This is not a leisurely walk in the woods that my friend Mark is leading us on, this evening; this is training. We have the idea that we might do a rugged hike out West this fall and this is the start of our preparation for that. And so we head across his yard and take a short cut to Camp Horizon.
We step through a narrow growth of trees and across the remnants of woven wire fencing, onto a grassy lane of sorts. Bounded by Johnson Grass and brush, we soon come to an open road, then head downslope toward the river bottom. The trail cuts down the hill, and grass soon gives way to stone and gravel. I am suspicious that my heavy semi-hiking shoes would have been a better choice than my lightweight trail runners. I can feel the press of each rock through the soles.
When we get to the bottoms, we head left on a wide trail that is mostly dirt and grass, continuing the brisk pace Mark has set. Old growth sycamores, elm, walnut and a variety of other hardwoods rise up beside us. Stinging nettle lines the edge of the road. A quarter mile later, we come to the old quarry and our training shifts up a couple of gears. As we make our way up the edge, we have to pick our way along, choosing each step and moving up a couple hundred feet of elevation in five minutes or so. This particular trail seems to blur the line between hiking and climbing.
At the top, we pause ever so briefly, take in the view… and then head right back down the trail to the quarry. From there, we move on along the river road and then take another trail up toward Inspiration Point. A hundred yards up, that blurred line disappears; this is climbing.
Across the face of exposed limestone, we pull ourselves from ledge to ledge, bracing our hands and bending our legs up high to find our footing. Just above the small outdoor chapel, we settle back into hiking, except for the last little bit that moves back into that blurred border. Here now at Inspiration Point, we stand two-hundred-and-thirty-one vertical feet above the Arkansas River. Miles of green spread out around us, northern Oklahoma and southern Kansas separated by a river on its way from the Rockies to the Mississippi. We can see the granaries in Ark City, the wind turbines south of Newkirk, and the rolling edges of the Flint Hills.
Even training can have its fine moments. In the midst of life’s push for the things that we have to do, it’s okay to pause sometimes, catch your breath and enjoy the view. Even Jesus liked to get away from the crowd now and then.