Let God Design Your 3-Day Weekend
For those who like to live outdoors that saying, “the grass is always greener on the other side” is more than an expression of never quite being satisfied. It is a nagging self-inflicted personal challenge to explore, gain more, become better and press forward. If you keep this longing Christ-honoring and submitted to God’s will then it’s a ticket to certain adventure and satisfaction. Be stubborn, self-absorbed and reckless and like the tourists that just have to get closer to the edge of the canyon for that picture, the other side is one step too far – perhaps even fatal.
There’s nothing wrong traveling far and wide. God has given us a huge and vast world, designed to amaze. But- learning to be content in every circumstance can open your eyes, mind and sense of adventure to locally-sourced outdoors. Instead of complaining like a child, “There’s nothing to do around here”, we can be thankful and blessed by God to find new and never-ending nearby provisions to grow outdoors.
I had an exciting outdoor vacation planed in a destination I longed to visit but it wasn’t meant to be. Instead I discovered that in three days my local area had plenty to offer. All I had to do was give God control of my plans. [Be sure to read How To Plan for – Exquisite! before you proceed. It sets the stage for the rest of this story.]
DAY 0: THE DRIVE TO THE CAMPSITE
My wife and I live about three hours from Shenandoah National Park. So, in the summer, you can leave as late as 3:30 in the afternoon, still get a bite to eat, get to the campsite, get your tent set and a campfire burning all before sunset. We had wanted to actually leave the day previous but unplanned obligations caused us to do the late departure. Nevertheless, as the short drive distanced us from our busy lives and took us further away from population we could feel the release. We quickly realized that the shorter distance of the local trip was already delivering more immediate benefit. The longer multi-state drive or flight would have been much more busy and stressful.
Upon arrival the camp office was already closed. However, on the corkboard outside we found our name written on a tag we were to place on the post at our campsite. This was the first of several instances where we experienced gracious and trusting human gestures. The “honor system” attests I believe to the imprint Christ’s nature has made and can continue to make in our human interactions. It is refreshing to interrelate with others purely through trust and mutual goodwill as compared to regulations of law and risk of penalty.
We assembled the tent and had the entire campsite set in quick order. Teamwork between a husband and wife really is a beautiful thing. Getting the job done before sunset is even better. Dinner gave way to one-on-one fellowship and conversation in the glow of the campfire. But, even the most perfect of evenings can still bring a surprise that with God can be an opportunity to overcome. Unbeknownst to us, our granddaughter had punctured the air mattress when it was previously used. It didn’t take long for us to realize how hard the ground can be. Every rock and twig could be mapped beneath our back. What do you do? Buck up, smile and take a selfie.
DAY 1: THE MOUNTAINS BECKON
After a more restful night of sleep than I thought I would have, I got a roaring blaze going so I could brew our morning pot of coffee. For me, survival skills aren’t always in the style of Bear Grylls or Creek Stewart. A starter log and kerosene got my campfire hot fast so the old-fashioned percolator could herald a new day with fresh-roasted aroma and strong-flavored goodness.
The campground is conveniently located to the lodge so we treated ourselves to a dining room breakfast. An older man served us and like the couple managing the campground reminded us that a love for the outdoors has no age limits. The big event for our first full day would be to hike (three miles total) a section of the Appalachian Trail with a detour to a waterfall. Before the exercise and adventure we retreated to the lodge porch to bask in the warm morning sun, read, pray, talk with others and anticipate what God had in store for us.
Though it was a hot summer day, here at these elevations the morning air was crisp and refreshing. The lush green plants each with names and distinct fragrances build a deep canopy outlined by golden sun. Occasional openings in the grand trees gave way to spectacular panoramas of the surrounding mountains, valleys and distant farms. Quietness was the rule with occasional greetings with other hikers, a conversation with a park ranger and of course the more personal dialogue between the two of us. The falls marked the halfway point. Approaching it, we could hear the water cascading and reinforcing what we know but seldom experience, that even the rocks of the earth celebrate God in ceaseless praise.
Before the hike ended we caught a rare moment to observe a black bear. It silently came and silently went. We were reminded that we’re fortunate to be stewards of God’s creation, sharing space and being life.
After a refreshing shower (4 quarters for 5 minutes) we connected with campers at the camp store, cooked dinner and then continued conversation with others into the evening at a casual music gathering at the lodge. Our hopes of me successfully repairing the air mattress deflated quickly.
