“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
I woke pretty early the next morning, or maybe I never went to sleep, I'm not sure. I know for sure I listened to the rain pour on my tent hour after hour and wondered how long it would take before I simply floated down the mountain side. Several times an ominous drip fell onto my face when my over-saturated tent just simply couldn't keep another drop from falling inside. As soon as the light of day overtook the soggy darkness of night I decided the best thing would be to brave the inescapable wetness and get the rest of my journey over with.
It was going to be a short day, only four miles, and for that I was extremely grateful. The last two miles would be in familiar territory as I headed closer to Sunrise where my van was parked, and where I had hiked so frequently over the last couple of summers.
The rain continued as I packed up camp. My bag was heavier than ever, and I had to completely surrender to the fact that I was just going to be hiking wet. There was no other choice. There is something to be said for the peace that comes when you surrender yourself to circumstances that are out of your control. Once I did just that, I can honestly say that despite the cold and wet conditions I truly enjoyed my final stretch on the Wonderland Trail.
From Granite Creek Camp I made my way through the dripping and foggy woods to the silent meadows. The sound of my feet on the muddy path was the only sound that could be heard. The wildflowers bowed down to the weight of the rain and everything was green. The positive aspect of hiking in the rain is there was not a bug in sight. No mosquitos looking for a hot meal, no bees flying circles around my head.
A little over a mile from camp I reached the ridgeline that I had been ascending to since I started out that morning. I couldn't see Rainier's summit due to the fog, but the views where breathtaking nonetheless. There was a stillness that was unlike anything you experience at home. The clouds morphed slowly over the surrounding hills giving me glimpses of distant peaks. I felt like I was in the Lord of the Rings movies with the sweeping views of treeless, green panoramas with rocky outcroppings dotting the landscape. It was beautiful, it was all mine.
Before I knew it, I found myself at a familiar crossroads. The Wonderland Trail came to a point that met up with at least four other possible trails. Walking up to that spot I could finally say that I had hiked every trail that broke off at that one point. As I stood there memories of former hikes flooded my soul; my treasured solo hike to the Burrough's Mountains, the hike with beloved friends up to Fremont Lookout, the hike with my children to Frozen Lake and I remembered clearly the day only a month prior that I stood in the same spot with a terrible dread in my heart wondering where my ten year old could be. The day that fog covered the mountain and Hunter, along with two sons of a friend, disappeared as they hiked ahead of us. For three hours we searched, we yelled, we split up and gathered as many people to help us search as possible. For those three long hours in weather even worse than that which I found myself then I prayed, I begged all the angels on that mountain to keep them safe. They did, he was found only moments before a full on search was organized.
I continued hiking, happy that I knew exactly how far I had to go. I knew this part of the trail so well, every rock was familiar, every turn predictable. I passed the large rock that I huddled behind with Samuel and my niece, Ava as we tried to keep the biting wind from passing through our clothes and into our bones the day Hunter went missing. The memory of that day stayed with me for the rest of my trip. The feelings I experienced then, flooded my mind as my feet squished in my wet socks. I was so excited to be almost done! About a mile to my van, I began to be throughly chilled. My body shivered in an attempt to keep warm, but being soaking wet from head to toe, it seemed an impossibility.
I saw human beings for the first time that day only fifteen minutes from my van. It was a husband and wife and they had just begun their hike. As I past them I overheard them talking about how they had forgotten their camera and the wife was telling her husband he needed to go back and get it. All I could think was, 'For crying out loud, who hikes in the rain for fun!!?' I couldn't decide who I felt worse for, the man who had to retrace his steps in the rain or the woman who had to stand and wait. I hadn't even thought about taking pictures that day, and for that reason I don't have a single photograph of my journey that day.
Finally, I reached the last stretch, the 'staircase' of rock and gravel that led down to Sunrise Visitor Center. The end was in sight! I began to quicken my pace, I'm not sure you could call it a run with my wet clothes, my heavy pack and my blistered feet but I felt like I was flying! As I reached the parking lot, I used the restroom and headed to my van praying that it's battery wasn't dead. Anyone who knows me, knows that it would not be a bit of a surprise if something went wrong before I got home, it's just my luck, it always has been.
The sight of my headlights blinking when I pushed the button to unlock my van told me everything was okay. I breathed a sigh of relief, started up the van and turned on the heat as high as it would go. A white plastic trash bag filled with clothes waiting to be taken to the Goodwill was in my trunk and I dug through it to find some dry clothes to change into. As I drove off the mountain at 9:10 AM wearing pink fleece pajama bottoms with penguins all over them and a stained oversized Seahawks T-shirt with no shoes or socks I thanked the good Lord for keeping me safe. I thanked Him for the beauty of His creation that I was allowed to share in.
Stuck in a dorky smile that could not be erased, with matted, wet hair and wind burnt red cheeks I was on cloud nine. I completed what I had set out to do just over a year ago.
"...If you can dream - and not make dreams you master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts you aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same; "
Triumph and Disaster; sunny days and thunderstorms, there is beauty in it all. I have learned to never let the difficult moments in life negate the precious moments and to appreciate the great moments for what they are; glimpses of Heaven. Tiny glimpses of Heaven is what I saw on the trail that took me on a circular journey of 93 miles around Mount Rainier. Where will I see Heaven next? In the smiles of my children? In the laughter of a friend? Yes. Everyday I will try to see the foretaste of that Paradise which we were all made for.