Wilderness Wandering: Divine Appointment on Pacific Crest Trail

By Chaplain Dennis Newton, Trail Chaplain

It was great being on the Pacific Crest Trail this year. Due to minor injuries (Knee, Back Spasms) I made a safety decision to only complete 109 miles. Over the last couple of months, I have come to understand that the actual issue wasn’t that I had to carry over 20 pounds of water in many areas, but that I am on a medication which causes dehydration. I was drinking more than twice as much water as others and it wasn’t enough. This was the real main cause. Being dehydrated in the desert isn’t a good thing. I want to share one of many conversations I had while being “on-trail.”

Meeting A Stressing Hiker at the Water Hole

Getting back on the trail at Lake Morega, I was just getting warmed up about a 1/4 mile from the State Park gate when I came upon a hiker sitting at a picnic table by the water spigot. I gave a nod and then decided I’d exchange trail info with him. This is very common with thru hikers. When you see another hiker, you stop to see what they know about the upcoming trail. At my initial, “How’s it going today?” He gave the honest and dejected comment that he was really struggling. He had developed some bad blisters and that he had brought a 70-pound pack over these first 20 miles. He knew he had to get rid of some weight and get some relief for his feet. I was carrying only 30 pounds with my water and food at this time but could relate because I was just getting back on the trail after a knee injury that had taken me off a month before. My knee was better now, and I was feeling very good.

So, I counseled him that he did need to exchange his old Army gear for something lighter. And that if he took a day off he would find his blisters would heal. We talked about the difficulty of the last 5 miles and that it catches those of us off guard who are not in the best trail shape. I thought that was about as far as our conversion was going when he said, “Chaplain, I’m out here because I’m having trouble sleeping and dealing with my time in Afghanistan.” I listened to him share his pain. I gave him some comfort by sharing that he is in the largest group of Thru Hikers- Veterans recovering from combat. This group is as high as 15% of Thru Hikers. I also told him about my time on the Appalachian Trail walking with the Warrior Expeditions Veterans who are all trying to recover from PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder).

We prayed together about his hike and that he would find peace in his pursuits. He also shared with me how he accepted Jesus when he was young and that he appreciated having me on the trail to talk with him right then. Apparently, God’s timing is just right. I heard from other hikers who had met him and had caught up with me that he was doing good in his hike and the blisters were getting better.

Being Trail Chaplain is much like being an Infantry Chaplain. You hike alongside the hikers, you carry your stuff, you do all the miles, but it puts you in the credible position of being there when they have a real need. Much like Jesus met the woman at the well, the conversations occur because we are where they are hiking and finding life is often not easy on the trail.

This year’s hike was much shorter than planned but I am blessed to have met these fine young people who are even now still making their way North toward Canada.

I also had a good trip to Trail Days in Damascus, VA where thousands of hikers have a reunion to encourage the current hikers on the Appalachian Trail. Met many old friends and as usual had many useful conversations.

Following Jesus’ Parable of the Lost Sheep, Chaplain Dennis Newton (USArmy, Retired) pursues lost, injured and wandering sheep on America’s great trails.  Recalling his earlier days as an Infantry chaplain, he identifies with Veterans and Warriors seeking peace following the horrors of war.  Pray for Dennis and his fellow CBAmerica chaplains who pursue those in need of the Good Shepherd.

For more stories by and about CBAmerica chaplains, go to www.cbamerica.org/chaplaincy.  For information on endorsement for chaplaincy (military and civilian) email Andy Meverden, Director of Chaplaincy at chapandy@cbamerica.org.