August 4, 2003

El Camino De Quinault


The following are journal entries I made during  a solo back-packing trip through the Olympic National Park.

The trip was inspired by the El Camino De Santiago Compostela, a 500 mile pilgrimage from the Western Border of France, to the NW corner of Spain, concluding at the Cathedral of St. James. My friend and spiritual director Allen told me about this pilgrimage. He told me how people still travel it today, some 1,500 years after the first traveler made the perilous journey.

I was captivated by the idea of following in the footsteps of so many other seekers of truth – seekers after the things of Jesus. I was intriguied also by the “methodology” of a pilgrimage: focusing all of one’s conscience effort on nothing more than walking, finding water, eating and sleeping. The idea of having one’s “calendar cleared”, so to speak, so that the voice of God can be more clearly heard was captivating.

After some discussion with my wife, it was clear that embarking on the El Camino De Santiago would not be practical any time soon. But she also concluded that conversation with a very intriguing idea, “Maybe you could do something LIKE that, only a little shorter, and closer to home.” She’s a genius. I almost immediately thought of a trip, bisecting the Olympic National Park.

The Park encompasses an area of the planet that is wholly unlike any other. Within a 50 mile radius, there are temperate rain forests, mountain peaks, glaciers, lush river valleys, ocean beaches, alpine, meadows, nearly impenetrable forests, and the beauty of Puget Sound. For me, it is a magical place that represents everything about  being a native to this region. I feel like it is MY place.

As the time to leave approached, God began preparing me for what He had in mind, like a surgeon prepares a patient for the operating room. Life actually got pretty difficult. A persistent sense of disconnect from my wife lead us to seek counseling, which began to open some deep wounds for me. My ministry, while healthy and part of a growing congregation, was feeling out of joint.

While this trip was planned to be a spiritual retreat, I was not prepared for the scope that God had in mind. I was expecting to go into surgery for a routine appendectomy. What God did was more along the line of a heart transplant.

I intentionally asked my Dad to drive me to the trail head, which he did. I wanted him to be the one who left me there. The one who delivered me to the beginning of my solitary journey through the wilderness. I wanted this to be a ritual trip, though once again, I was not prepared for the full significance of this. My Mother accompanied us – this was not part of my plan – but as it  turned out, the surgeon needed her there to make the operation successful.

I asked my wife to meet me on the other side. This too was a significant metaphor. I wanted to meet HER when I came out the other side: the person with whom I would be walking through the rest of life with. “A man shall LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER and be united to his WIFE…” Genesis 2:24

So the operating room had been prepared. The patient had been prepared, and the 5½ day  journey began.

I brought a copy of “Waking the Dead” by John Eldredge which I had begun reading a week prior, a copy of the “Message” version of the New Testament, and a note pad. Passages in Italics were written AFTER the trip, passages in THIS type are the actual journal entries.

Day One

I feel ridiculous now – looking at the title of this ill-conceived charade…”El Camino De Quinault”.

I’m scared to be out here alone and I’m ashamed of it.

I see no one else out here alone – no one. It’s Day One, 4 hours in, and I’m sitting on side of the trail crying like a baby cause I’m scared.

4 hikers just passed. Had to quickly wipe the tears from my eyes. Shit.

I read the chapter in “Waking the Dead” that deals with Eldredge’s lying as a child and his subsequent hiking trip. Read it last Thursday. Cried then too. It was me.

So now I’ve got the double doubt of HIS experience shaping mine, and ME shaping my own.

I thought I just heard that my “real name” is Frodo.

I also thought I heard “Merry” or “Pippin” but I feel condemned when I think that.

I sit here now on the bank of the Elwah, across from Mary Falls, and again, I weep like a baby. Actually like Kellie. I sound just like my 11 year old daughter.

I want very much to be at home right now. I’m afraid of being alone.

I can’t stop the weeping – something is being pulled from me – something with the tears and the snot – something is crawling out – being vomited.

Perhaps it is to be still that scares me. Yes, bears and pain and other “wilderness nasties” scare me as well, but perhaps it is just  ALL THINGS scary.

I remember my last trip here some 15 years ago – and I recall the urge I had then to “go back”. Of course I had the urge to go back – that’s the way home. But just now, the thought of going BACK seems too wearying. I feel like I couldn’t make it.

But to go forward: terrifying…yet it seems like the way to…safety?

I have the urge to rush!

I think my first question to you, God, is: What am I so afraid of EXACTLY? Please show me.

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