Stronger than the sagebrush

Over Labor Day weekend, I followed the tug of my country heart and went to visit Eastern Washington. While I was there, I decided to go on a hike to satisfy my desire to experience the Washington desert that was so vastly different than the evergreen-patterned and rain-dampened region that’s become my home over the past two years. So, onward to the Ancient Lakes trailhead I went.

I marveled at the beauty of the harsh, arid, valley surrounded by cliffs covered in red rocks and dry desert flowers. While it was different than anything I’d ever experienced — neither in my time living in Washington nor my Minnesota upbringing — something about what I saw before me made my Midwest soul feel at home.

At the trailhead, we talked to a man who told us that the quickest route to the lakes (about 0.2 miles quicker than the other route) was to stay to the left. Easy enough, I thought, and at every fork we went left, the path taking us parallel to the cliff wall on the north side of the canyon. I strode along confidently, feeling the sun warm my skin and kicking up dust as the dry ground crunched beneath my boots. Hawks circled overhead, their carefree windswept dance mirroring the freedom I felt within my own bones.

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I believe there’s a reason that we crave the wild places; they speak to the wild places within the recesses of our own hearts. They remind us that our own day to day is just our perception, and that there’s so much more to be seen and felt and experienced in the great, wide world. In that moment, though I was hundreds of miles away from home, I felt a strong sense of familiarity. My soul exhaled a breath I didn’t know it was holding — this place had something for me, I knew it.

As we moved along, it seemed as though the path was taking us in the wrong direction. No matter, we thought, we’d just turn around and try taking the opposite trail at the fork we’d encountered about a half mile back. We carried on, this time in the opposite direction, and I felt undaunted by the rest of this 4-mile hike with 625 feet of elevation gain. I’d done tougher hikes than this. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t hydrated properly or that it was nearing 100 degrees or that we were hiking during the hottest part of the day.

Turns out, it mattered.

After about a mile of traveling down what we believed to be the correct trail, I was ready to give up. This shift wasn’t a result of physical exhaustion, no, my legs felt fine. It was my mind that was screaming at me, telling me to quit, drowning out my body’s whispers that it could definitely carry me farther along the path that wove through the canyon grass and towards the lakes. I was so completely overcome by this rift between body and mind that I couldn’t do anything besides sit down, so I did.

As I dropped my backpack and sank down into the dust, my companion ran off ahead to see how far we were from the lakes in an attempt to motivate me to keep going. Once he disappeared from view, I was left alone to sit in the dirt and listen to the rattle of the wind shaking the dry flowers that surrounded me on all sides. I sat there, absentmindedly playing with the lace of my worn-in hiking boot, and I started writing the blog post in which I would talk about how it’s okay to quit, to know your limits, to turn back when the going gets tough.

I began to pray for inspiration to encourage others through my failure. Instead, the Lord gave me the following:

“Look at the desert flowers. They grow in the harshest of conditions, but that’s all they know how to do. True, they battle nature, but they do it unopposed. They don’t have minds that fight them and tell them they can’t do it. You are fighting something bigger: your temptation to quit. You, then, are more resilient than the desert flowers. You’re stronger than the sagebrush.”

With newfound motivation, I got up. I continued on. I finished the hike, fighting through every step that took me to my destination and back again. And I’m glad I did.

I turn 25 years old today, and I look forward to carrying this lesson with me into my next year of life. The world can be unforgiving, but we need to keep on. I plan to continue to choose to grow in the harsh places, and I hope you do too.

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