My girls and I recently tried to conquer a local trail “Valentine Peak”.  It was a hard hike for us, who are new to hiking.  It is about 3 ½ miles to get to the 8050 ft. peak. If that makes any sense!

On this challenging adventure, we were lucky to meet a retired gentleman, who has taken great efforts to make this trail special.  On his way down with his dog leading the way, he took the time to stop and share his story of heart break and how he used this trail to help him overcome challenges in his life.  As he waved goodbye, he encouraged us to keep going up the side of the steep sandy mountain.

Over the years, rocks have been placed alongside the trail encouraging you to stay on the right path.  Dog bowls, plastic containers of water, and places to sit have been thoughtfully placed along the trail.  Each special area is marked with a number. 

Our first try to hike “Valentine Peak” was just the week before, we made it to trail marker #6.  We started in the afternoon and was running out of sunlight, so we had to turn back. 

On a late fall Saturday morning, the weather was beautiful, and our challenge was to adventure further then marker #6!  Now, we did not know anything about this trail or where it would lead. We just wanted to try. Back packs full of bottles of water, bananas and fruit snacks we headed up the hill!  To get up to the first couple markers you enjoy a beautiful red clay full of round, marble rocks scattered along the way. As you stop at marker #3 you will enjoy this beautiful view of our small local town. Inspired by the view, you want to keep going. 

Not long after marker #4 the soil and landscape changes.  The dirt turns into a white ash like soil.  The rocks change, they turn dark and rough.  Your legs start to get tired. As you look up and see what seems to be a hundred big black birds swarming in a circle. You wonder what do they see? 

As I followed my girls up this trail looking down watching where I was stepping, I started to think about this trail and how it was similar to our journeys in life.  As we passed marker #8, I wanted to keep going.  I thought to myself there must be more to this trail.  The white ash like soil and what seemed to be dark rough terrain was too sad and lifeless, with no hope left.  I did not want this sad, lifeless picture to be where we ended this adventure. 

As we kept moving forward the atmosphere started to change.  The red sand started to show up again.  We started to step on big rusty red sandy stones carved and shaped in one of a kind formations.  Small bushes with thick, bright green round leaves started to appear.  It was breath taking.  I was amazed that what seemed to be a long journey of sadness slowly turned into a trail of hope; color and beauty blooming all around us. Our spirts were lifted, we gathered our strength.  We were amazed by the beautiful bright colored sandstones that we climbed on and around to get to marker # 12.  With the hope that we were almost there, we fueled up with the last of our water and fruit snacks. We regained our energy and was excited to finish this challenge.  Marker #13 to #14 was all up hill, no mercy for the upper legs. Each step burned more intensely.  My legs started yelling at me, “okay, I am done, this hurts, we are now turning into wobbly Jell-O!”  My breaths grew deeper, and my legs were saying no more, as I crawled up to marker #14! 

Yes! We are here, we did it.  All the pain, all the stress, all the steep steps were worth it!  Marker #14 had to be the finish, right?  February 14 is Valentine’s day; this is Valentine Peak.  Wait a minute there is more? No….. No thank you!  These legs say no and we still must go back down! 

I am guessing we were about a half mile from the very top.  The place that we stopped was so beautiful.  Red sandy stones full a yellow and white lines.  Light yellow grass dancing in the sunlight.  It was a beautiful painting. 

We looked up at the peak still left to climb and said not today!  We headed down the side of the mountain that we had just climbed, tired, sore, with no more water or snacks to share.  I sled most of the way back down to marker #13.  As we hiked back down, counting backwards at each marker, I tried to find hope.  We must keep going, we can do this. Right? 

With my daughter in front of me dragging what was supposed to be a walking stick and dreaming out loud about food, I could not help but burst out loud in laughter.  Our toes mushed in our shoes, our knees getting worn from all the pressure of going downhill, but we had no choice but to keep moving.  Delirious, just putting one foot in front of the other, tired and thirsty we just kept moving.  I started to sing out loud Toby Mac song “Move (keep walkin)”.

Counting backwards from 14 to 0 markers we made it back down the mountain.  A total of 200 stairs, 20,000 steps, 6 miles and nothing left to give, we got in our car and rolled home.  After drinking some water, blending up protein shakes, washing off the dirt and sweat, we sat down and replayed our day. We laughed so hard we cried.  The journey that we took, the challenges that we faced, and the lessons we learned.  Someday soon we will take that journey again.  We will be more aware of what we need to conquer that mountain, we will reach the top and sign our name in the book full of all who had made it to the top of Valentine Peak.  As we stand at the top of that challenging mountain, we will cry a couple tears of victory, take a selfie to help us remember what we had accomplished.

I learned a lot about myself on that hike.  I looked at the diverse soils as different stages in my life. Moving back home has created challenges I thought I was prepared to endure.  I have experienced the beauty of the red soil as well as the hopeless ashy dirt, stripped of hope in the last 5 months.  This hike has reminded me that mountains in our lives can cause setbacks, but we must keep moving, putting one foot in front of the other.  If we cannot conquer the mountain the first time, or the second time, that is okay.  We step back, learn from our experiences, and prepare to go back and overcome that mountain in our life.

 I have read Isaiah 54 hundreds of times, seeking comfort and help from God.  Isaiah 54:10 NIV says:

Though the mountains be shaken
    and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
    nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
    says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

Always remember, as you are facing mountains in your life, you are not alone.  We have an amazing strong, mighty God that loves you and will help you conquer the mountains in your life.

I encourage you to keep moving when the soil in your life becomes lifeless and full of ash from the fires of life, keep moving, because up ahead is a beautiful garden full of life, color and hope.