We were done, done what we’d come to do. Finished hiking The Hundred Mile Wilderness over the past ten days. Now, just 3.2 miles back to Phil the Outfitter and our car. Between us and Phil’s place, Buck Hill.
All day we’d been joking about it — while some finished their adventures on the Appalachian Trail at the top of Katahdin or Springer Mountain, we were finishing on the other side of Buck Hill, all 1500 feet of it!
Barb agreed to stay with our heavy packs at the end of the Hundred Mile Wilderness Trail as Pat, Jen and I took off to hike the last few miles, grab the car and pick her up.
And so we took off excited and anxious for hot showers, clean clothes and a big lunch. Sad too, that our trek was about done. We were already waxing nostalgic about our misadventures on the trail. Finding it hard to believe the hike was now over when there were times during it we thought it might never finish.
So there we were, light, free, expectant, setting off with poles clicking behind us and no packs. No water or food either for who needed that – we were done! I set out as I am wont to do at the head of the pack striding out confidently to jokes about what a fine Boy Scout guide I was.
We conquered the “summit” of Buck Hill – a view of fog through a dense stand of trees, a wet, gray July day. Now just a mile and a half to the car, we started our descent. However, as we descended so did my energy. I watched my brisk walk turn to a slow walk, to a plodding stroll. Jen jumped ahead, “Let’s keep Peter going!” But as Pat and Jen shouted encouragement, I was going slower, slower, slower. 100 miles only to collapse out here at the end of the journey descending Buck Hill!
Jen turned, excited. “The BoBo Bar! Does anyone have the BoBo Bar?” Alas, the alleged BoBo Bar that Barb had encouraged us to take, we had left behind. As we’d taken off, I couldn’t imagine eating yet one more bar and now I’d kill a boar!
At last we came to a cross roads. We all recognized the sign post – we’d walked out here that first night ten days ago when we’d spent the night at Phil’s — but none of us could remember which way to turn. My energy continued to fall. Jen now hungry and tired herself. Pat weary and ready to be done. But which way to turn? Seven minutes from Phil’s and not a clue how to get there. At this point, so close to the end, tired, hungry, thirsty, cranky we realized how easily people die in the woods!
How you end a journey matters. We’ve all heard it said that ending well matters to make room for the possibility of all that will be. And while that is true, like you, I have known good endings and less than good endings like ours on Buck Hill.
Several years ago when I prepared to leave the church in Seattle where I’d served for 25 years, I realized I didn’t know how to end. I learned through that experience that making the possibility for a good ending means taking time to reflect, to look back – naming, remembering what we learned, what we did well together and recognizing and asking forgiveness of one another for what we did not. It means getting together the information, supplies and tools a new pastor will need as he gets to know your community. It means preparing a basket of welcome and planning some ways for a congregation get to know a new pastor. It means making a great open clearing by having the conversations and rituals to hold in grace what we have done together and all we have left incomplete.
It means taking the gift of time for all the feelings a goodbye brings. And it is time which I look forward to on the other side of our goodbye. To gift myself with a few months of my own Walden Pond time after I finish here in September – time to be, write, reflect on this amazing time that has changed and shaped me, affirmed in me the passion and call to this particular interim ministry work of transition and transformation.
Back at the crossroads on the Appalachian Trail last month, we took off in every direction but the right one. At last Phil called and told us which way to turn. As we stepped out of the woods, there was Barb in the distance whooping and cheering. She’d gotten a ride back to Phil’s ten minutes after we left her at the roadside. She’d had a hot shower, changed her clothes, got something to eat, and been sitting there reading Chicken Soup for the Soul. We traipsed out of the woods in line without lifting our heads, without a wave or response. I was spent, Jen defeated and Pat fed up.
Of all the stories I tell of our days on the trail, Buck Hill is the one I always tell first for it’s the one that left the most lasting impression and taught the most important lesson. Buck Hill is the ending that finds us all after we think that the journey is finished, the way complete and home just around the bend. Buck Hill means remembering in the joy and anticipation of rushing towards a joyful new beginning that we must not forget our need for the same food and sustenance that we’d depended on all along the way. Buck Hill bucked us all into the reminder that ending attentively and well makes all the difference!
So here we go – Onward!