New Blog Post: In the company of men....suffering together


Have you noticed the new TV shows about being a man this year, “Man Up” and “Last Man Standing”. Then there are the beer commercials that make fun of guys who don’t act manly…hilarious. But if art imitates life what are these media portrayals of men really saying. I think its saying that the attempt to make men what they are not has failed and failed miserably. The emasculated metro sexual male inspires no one, leads nowhere and leaves men and women crying out “Where are the men?” Not the steroid freak, domineering man cartoon character, but a real live man who inspires and leads and says “I will stand here and hold my ground”.

So this past weekend was huge, I mean huge. I have, along with a few friends, been planning a trip on the Appalachian Trail for the last 6 months. The biggest part for me was the fact that my son Jack was going to join us in his first “real man” adventure. The route was from Stacoah Gap, NC to Fontana Dam. It’s nearly 17 miles over some of the most picturesque vistas in Western NC. The Appalachian Trail extends from Maine to Georgia and covers the better part of 2000 miles. This section is one of the highlights of the whole thing. Its also physically challenging just to complete, rises and drops in elevation, this is no jaunt through the woods.
I’ve been looking forward to this since my son was born, to take your boy into the woods, camp, hike, cook with fire, poot, laugh and experience the journey together and yes suffer together. I’ve been away from him quite a bit over the last 7 years, time away serving others, serving my country. Now its time to get some of that time back for him.
We went with some old Army buddies, Pete, John and Dan. All accomplished soldiers and great friends. All dads themselves. All honorable and strong men. I couldn’t have asked for a better crew.


A lot of learning to be a man, in fact I’d say most of it, is observed in the lives of other men. Little boys, good or bad will follow after the roles that are played out before them. Pete, John and Dan are not wimps, not touchy feely, emasculated males, certainly not metro sexual. They are rough and strong and passionate and live with deep conviction.I want my son to be around men like that, not men who just get by or go through the motions. This kind of man is opposed today, men who live with deep passion and conviction.

So our trip began on a Friday and would end on Sunday. Our packs loaded with all the gear we need for a few days, stoves, sleeping systems, underwear, socks, flashlights and of course knives and even a pistol or two. The pistols were not just for bear protection but for the lunatic ax murderers that live in the woods. My friend Paul Lowry calls his pistol a “Lead Injector, good for all sorts of maladies”. This is just a reminder that we live in a dangerous world. And a little bit of danger is good for a young man learning to be a grown man!

Our first day started going up. Jack had told me that he was nervous. He had every right to be. It was going to be tough for him. He has never done anything like this at all. We ascended 800 ft in less than a mile. Jack has battled allergies and childhood asthma all his life. The asthma is exacerbated when he gets discouraged and not 30 minutes into our 48 hour adventure he was struggling. 

I prayed for him. No amount of verbal encouragement would take the hill away. He was going to have to push through. I took is pack from him and front loaded it, my 45 lb pack on my back, his 30 lb pack on my front. Jack struggled on. John came back and took the load from me and we made it to the top after spooking a flock of wild turkeys. It was awesome!

Jack was thankful to make it to the camp site, we cooked freeze dried food, filtered water from a spring, used the mouldering site (a fancy name for an outhouse). We slept with sticks in our backs, the wind in the trees and strange noises all night long.

We got up and did it again the next day, 6.7 miles, up and down across the backbone of the Appalachians talking of old Army stories, memories from our childhood, wondering at the views of the blue ridge mountains in full Autumn color.
Late in the day Jack’s ruck became heavy again. He was starting to really feel it. So at a rest point we decided to get into his pack and distribute his load. Each man took a piece of Jacks stuff, lightening his load. It was a great boost for him and he survived another day. 

We camped Saturday night at Cable Gap, down in a saddle by a stream and we got there early in the day so there was ample time for goofing off. Jack did his best to start a fire with flint and steel. He was unsuccessful, but that did not deter him. I use a lighter! He played in the woods with his SOG knife that I gave him for his birthday. I kept waiting for him to get cut so Pete could use his quik-clot!


We met lots of folks, some weird through hikers (folks that are hiking the entire 2000 mile route) that shared their trail names with us like “Fern Toe” and “Fire Marshall”. We shared the shelter with a guy named “Donkey” because his friends said he snored really loud. The name fit well. 

Everyone on the trail gets a trail name. John and Pete started me out as “Bald Eagle” but they changed it to “War Eagle” for obvious reasons. Dan was “Badger” because his small in stature but large in ferocity. They wanted to call him “Chipmunk” but Dan was having none of that. Pete was “Night Force” because of a new scope he bought for one of his guns and John was “Kodiak” because he likes bears or wants to be a bear or something like that. Jack was “Tank”, no stretch of the imagination there. He loves that name!
We gorged on trail bars, freeze dried cheese cake and raspberry crumble and crashed about 8:00 pm. More awesome!

We rose early, 0400 early so that we could make the dam early enough to get me back home to see Tori get inducted into the Beta club, plus Pete, John and Dan were looking at really long drives. So in the cover of darkness, in the moonlit woods we struck out, another 6.5 miles to go.
We started again with a long uphill trek, over an hour up. Jack kept asking “Why is it all uphill?” A valid question that we were all thinking with our sore muscles and aching feet. Jacks feet were torn up. The pounding of the rocks and his lack of experience started to really take a toll on his outlook.

About three hours in he broke…inside. We were well behind the others so they did not see this. This breaking point was just for father and son. He turned to me and said “I can’t do it dad”. In many ways I was hoping for this moment. Its in these very special times of suffering, where we absolutely must push on despite our desire to lay down where growth really happens. I needed to be stern but loving with him. I prayed “God help Jack to be strong”

I told him, “Jack, you have no choice but to push ahead. No one is going to carry you. There is no car coming. All the weight from your pack has been taken, now it is on you. So turn ahead and move out.”

And he did. He was not happy. But he pushed on. He did not quit.
This scene happened 3 or 4 more times all the way to the end, even at 400 meters from our vehicle. There was a huge hill leading to the car. He struggled, hyperventilated. But he finished, sore feet, sore back, aching muscles, but also a new perspective on lots of things.

One thing I wanted Jack to see he did. He saw men being men, men that he looks up to. He had big strong men show him what self reliance looks like. He saw what bearing another’s burden looks like. He heard genuine laughter. He suffered with men becasue we were all hurting. He was included in an adventure and I believe Jack left a little boy out there on the trail and came out of the woods with his first steps into manhood. I couldn’t be prouder of him.

So big thanks to Paul Lowry for hooking us up with some gear and great intel, because he knows those woods well. To Pete, John and Dan for their many hours of planning  planning and communication, driving long distances and most of all for the example they set in front of my son. Most of all for acting like Jesus for my boy by bearing his burden on the trail. It was a visual reminder for him that he will never forget.


A reminder that Jesus bears our burdens, our sins and when we were lost He carries us and shows us the way. His cross is the ultimate in taking the weight. The burden of sin is too much for us to bear, we cannot carry it. It paralyzes us. But Jesus relieves that by lowering Himself to our level, taking the load and carrying it up the hill to Calvary. Just like Jack found out with his pack, so we don't half to carry a load that will crush us! Thanks for that Jesus!

Thanks to "Tank" for a great weekend as father and son. You earned your trail name by pushing though!

Many more to come bud.
More to follow!

Comments

Badger said…
What an awesome blog! You honored us and spoke well of your son. It was great spending time with you and having an adventure. I'm looking forward to many more.

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