Envisioning. Planning. Preparing. Packing. Starting. Hitting the stride.
There is something about starting a trek that is energizing and exciting. There is something about heading out on a hike that gets my attention and seems to move me along. For a while.
But hiking can be hard. The spiritual journey can be arduous as well. Once underway, there are often times when the energy fades and the real work begins. While adrenaline may have propelled me for a while, there comes a time when the journey feels, well for lack of a better word, pedestrian. It is one foot in front of the other. Repeat. And then repeat again. And again, and again, and again, and again…
Hikers have a term for this—it’s called ‘footslogging.’ It is the process of picking ‘em up and putting ‘em down. Left, right, left, right, left, right. Through the sweat, or the heat, or the mud, or the muck, or the rocks. The trail does not move for you—you have to propel yourself. Ground is gained methodically.
Footslogging can happen on all kinds of trails, but it seems to occur more frequently on those parts of the trail where the external payoﬀs are smaller. It feels easier to keep going when one is on the ridgeline and seeing breath-taking views turn after turn. It feels easier when following a rushing river that is dashing its way downhill with a sense of fury. It feels easier when there is lots to see and experience. But on those portions that are simply walking in the woods without much to capture one’s attention, the focus drops to the feet and motivating them step by step.
I have had plenty of miles that were marked more by my sense of fatigue and perseverance than by compelling memories. I have had hours that passed without much more going on beyond trying to reach the next junction and gauge my progress. I have footslogged a lot in my hiking life. It’s part of the process.
I have had times when I was tired and had to be keeping an eye on my exertion more than the scenery. I have had times when I was injured and had to slow to manage pain. I have had times when I counted 100 paces and then stopped for 10 breaths to keep moving forward when my body wasn’t feeling strong. I have thought through small rewards that would be received when I hit my next goal, however small that may have been. I have found a few ways to deal with footslogging that have helped me keep hiking, and I have needed them often.
At one point I posted a small note on my desk that simply read “2 mph.” Two miles an hour is not moving very fast, but it’s not a bad average when one is hiking in the mountains. It’s a reminder that there are times when progress can be hard to see. There are moments when its seems as if I’m not really getting as far along as I would like to be. There are moments when work, or ministry, or life itself becomes something of a experience like footslogging. Left, right, repeat.
On the spiritual journey there will be times when there it seems as if no ground is being gained and progress is excruciatingly slow. Forward momentum seems to have slowed and it takes a great deal of energy and focus to take the next step. Progress feels minimal or nonexistent. My soul slogs as well some days.
I accept that the spiritual journey is not a sprint. I will not dash to the heights in short order without any eﬀort on my part. I am aware that my steps are slow and my stride is short. Especially when I’m climbing I have to be more aware of foot placement and breathe a bit deeper. Footslogging is not easy, but it is frequently necessary.
But over the course of time, movement does happen. Slow progress will still get you up the trail. I can look back from some peak and realize how many steps were required to get there. I can sit by a waterfall, and take in the spray and sound deep into my soul. I can rest at the end of a day knowing that I put in more steps than I could count. My feet and my legs and my heart and my lungs and my mind have carried me through.
There will be days and maybe even months when it feels as if I am stuck, as if my feet or my spirit are heavy and hard to move. There will be many moments in which I cannot rely on having some inspiring external element that infuses me with energy. There will be times when the journey feels as if I’m merely plodding along with little hope and less vision. Learning how to footslog may then prove to be a valuable skill indeed.