Charlie on the AT

Sometimes God has me sit back and think about things.  This morning He reminded me of the first Christian Men’s Retreat I ever helped plan.  In 2018 while the founders of MCF were still in the United Methodist Church we took 7 men to the blue ridge mountains in Wintergreen, VA (Nellysford).  This wasn’t a by chance retreat, it had a purpose.  The senior member of our Sunday school class, who had taught it for years had one thing on his bucket list, hiking on the Appalachian Trail (AT).  Charlie was already becoming a bit frail, but his excitement about the trail was infectious and we wanted to make it happen. 

Brother Mark making dinner

I coordinated with Wintergreen Resort on townhouse condo that could accommodate all of us, Brother Brian planned a day of golf at Devils Knob, the highest elevation course in Virginia, and Brother Mark planed a day trip to historic sights nearby.  But the most important event of the trip was getting Charlie on the Appalachian Trail.  This part of the trip would consist of me and my 25 year old son Sean taking Charlie on the trail.  We had ordered trekking polls (hiking/walking sticks) before the trip, and boy did we ever learn how important they are.

Sean AT entry point

Sean and I headed out with Charlie to the entrance to the trail from the Wintergreen Resort.  Charlie was the happiest I’ve ever seen him.  Now I should stop right here and say we didn’t plan this part very well, and here’s why.  It was all downhill from where we started, and Charlie did pretty well with first half of this hike.  It was probably between a half and three quarters of mile in and then back out again.  It’s the back out part that became a challenge since it was all up hill, and Charlie had one leg that didn’t always cooperate with what he wanted it to do. 

Brian and Bill at Devils Knob

On the way back up, I led the way, Sean stayed right behind Charlie and assisted when needed.  There was a moment when both Sean and I were thinking this was a really bad idea.  But, God had us on that mountain for many reasons that day.  There is no doubt God wanted Charlie to have that experience.  There is also no doubt that God wanted to test all three of us and see how we would handle the challenge.  I also think God wanted my son to experience something bigger than himself, by doing something that was about fulfilling someone’s dream while putting one of his on hold (he too wanted to hike a section of the trail).

We made it out alive, and it was an extremely rewarding experience for all three of us.  Charlie put a check in the box beside his only bucket list item.  Sean experienced the feeling and reward of doing for others, and I was rewarded by watching it all unfold.  The next day our group split up.  Brother Mark took his group to the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, VA which suffered the highest per-capita losses on D-Day in the nation.  The Memorial honors the Allied forces that participated in the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, during World War II.

Thom at scenic overlook at Devils Knob

While Marks group took in some amazing history, Sean and I headed back to the Appalachian Trail.  This time, our hike was considerably further and much more challenging.  We took in some breathtaking views and made it back alive.  We have progressed as hikers ten fold since that trip, and plan to return.

Uphill hole at Devils Knob

Brother Brian’s golf outing was another highlight of the retreat.  For some of us it was our first time on a world class course and the beauty was spectacular.  Devils Knob wraps around the top of the mountain with some challenging downhill holes, and even more challenging uphill holes.  There was even a sand trap that not only wanted my ball, but wanted me as well.

We were not alone

If it sounds like our retreat was all fun and games, it was.  Each evening we had Bible study and reflected on the day.  I think every man returned knowing something more about themselves, and each other.  I think God left something on each of our hearts on that retreat, I know he did mine and that’s why He told me to remember it today.  The men of MCF returned to Nellysford earlier this year, and I’m sure we will return for another retreat soon.