Unity & Strength
“Unity is strength...when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.” —Mattie Stepanek
I love to share my weekend hikes with all of you because every hike is different. Each one teaches me a lesson 😊. Sunday we went on a 9.2 mile hike to a place called “El Piliguin.” This particular area has mountain homes with beautiful flower beds, where we saw them growing sunflowers, marigolds, lilies, daisies and other local flowers. Having had an easy hike the week before, we came into this one with no fear or anxiety. Little did we know this experience would be a totally different story.
We were invited to this hike by a group called “Guerreros de Montana,” which translates to “Mountain Warriors.” This was our first time hiking with this group of “trail runners” whom we had encountered in passing on a hike a few weeks ago. They formed their group last year when the gyms were closed and after being stuck at home for so long. They believe this type of exercise and experience keeps them strong and healthy. There were 18 of us and despite being new to the group, we were greeted with lots of kindness upon our arrival at the meeting place. We immediately felt as part of the group, and before we started off, there was a prayer of safety and thanksgiving, and a group photo.
We began this adventure looking forward to enjoying God’s creation. The terrain was different, and as we looked up to where we were headed, we knew this was not going to be an easy hike. The mountain was very steep with narrow and poorly defined trails with other poorly defined cross trails, so there wasn’t an obvious path leading to our ultimate destination. I was so glad that our group was big and that some had been there before.
We were warned to stay together by one of the villagers because many people had been lost in those mountains. I was very surprised at how organized the warriors were. Some had more experience than others and they ran up the hill at times to try to find the right path forward. Daniel and I tried to stay in the middle to keep pace so as not fall behind. Throughout the trail the ones leading would cry out to those following. It became a chant of encouragement and support. Jokes and laughter shared between the leaders at both ends of the line. They always made sure that everyone stayed together.
At about 2.5 hours up the hill and before heading up to the steepest part of the climb, we took a break for snacks and drinks. The oldest of the group (age 71) brought us food that his wife had made for us at 3 am that morning. Wonderful “burritas” which are tortillas with beans, eggs, sausage and cheese. He was so joyful when he fed us, enough for everybody to enjoy. Others had fruit to share and other protein snacks. Such wonderful people.
As we started climbing again, we got lost and it was a 4 kilometer detour on the wrong path through difficult terrain up and down a very steep hill. Not once did I see anxiety from the leaders. They always displayed an eagerness and positive attitude that soon we would find the right path. On that trail of slippery pine needles I fell 3 times and along with constantly being hit by branches with thorns and leaves which I didn’t know whether they were poisonous or not, I started to feel a growing anxiety. Everything looked the same but I would always hear a “Go Carolina”, no worries, we will get there.
Luckily and in the middle of nowhere we found a villager who pointed the right way out of the mountain. By that time Daniel and I decided to go back the way we came, not because we didn’t want to reach the summit, but our level of exhaustion and knee pain were too much to handle another 6 miles of difficult hiking. We had the blessing of experiencing spectacular views. I wish our bodies could’ve continued to the view from the summit. We continued to receive help from local and friendly farmers along our path as we tried to retrace the poorly marked path back to our car.
After 5 hours and as we approached the field where our car was parked, we heard church music—there was an outdoor mountain church service at the other end of the field. Music to our ears. A perfect ending to our toughest hike so far.
There is a power in unity and encouragement. Experiences like this are so much better when you can enjoy them with others, especially if and when you get lost. It wasn’t our time to enjoy the summit with the warriors, but we will train to hold hands with them again. I will never forget the fun, the sights, the flowers, the feeling of never being alone, and mostly the feeling of souls that care for one another. Strangers who became family, strangers who would do anything to see you smile.