When I was a freshman in high school, I was a part of this program called Expedition Academy which was for advanced students who also had a love for the outdoors. From Quehanna, to the Laurel Highlands, to North Country, to the Appalachian Trail, we would load up our packs, (probably heavier than they should be), and head off on dirt trails that would wind up and down through the forests.
SEMI-FINALIST 2015 FTF TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
Sitting in classrooms learning equations and dates in history is great except that they don’t really teach you all that much. They don’t alter your life in any profound way or mold you into the person you are. But you can’t tell me that burning legs, blistered toes, and amazing views don’t change your life because they do, and by walking through the American forests along the Appalachian Trail, I began to find myself.
The sky was so clear the second night we were on the trail, you can’t see the stars quite like that in Kent, Ohio, so we sprawled out our sleeping pads outside our tents so we could sleep under such a beautiful night sky. There is something truly awe inspiring about staring at the sky, as if heaven itself is closer. And so we began to talk about religion, about God, about the past, the present, and what was to come.
As a pastor’s child, religion was always a huge component of my life, and I never really had a choice on whether I believed or not. And many times I had doubted my faith, and more times than not I simply went through the motions, repeating the ancient words of the church without really understanding the meaning, or even caring for that matter. But that night, on some campsite a few miles from Harpers Ferry, I believed. Because amidst seven other teenagers who were talking about Revelations and the love God had for them, I looked up at the stars. And I’m sure that science has an explanation for the bright, white lights against a dark sky, but I like to think God was the one to place them there. He held them each individually between his huge fingers and placed them throughout the sky in some beautiful pattern that he knew I would see someday. And I like to think he shaped the hills, lumping the land up like you would sand on the beach. I like to think he carved out the Potomac river with his hands as well. For me, I never really found my religion in the church. But somewhere in West Virginia, where a group of teenagers were chatting loudly around a dying fire, I found my faith.
There are many things I could say about that trip on the Appalachian Trail. How it was so hot that we swam in the river, or how we climbed switchback after switchback, sweat drippping down our noses and backs. How we sat overlooking spectacular views, munching on beef jerfy and dried fruit. How we walked through fields on misty mornings and heard cows mooing at night. How we cooked meals over tiny stoves and called them gourmet. How we woke up early one morning to do yoga. How we never wanted to leave that little paradise in the woods, so disconnected from the real world, so beautiful and happy. But the thing I really want to say is that I not only found God on the trail, I found myself. And every time I enter the woods, I do it all over again.
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