by Becky De Oliveira—
A few weeks ago, my son and I left home at 3:00 a.m. to climb Mount Massive, the third tallest mountain in the contiguous United States. Normally I wear my hiking shoes while I drive, but this time I felt like being extra clever. I wore a pair of soft and flexible Keen slip-ons with my socks and threw the hiking shoes in the backseat. I’d put them on at the trailhead and enjoy the comfort of the drive both there and back with softer shoes.
It was still dark when we arrived, and the parking lot was nearly full. I was lucky to snag the last space, next to a minivan whose driver had all his doors open making it hard for us to maneuver into the space at all. I felt a little stressed and anxious to remember everything. I’d neglected to hang my headlamp around my neck the way I usually do, so I had to dig through the pack to find it. One of my water bottles was leaking. I had some trouble seeing my extra strap well enough to tighten it sufficiently to keep my water bottles from tipping out of their pockets. The previous day I’d read a recent trail report citing early-morning mountain lions stalking hikers on this particular trail, so there was that. But, finally, we were ready to begin, and we headed up the trail chatting cheerfully—considering it was not yet 6:00 a.m. I hit “outdoor walk” on my Apple Watch so I could track our distance and time.
We were about 0.6 miles up the trail—an uphill section—when dawn illuminated the landscape enough that we could turn off our headlamps. I happened to glance down at my feet at this point, and—you guessed it—to my horror I saw that I was still wearing the Keens. In my rush to get everything together and get moving, I’d completely forgotten the hiking shoes resting peacefully on the backseat of the car.
It’s important to note that on many occasions I’ve noticed the inappropriate gear—sometimes specifically footwear—I’ve seen on Colorado’s fourteeners (mountains with an elevation of at least 14, 000 feet). There was the guy at the summit of Bierstadt wearing a pair of shiny lace-up leather dress shoes. The guy on Longs Peak wearing a black zippered leather jacket like The Fonz. “What do these jokers think this is?” I’ve asked, rhetorically. Obviously, they aren’t thinking. Obviously, they’re idiots. And now I’m one of them.
I already feel shame when hiking because I rarely have more than perhaps four of the ten essentials in my pack (Shh, don’t tell my dad!) but at least that incompetence is hidden. Who’s to know? My feet, on the other hand, are out there for anyone passing by to see.
I considered going back to the car to get the shoes, but that would have added 1.2 miles to an already 13-mile hike—one in which the threat of early afternoon lightning is always present, making an early start essential.
I made a judgement call; I hiked Mount Massive in bendy slip-on flat-style shoes—what the Keen company calls “Mary Janes.” I cringed every time we encountered another group of hikers—especially at the summit where we lingered for some time listening to a group of men from Texas or Missouri debate whether Massive was the tallest mountain in the United States (well, no) or whether it was Mount Shasta (again, no), but I couldn’t even bring myself to be particularly judgmental about it. They were having fun. My son and I were too. The weather was perfect—bright blue sky, not too much wind. We basked in the sun and in the panoramic 360-degree view of the Rockies. We shared a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. We were back at the car by 1:45 p.m., and my feet didn’t bother me one bit the whole way.
Yesterday, in a church discussion group, someone mentioned how much they wish there was a model of someone who actually lives life in a way that is good and admirable—the implication being that, in their view, no such model exists. I had two thoughts: first, that our model is supposed to be Jesus, and second—the more interesting thought, in my opinion—that I see models all around me, every day. Sure, not many of us are doing it “the right way.” We’re wearing the wrong shoes; we don’t know which mountains are the tallest; we come from Texas (kidding). But so what? Most of the time we muddle through, half-cocked and unprepared, and we do a reasonable job of life all the same. I look around and mostly I feel proud of us.
Paul writes, in 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (ESV). Doesn’t that mean that we can live with boldness and courage and stop worrying about whether we have our ducks in a row? We don’t—and we never will. We’ll climb the mountain anyway. We will live happily ever after.
Becky De Oliveira is a teacher, writer, and graphic designer working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado.