A critical step forward

Years ago, I was hiking the Bearfence Mountain Trail in Shenandoah National Park. About halfway through the short 1.2 mile hike, the trail winds through a rock scramble where only white paint trail markers and the occasional cairn mark the way.

At one point, the trail seemed to disappear over the edge of a large outcropping. All markers indicated that the only way to continue was to go over the outcropping, but there was no way to see what was on the other side. It was either turn back to the trail head or lower myself over the edge, not knowing where or when my feet would touch solid ground. After dropping my pack on the top of the outcrop, I decided to take the chance. It was a well-traveled trail in a national park. It had to be relatively safe, right?

The fact that I’m writing this today is a good indication that I survived dropping myself over that outcrop. The drop ended up being about eight feet, the entire span of which I couldn’t see my feet. When I finally felt solid ground under my soles, I breathed deeply and survey my surroundings. If I had known the narrownness of my landing spot and the height of the sheer drop to my left, I’m not sure I ever would have dangled myself over that edge.

The memory of Bearfence Mountain popped into my head today during my morning commute. It made me realize that sometimes we can’t move forward along our life’s trail without venturing into uncharted territory, not knowing when and where we will land or if we’ll have solid footing when we do. Sometimes we rely on the knowledge that others have successfully walked the same path before us, and that their example can give us the strength to take that critical step forward.