life is like the trail

Life is like the trail, and the trail is like life.

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This is the analogy I used to tell high schoolers while we were hiking through the San Juan Mountain range in Southwest Colorado. The campers had signed up for a 6-day backpacking trip with Young Life’s Wilderness Ranch, and I was their guide. 

Usually, on our second day of hiking, after two hours of trekking uphill, I’d get a question like:

How long will we be going up? 

And I would answer with the classic guide answer that every camper loved:

I don’t know. 

And then, we would continue hiking. Because the trail continued on. After a few more rounds of this exchange, I would bring out the analogy during a water break. Life is like the trail. The trail is like life. There are going to be periods of your life when all you feel like you’re doing is struggling your way up a giant mountain. There are going to be times when you’re skipping and running joyfully downhill. There will be mountain top experiences that can’t be reached without the struggle of going uphill. And there will be times in the valley when you look up and want nothing more than to view life from a mountain peak. There will be times of flat ground, where you are just moving through life. There will be slight moments of relief in the uphill battle, and slight moments of struggle in the easy times.

And you’re not really ever sure what’s going to happen next. Sure, you can have an idea. You can think you know. There are trails that I’ve been on enough I could do them without a map. I can picture them in my head. I know the best places to camp and where to find water. But in the entire two summers of guiding, I did not guide one trip where everything went exactly as I thought it would. There were random lightning storms, snow storms, moose charging our campsite, altitude sickness, injuries, a rockslide, a drought that dried up all the water sources. I came to learn that the only thing I knew for sure, the only thing I really had any control over was what was happening right in front of me. I know what the trail looks like right now, with these people, in this situation at 2:04 pm. I have very little idea what will happen around the bend. I certainly have no idea what will happen tomorrow.

The trail will change your plans, but you continue to follow because it’s leading you. And in the process, you let go of the expectation that everything will go according to plan. It absolutely never goes how you think it will.

Taylor and I are heading to Colorado on Saturday. Our original plan was to visit two places we call home. Places we know like the back of our hands and could picture in our heads. Places we can get to without maps.

But this time it will be different. Like every trip out on the trail, it will be different.

Both of these places – Wilderness Ranch and the Bixby family cabin – are right in the middle of the West Fork Complex Fire. One part of the fire is roughly a mile away from the Bixby cabin; another part is sitting on top of the ridge across the lake from Wilderness Ranch. Our family and friends were evacuated last week, and we’ve spent the last 96 hours watching MODIS maps, checking Twitter for updates and trying to do things to take our mind off the fires.

Kayaking on Sunday, for this sole purpose.
Kayaking on Sunday, for this sole purpose.

Every sense of control we try to fabricate is shattered. The fire is so unpredictable that thinking about it in terms of tomorrow is almost laughable. Our only hope is in today. Our prayer is for today. Because that is what’s in front of us. We are growing in gratitude for each new day that our beloved places are still standing because we are realizing more and more that it may not be the case tomorrow.

This is the last thing I ever expected. In my mind, those places were invincible. Nothing bad could or would ever happen to them. As much as I love them, I took them for granted. And the last five days I’ve been on my knees begging from the depths of my heart for God to protect those places. To protect the firefighters bravely battling day after day.

The fires changed our plans. We won’t be seeing Wilderness and most likely won’t be visiting our cabin, but we are still going to Colorado. We have no idea where we’ll be or what we’ll do when we get there. We don’t have a plan anymore, we’re just going to be. Because that is where we belong: in our home, in the midst of the broken and beautiful mountains, with people who love these places too. Because home is not so much a physical place as it is people you love, and the stories that bond you together. Because God is still God, even in the unexpected. And because the trail continues, and we’re just trying to put one foot in front of the other.


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This morning we received an email update from Taylor’s grandmother, Ann, who was evacuated from our cabin. Her email ended like this:

Expect the unexpected and anticipate miracles, for with God all things are possible. 

And pray anyway, 


And so here we are. Heading home knowing it will be different, only expecting what our minds can’t think of, and begging God for a miracle. No matter where the trail leads, we will choose to believe that God is still God. We will pray anyway.

