While a relative newbie myself, I LOVE bringing people to The Cabin for their first-ever experience. It can be a challenging hike, but just about everyone I've met who's done it, always says it's a challenge worth doing.
I had been talking about a Cabin trip with some of the guys in my men’s small group from church since last year. And for obvious reasons, we delayed it. But once everyone got the vaccine, a few of the guys in the group were raring to go. Neither of them had yet been, though they had heard the tales from me and others – about the majesty and the serenity of it all; of the significance of the shared experience going there and back again. For me personally, I believe it to be a special privilege to bring people to The Cabin for their first trip, because it’s bound to be memorable – hopefully in the most positive sense – and who wouldn’t want to be part of that?
The guys in our small group had become fairly close and range in age from late 40s up to 65 and for the most part, are in fine physical condition. Maybe we’re more spiritually strong than physically fit…but we can all get around fine.
Like any trip, we did some simple but essential planning to determine logistics, what gear to bring (and what needed to be borrowed) as well as what we’d do and eat when we got up to The Cabin for our 2-night excursion.
Just over 11 years ago, I was invited on my first trip to The Cabin with guys who I’d gotten to know through a men’s ministry program at our church. When I say that the experience turned out to be a life-changing event for me, I mean it with total sincerity. What happened with those guys on top of that mountain got me pointed very significantly towards recovery, when nothing prior to that fateful weekend had broken through. So, while I completely realize not every first trip to The Cabin is meant to result in someone having a life-changing experience like I did, I never want to take for granted God’s will or doubt the possibility that it could.
We began our hike a bit after 1:30 pm on an unusually warm afternoon in late May. Neither of my traveling companions had strapped a loaded hiking backpack on to climb a mountain before. This is the part where I may be guilty of being overly optimistic. The challenge of hiking a steepening mountain trail is no simple task even for those in good physical shape. Add heat, humidity and 30+ pound backpacks for middle-aged guys of average ability and the difficulty level goes up a few notches.
“I think you're trying to kill us!” exclaimed Chris, not quite breathless, but panting and wiping sweat from his brow.
“I’m too old for this – I’m in ‘grampy shape,’ not this kind of shape,” joked Bob…kinda…
We made frequent stops on the way up. With no reason to hurry and plenty of daylight left, we were able to take our time climbing the Norman Trail. I did everything else I could think of along the way to encourage, help and cheer on my friends and to their immense credit, neither of them gave up.
When we finally stepped out onto the deck of The Cabin, my traveling companions stood in stunned silence and awe, treated to the grand view of the surrounding mountains and beyond to the White Mountain peaks to the east. The physical discomfort of the hike was practically forgotten, giving way to a sense of shared accomplishment and appreciation for both the beauty of our surroundings and for each other.
Our trio spent the remainder of the day and evening enjoying each other’s company, taking in the newness of the place and adjusting to the little things that remind you what it means to be in the middle of the wilderness. Electricity and running water are both limited and precious commodities at The Cabin. A solar panel delivers power for lights, a ceiling fan, and enough juice to charge a few cell phones. In the non-winter months, rainwater captured by roofline gutters and stored in an outside rain barrel flows through the kitchen faucet to provide water that we filter for drinking. There’s the ever-present thought in the back of one’s mind that a trip to the nearby outhouse will be inevitable. But having these creature comforts at the Cabin in a smaller measure than we’re accustomed to seems to make them all the more remarkable that they’re even available in such a remote and beautiful place.
After breakfast the following morning, I encouraged Chris and Bob to relax and do a bit of exploring on the top of East Haven Mountain. I was going to leave them both to go back down the trail to retrieve a replacement mattress from the truck that was tightly rolled and contained in a box that I was going to hike up using a “rack-pack” carrier. Assuming they wanted nothing to do with repeating the arduous hike they had done less than 24 hours prior, I had planned to do the chore alone.
Both men refused to let me go it alone and said they wanted to make the hike again. I was stunned. It spoke volumes about their character. And so, we did it together – this time sparing ourselves from carrying our heavy packs – since there was little to take with us except for what water we needed to stay hydrated. To make the climb back up shorter and a bit more interesting, we drove to the other side of East Haven Mountain to access a logging road that put us more than halfway up the Gordon Trail. I hauled the boxed-up mattress on my back while my two hiking companions carried the water and literally helped push me up several steep sections of the trail. It took us half the time to make it up. The guys had really impressed with their never-quit attitude. Just like the previous day, a triumphant feeling of shared accomplishment punctuated the day’s events.
It’s a rare feeling for most of us who enjoy a comfortable and mostly sedentary lifestyle in the modern ‘burbs. And for me personally, I can’t get enough of it. At a somewhat deeper level, it’s about the pursuit of adventure, in search of a tiny slice of beauty and tranquility on God’s green earth. To deliberately set out, unhurried with a few traveling companions to do things that are hard, sharing in both the suffering and joyful accomplishment of the experience. That’s part of what the Cabin offers. And it’s my belief that so many people have a deep hunger and yearning for these kinds of experiences. To disconnect from busy lives and connect anew to God through the soul-filling beauty of nature and the spirit-affirming company of a few traveling companions.
I can’t wait to do it again with a new set of first timers!