It was August 23, 2008 at about 12:30 a.m., and we stood under a beautiful, star-filled sky. The 8,600’ elevation made for temperatures much cooler than one might expect in August. My Pastor, Dave Scott looked me straight in the eye and in all seriousness asked, “How do you eat an elephant?”
Now that scenario might seem a little unusual, but Dave is not only my Pastor, but also my hiking partner and one of a select group of people I consider a true friend. The question came as we stood at the trailhead of the Mt. Whitney main trail, a twenty-two mile round trip to the highest point (elevation 14,505’) in the lower 48 states. We were setting out to gain the peak and return in one day.
The idea to hike Mt. Whitney began some eight months earlier at a birthday celebration. Several couples were at a restaurant, enjoying a big dinner and the guys began to discuss their desire to improve their physical condition (Yah, I know, big dinner and “We want to get in to shape” don’t go too well together, but for now, just let that one go. I find it’s easier not to deal with it.) Dave felt for the plan to be a success, the group needed a goal and he threw out the wild idea, “Why don’t we hike Mt. Whitney?” I say wild idea, because it came from a man with no hiking experience, who openly admits to “not enjoying” heights.
The hike plan born at a restaurant table grew to include several latecomers (myself included) and wound up with Dave submitting an application for a trail permit for a large group. The Whitney mail trail is very heavily traveled, and permits are granted via a lottery system. Chances of obtaining a permit for a large group are slim at best, but it seemed this trip was meant to be, and in February, Dave received the good news that we had a permit for fifteen hikers.
We enlisted the experience and patience of another friend, Steve Deardorf, who became our hiking mentor. Pastor Dave became a student just like the rest of us and the group spent the spring and summer on ever-longer training hikes. We even found ourselves on a first name basis with the employees at the local outdoor sports retailers as we accumulated the appropriate gear for a safe and relatively comfortable journey.
As the demands of training (and life) increased, our group size shrank and eventually there were just seven of us standing under that chilly, star-filled sky at the trailhead. After several hours and about nine miles, we stood at a place named “Trail Crest” and looked down in to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. The best way I can describe the experience is I felt totally awash in the beauty of God’s hand.
With just two miles and 1000 feet of elevation between us and the summit, the distance and elevation began taking their toll (if you have never experienced altitude sickness, think pounding headache with strong nausea thrown in, great fun!) Our group spread out on the trail into smaller groups of two or three and I was fortunate to partner with Dave. As we approached the summit, I was feeling pretty ill and needed a break. I encouraged Dave to go ahead, but he insisted he did not want to gain the summit alone. The Pastor wanted to reach his goal just as he had conceived and trained for it; helping and being encouraged by others. With a few deep breaths, we pushed on for the last few hundred yards to the summit. Dave and I stood on the very top of the lower 48 states and soaked up the vast, stark beauty of the place. Soon thereafter, our group gathered for a well-earned photo at the summit.
The rest was, as they say, all downhill. This story reveals an important quality of being a great Pastor. Dave is a genuine servant-style leader who allows his church to chase their wild ideas. He has become very fond of saying, “Anything is possible if you surround yourself with the right people” and “How hard can it be?” He has become a great encourager and now applies that trait to his second vocation as a personal trainer. Dave took absolute delight in the opportunity to work with a “de-conditioned” sixty-five year old man, entering a gym for the first time in his life.
No matter what your vocation, hobbies or skills, you can be a great encourager (i.e. pastor, personal trainer, mentor, coach or teacher). Do you look down at the “first-timer” in the gym or do you welcome him and offer help and encouragement?
Great mountains are hiked one step at a time; children are raised one day at a time, fitness is built one ‘rep’ at a time and a church impacts its community one person at a time. And how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
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