that was a bit late to start a mountain hike in unfamiliar territory. And that thought occurred to me but my friend had planned the trip and was excited to explore.

We headed up the trail chatting happily and soon arrived at our first trail split. After consulting our map we determined that we would stay to the right all the way except for two places where the trail again split for the North Country Nations Scenic Trail (NCNST), about half way around the loop we’d chosen. We were feeling pretty confident!

After about an hour we came to another choice…this time a “T” intersection that we couldn’t find on our map, but we agreed that left was the proper way. We soon found our familiar white blaze markers on a tree and felt comfortable that we’d chosen wisely. On we went with the trail getting more difficult and the dogs eager to forge ahead dragging us along with them.

After more than three hours we still hadn’t seen any offshoot that would be the NCNST. We began to wonder if we had inadvertently turned onto it back at the “T” intersection. In addition, my friend was having a hard time with the incline, feeling faint. Her hiking boots were old and worn so she was slipping frequently, she had taken a few spills, and she was showing signs of exhaustion and discouragement. I was also getting nervous about remaining daylight and wondering when we would begin the return side of the loop.

Since both of us are Christian Scientists, we are used to praying when we get into situations that make us uncomfortable. She asked that I support her with prayer. I was already on that for both of us, mentally singing a familiar hymn “Shepherd, show me how to go, o’er the hillside steep…I will listen for Thy voice, lest my footsteps stray; I will follow and rejoice all the rugged way.”

That morning we had both studied the Christian Science Bible Lesson that would be read Sunday in Christian Science churches worldwide. We had talked about a particular citation that was familiar to both of us but had stood out to me in a different way that day. It was in the textbook of Christian Science, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy…a companion book to the Bible. It reads, “Individuals are consistent who, watching and praying, can ‘run, and not be weary;…walk, and not faint,’ who gain good rapidly and hold their position, or attain slowly and yield not to discouragement.” [Page 253.]

That line came to me almost immediately and it perfectly fit the situation! I knew that both my friend and I were consistently praying to know God better…to know Her as divine Spirit, and as Her children, made (as the first chapter of Genesis declares in the Bible) “in [God’s] own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” If God is Spirit, then His/Her image and likeness must be spiritual, and therefore not subject to fatigue or frustration. I shared with my friend that we could “walk, and not faint”… we could “attain slowly” and we didn’t have to yield to discouragement.

Right away my friend saw the truth in that declaration and we continued our journey, taking frequent rest stops. Soon we found the first of the NCNST offshoots. When the second offshoot came along we were unsure which way to take since the markers had all turned to blue. I now know that the changed color indicates a changed trail…in this case two trails had merged for a bit. When the second offshoot came up I walked up it a bit and it occurred to me to get out my phone, which has a compass app on it. The compass read northwest. I hollered down to my friend to check the map and see if she could see what direction we should be heading. After a moment she replied “southwest!” I was on the offshoot!

I headed back down and searched for a white marker. Found one! On we went up higher through a rock field with boulders the size of a four-story building. At one point I began to look at these giant boulders as possible shelter for the night if we didn’t start seeing signs of the trail end soon. There was no fear, no anxiety. But at this high point I noticed I had cell phone reception for the first time since we started our hike. I texted my son back in NH, told him where we were and asked him to call the park service if he didn’t hear back from me by 7:30pm. It was now almost 5pm and the sun was sinking fairly quickly. Soon we came to another junction with multiple signs for the North Loop (that we were on) and the adjoining South and Middle loops. We were on our way back at last! By 5:45pm we were high-fiving in the parking lot and rejoicing in divine direction that brought us back to our car. At 6:30 we were back in civilization where I could call my son and thank him for standing by for us! He was glad to hear he didn’t need to call the park service into action…and so were we!

In hindsight we realized that we had seen many proofs of God’s guidance that day. We often lost sight of the trail but always were guided back to it. We also learned several important lessons that day: be prepared for everything, know what the markers mean, start earlier, wear the proper shoes. But the most important lesson was one we already knew…that God is Love. We saw proof of Her as Love in the beauty of the mountains, in the shelter of the rocks, in the glory of the day, but mostly we saw that divine Love in the tender guidance that took us home. So very grateful!