Fear can paralyze or energize, as many of us are discovering in these extraordinary times we live in today. Fear— whether fueled by a virus, economic woes or something else—can either raise the hair on the back of your neck or put steel in your spine. The difference isn’t in the situation itself but in the faith we apply to the circumstances. I learned this on a backpacking trip one summer 27 years ago with my 11-year-old son, Aaron, and 12-year-old daughter, Aubrey. I’d backpacked a few times before, but the longest hike the kids had done was maybe half an hour.
We drove five hours from our home in Butler County, Ohio, to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, arriving at the trailhead of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park around six that evening. For the first leg of our three-day trip, I’d picked the Forney Creek Trail. A storm had passed through the area the night before, but the evening sky promised fair weather under a full moon. I expected us to hike less than two hours, leaving plenty of time to set up camp before dark.
The trail was a rocky creek bed. Dry for much of the season, it had been refreshed by the recent rain, something I hadn’t counted on. For the first hour, the worst thing was our wet feet. By hour two, the demanding downhill slope of the trail and the weight of the packs was really starting to wear the kids down. We rested for a few minutes, but we needed to push on to make the campsite before dark. “We’ll be there soon,” I kept saying, but battling the tug of the water and the rocky terrain made for slow going. What have I gotten us into? Before we knew it, it was dark in that deep valley. We reached the thundering waters of Forney Creek only with the aid of our flashlights.
After three hours of hiking, the trail now seemed to end at the creek. I flashed the light up and down the opposite bank, but I couldn’t see where—or if—the trail resumed.
“I’m scared.” Aubrey’s voice trembled. I knelt in front of her. “I know,” I said, determined not to let my kids see my own panic rising. “Our campsite should be just on the other side of the creek. I’m going to cross it to look around.”
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