Growing up, one of the primary ways I bonded with my dad and brother was through hiking and backpacking. We once hiked 35 miles of the Teton Crest Trail in Grand Teton National Park. We climbed a few peaks on that trail and hiked long distances above the tree line with 360-degree views of one of the world’s most stunning mountain ranges. It was incredible.
I don’t remember having a lot of conversations about God with my father, but any time we were in the mountains, things were different. He would quote psalms and sometimes we would even pray or talk about Jesus. There is something about being in the midst of undeniable beauty that makes us feel small yet deeply grateful. In such settings, taking conversations to a deeper level rarely feels forced.
At the age of 17, several of my friends used money they’d saved up from their summer jobs to purchase mountain bikes. I followed suit and was soon making trips with my friends to nearby Palo Duro Canyon, just south of Amarillo where I lived, to deepen my love of nature on two wheels as we rode every mile of red rock single track where bikes were allowed.
Throughout college I continued hiking and mountain biking as often as possible, but trips became fewer and fewer as my studies became more demanding and I started working at a local church in Amarillo. When my biking buddies were in town, we’d ride at Palo Duro and dream about taking a road trip to Moab, UT which was and is one of the premier mountain biking destinations in the world. I soon ended up in Louisville, KY for seminary and my friends spread out to all different parts of the country, so we never made that trip.
After seminary I got married and moved to Alabama to plant a church in 2008. Fast forward to 2018 over which time I got married, had three kids, and left a healthy church I had helped plant to pursue a new career in publishing curriculum for local churches at Lifeway, and the tires of my bike were dry rotted and the chain was covered in rust. I hadn’t ridden a trail in over a decade.
Around this same time I got a call from Hilton—the hotel chain—offering me one of those killer hotel stay deals for sitting through a timeshare presentation. My wife and my 10-year anniversary was coming up and I didn’t know how painful those timeshare presentations were, so I agreed to 4-night stay in Las Vegas. Neither my wife nor I were interested in gambling. In fact, it wasn’t the city itself that intrigued us, but its proximity to Utah.
When we arrived, we did what I suspect few people do upon landing in the Entertainment Capital of the World and immediately left the city. We used Las Vegas as a launching point to visit Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, and Page, AZ (near Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend). We hiked some of the Southwest’s most iconic and beautiful trails, bringing back memories of hiking with my dad and brother and mountain biking with my friends in college.
Not even the nearly 3-hour timeshare sales pitch could have ruined the trip; it was amazing. When we got back home, I did two things. First, I immediately started researching the best places to hike in Middle Tennessee. Second, I took my bike to the local shop to see what it would take to get it trail-ready.
A life-giving hobby
Since returning home from our 10-year anniversary trip, hiking has become our family’s most treasured activity. My wife and I even spent our last two anniversaries hiking the Window Cliff’s trail and Fiery Gizzard trail respectively, both of which I’d highly recommend. We’ve taken our kids hiking all over the Southeast—we’ve found it to be incredibly rewarding and affordable hobby, if you can challenge your kids to push through some mild discomfort.
Rediscovering my love of mountain biking has also been incredibly life-giving. My closest Nashville friends are now the five guys I ride bikes with, none of which I knew before getting back into the sport. One of these guys even invited me to spend a few days with his family as they were camping in Moab this summer—we rode bikes on over 100 miles of trails in some of the world’s most challenging and gorgeous trails in just a few days. I have never seen a place quite like Moab. Just about every trail we rode had 360-degree views of 2,000 ft+ canyons and amazing red rock formations.
While Scripture is our clearest revelation of who God is, the created world around us constantly testifies to God’s awe-inspiring glory and artistic craftsmanship. This is why theologians have often referred to nature as God’s second book. When I am in the places I have been able to hike and bike in the last two years, whether I am with my family or my friends, it’s almost impossible not to be grateful, and it’s really not that difficult to have conversations about God.