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14 thoughts on “life is like the trail

  1. In all my years of guiding nothing ever went as planned and I am grateful it never did. And yet I still can get a bur in my saddle when real life never goes as planned. One would think 13 years of guiding trips would change that…. It just shows I am a slow learner.

    • Kendall, I completely agree. Even though I know that I know that I know nothing is in my control, it still throws me off when things get out of wack. But we’re learning little by little. And you’re right- it’s always better when it doesn’t happen according to our plans.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts about the place I love also. David & I are long time friends with the Bixbys, the Tingles, the Lears, & so many more. Wilderness is my favorite YL Camp. I never went on the trails, I don’t even like camping. But I love Wilderness & I guess it is because of the people, the relationships that were built there, the friendships made, the many loves that began as friends & became marriages, & the thousands of kids’ lives that will never be the same because of the week spent on the trail. You said it so well. Thank you for the gift of sharing this.

    • Sharon, thank you so much for reading and sharing. It really is such a special place for all the reasons you just mentioned. And it’s definitely been a huge comfort to know that there are literally thousands of people praying for Wilderness right now, and who love it as much- if not more- than I do. I hope we get to meet in person one day! Being long time friends of the Bixby’s, I’m sure you have some stories I need to hear 🙂

  3. Lindsay,

    Happened to come across this while searching the #papoosefire on instagram. Great blog! Praying for your family’s place and Wilderness. I never went there but had many friends who did and always had great things to say about it. My family has a cabin up at pearl lakes trout club just north of you guys. The papoose started out so far from us it seemed but has made it there tonight. I don’t know what the outcome will be but all we can do is pray and have faith. My dad drove up this evening and had a small window of time the sheriff allowed him to get in and pull stuff out of our cabin. He said it didn’t look good but that there were tons of national guards, forrest service and locals trying to do their best. Watching this community come together and seeing all the good people there are out there brings tears to my eyes. I pray for the best and like you, never thought such a thing could happen up there. We too are planning on going up this next week. Definitely won’t be the 4th we had been looking forward to and I don’t even know what our plans are but we too are going. This area is so special to many and it is sad seeing how it will be changed when we go back. We will get through it though and find something good in it to try to end the day on a good note. I wish you guys the best and pray it will work out for the best. Take care and let me know if you guys ever need anything.

    Lucas Sheward
    Midland, TX

    • Lucas, I’m sorry to hear about your family’s cabin, but know we are praying for you guys. It’s a scary and sad thing. It really has been incredible to hear about the lengths being taken by the firefighters to save homes- it brings tears to my eyes as well. Even though it will be different, I’m believing that it will be good. That area will remain special to us regardless of the condition it’s in after this is all over. Hope you guys are able to enjoy your time up there next week.

  4. Lindsay, Like Lucas, I came across this blog as I was desparately trying to find out something about our beloved Wilderness Ranch. It has been well over 25 years since I was last there, but the growth that occured in my heart was like a consuming fire! I join you and thousands of others as we pray together for safety and for God’s mercy to spare WR. Yet we know that God has His ultimate gentle hands keeping us and WR regardless of the outcome. I was awakened at 3:30 in the morning here in Indiana, and there was a great heaviness on my heart. Please keep us updated as you travel and here more. Thank you.
    Lindy in Indy

    • Linda, it’s been so encouraging to hear about all the people who love Wilderness Ranch during this time. It’s been a really cool picture to me of the family of God- we might not know each other, but we all have the same heartbeat. So thanks so much for sharing. The last I heard WR is still untouched by the fire- really a miracle. If I hear anything else, I’ll definitely update.

      • Thanks, Lindsay! I really appreciate it. I also pray that your family home was not touched as well. It all pales so much in comparison to those families who have lost loved ones in Arizona, I know, but it still is about God being in control—even when it feels so out of control! I look forward to any updates, as well as following your blog!

  5. […] – Going to Colorado this summer with Taylor: getting to be together in the mountains that mean so much to us, seeing dear friends, and getting to care for and love on our Wilderness Ranch friends while they were evacuated due to wildfires.  […]

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