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A day’s hike in the wilderness

Approx. read time: 3:15 min.

Fallen Brother Doug Fir, McKenzie River Trail, 2021

Fallen Brother Doug Fir, McKenzie River Trail, 2021

I’m a little over an hour into my seven-hour hike along the McKenzie River Trail. It’s a beautiful morning.

My aim today? Hike ten miles.

Breezes waft up from the river, cool and fresh across my face, even as the mid-July temperature starts to climb from the overnight’s high 50s.

I pass the trail spur that drops down to Paradise Campground, and a few paces ahead I see … What is this? 

The massive trunk of a recently fallen Doug fir lies prone across the trail.

I stop dead in my tracks and study the situation.

Maybe I can go around it, I foolishly think. But the understory is thick with sword fern, salal, and forest berry bushes. So thick that I cannot find the upended root mass at one end of the trunk, nor anything suggesting canopy at the other.

So the question becomes: How do I scale up and over the trunk, without making a fool of myself?

I will get beyond this barrier, I tell myself. It’s another six hours before the bus returns to take me home. And I am not turning back.

I espy a smaller white birch trunk lying smashed alongside Brother Fir. I test my weight on its spine, which gives some. But it’s worth a try.

I remove my backpack, my vest, and prop my hiking stick within reach. I swing a leg up and over, fail, swing again, straddle the log, butt-scoot, pivot to the other side, and drop several inches to the ground.

There. I did it. I brush my hands, feeling quietly proud of this feat.

But my heart sinks. The slight decline of the trail on this side of the trunk, creating a gap between the trunk’s underbelly and the path, tells me that the climb over on my return will not be so easy. The top of the trunk comes shoulder high.

I’ll think about it when I return, I tell myself. I need to explore the wilderness ahead.

Three times Jesus asks the crowds: What did you go out to the wilderness to see?

He could be talking to me.

What did you think you would find? he asks. It’s the wilderness, for crying out loud! 

What did I go out to the wilderness to see? A groomed forest trail with no larger challenges than the occasional gnarled, weathered tree root cropping up in my path?

Why did I go out? To be tested and challenged beyond my comfort zone? To discover that more might be asked of me than I am willing to give? 

Not really. I just wanted to hike.

In mid afternoon, as I make my way back to the Ranger Station trailhead, I come again to fallen Brother Doug Fir. Nothing has changed.

On closer look, I notice some loose-hanging bark on the underside. So I pull off a couple of thick panels of bark and stack them to create a platform step.

Off goes the backpack. I use the walking stick for a boost as I strain to hoist one leg onto the massive trunk. 

It takes two tries before I gain leverage. I belly-crawl up and across the top of the log, and reach a leg down in search of the small crushed white trunk.

I admit: This is not pretty.

The little white trunk crunches but does not give way under my weight. I inch the other leg over, as my arms grip their way across the sides of the trunk.

I feel grateful for the small mercy that no fellow hikers have come along in this moment. 

I brush trunk debris from my jeans, my shirt, hoist my backpack, fetch my walking stick, and walk on, as though this is all part of a day’s hike in the wilderness.

Well, it is.

Let me know your story of unexpected challenge and resolution—in the wilderness, or anywhere else!

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