DAY 2: RIDGE ROAMING
I’m not sure why I awoke particularly early, but I’m glad I did. A deer was quietly grazing between two nearby tents, undistracted as my campfire blazed to life so I could prepare our breakfast. The first morning sun cast a particularly warm glow on the mountains across from us. Those few moments of conscious solitude were God’s personal invitation to me to take time to get to know Him better.
A rapidly approaching thunderstorm changed the scene. We jumped into break camp mode and hustled as if we’d been given military command orders, “It’s time to move!” Nonetheless, I still got a good soaking before the trunk closed with the last of our gear stowed. With rain dripping from our noses my wife and I looked at each other and laughed as the cloudburst began to clear. Before we left I gave my remaining fuel to a couple struggling to get their morning campfire started.
We drove out of the park but throughout the day we crisscrossed the Blue Ridge Mountain Range eventually making our way to a quaint homestead nestled along a babbling mountain brook. Here, Jason Fowler, his wife and children practice a simple lifestyle and intentional community. Jason is the founder of Sustainable Traditions, an online conversation embracing a deeply rooted, whole-life Christian discipleship.
It was refreshing to relax on the front porch and consider how God can lead all of us to live a more simple yet vibrant life. Jason and his family tune into the outdoors in ways that most of us know can be done but seldom do. They raise those free-range chickens, work the land, live in community and endure the ever-present roar of secluded quietness. We hope to return and bring with us a small group of Shout! Outdoor Lifestyle Magazine readers to experience a one-of-a-kind weekend retreat. We’ll learn to make fresh yogurt, fellowship in prayer and Bible study and experience how outdoor life can be done “together”.
As we continued on the road we took time to reflect on how simply trusting God to orchestrate our 3-day outdoor weekend getaway was proving to be much more rewarding than any plans we could have made. This isn’t to say we were wandering without any thought or direction. We were in fact tuned-in to God’s direction --- a different way of thinking, listening and discovering.
Having done two nights of firm ground sleeping we knew that a soft comfortable bed would be a good way to complete the weekend. As evening approached we knew the hotels in the nearby town were still a good hour away on the other side of the mountains. We also knew that the traditional box hotel with the typical surrounding restaurants wasn’t really our first choice. We stopped at family owned Gross’ Orchard just to enquire if there might be some simple lodging closer. Already after business hours owners Ronnie and his dad Walter were readying their store for the next day when I knocked on the still open door. “The homeplace is all yours if you want it”, Ronnie offered. His dad added, “Help yourself to a peach or two. You’ll find a few ripe on the tree behind the house.” We checked-in and found the accommodations (down to the details of the old hound-dog on the porch) to be above and beyond what we could have hoped or imagined.
We would rest well in this quite valley but not before we first went to the mountaintop for a trout-dinner at the Peaks Of Otter. I never knew this place exist. This lakeside resort with a spectacular view includes a waterside walking trail for some outdoor repose after a flavorful and generous meal. A vacation we thought would be an epic failure was proving to be a first time ascent into new destinations, new acquaintances and new experiences that wouldn’t be just fond memories for my wife and me but now new outdoor places we could bring others.
DAY 3: WORSHIP AND RAFT
The Sunday morning mist gently veiled the orchard. We found well-tended trees burdened to the breaking point with ripe apples, plums, peaches and more. Bursting with natural sugary sweetness they would be harvested another day. Today, the community center, a previously abandoned church that the Gross family purchased, would host a morning worship service. This is another example of how older church buildings no longer in use can be retrofitted to bring vibrant living to a community.
A steep and narrow mountain road with plenty of tight switch-backs eventually led us to the small town of Buchanan on the edge of the highway that would lead us home.
But, before the final drive it was time to have yet one more outdoor adventure crossing a sturdy but precariously stretched cable footbridge that spans the James River and then checking out the wide range of recreational and touring options at Twin River Outfitters.
We love fun in the water. While the James River, much further downstream, is wide and the setting for historic Jamestown, here it is nestled in Virginia’s Rail Heritage Region and is the setting for all kinds of rafting, tubing, kayaking and canoeing.
I learned that failing to do an epic long-distance outdoor adventure is no failure at all. Rather it is an opportunity to open our minds to the amazing locally sourced outdoor offerings that are brimming with wonder, wrapped in natural beauty and alive with gracious people ready to extend the good that God is doing in their lives. Together my wife and I let God design a 3-day weekend that took us to the destination “Exquisite!” It’s where we learned that an epic failure is how you fail very well.