It was a beautiful hike. The snow was lightly falling and there was no noise except for our footsteps and the falling snow. I’ve had the privilege to log hundreds of hours in the backcountry, but this backpacking trip was a little different. For the first time I was taking one of my boys on an overnight backpacking trip. He had been begging me for months to go. He had proved himself on several hikes and camping trips. And now, he was finally ready to get a taste of what I love so much about backpacking.
With a light snow falling, we set out in the early evening from the Lincoln Woods trailhead. The plan was to make it a few miles and stop at a stealth site I had been to many times before. Everything about this trip was familiar to me. I knew the trail, I knew where all the good water sources were for filtering water, and I had prepared my son for what lay ahead for us every step of the way. After a couple of hours of hiking we had made it a few miles in. The snow was picking up and so we decided to find a spot to setup camp for the night. This is when everything quickly fell apart.
Once we had found a good spot off the trail to setup camp, we got the tent out. My son was eagerly helping me layout the tent’s footprint. We then draped the tent over the footprint and began staking out the corners. Then came time to insert the tent poles…except, there were no tent poles to be found. For the first time ever I had forgotten to bring the poles to my tent. I failed. My son, being the adventurous kid he is, noticed a large bolder with a flat area next to it. Our survival skills came into play. We secured the rain tarp of the tent and made a great lean-to. On the ground we attached the tent’s footprint which provided a dry place for us to rest. We had done it. We overcame my failure. Except the evening was not over yet.
With the sun setting rapidly, the temperatures were dropping fast. My son was ready for some hot chocolate and dinner. I reached into my pack and pulled out my camp stove and food bag. We got out the hot chocolate packets and our backpacking mugs. We were both ready for that cup of warm hot chocolate. I began to put the pieces of my stove together to boil up some water. What I discovered dropped my heart. The stove element to my kit was missing. I had mistakenly left it at home assuming it to be another piece of gear that I would not need. No hot water meant, no hot meal and no hot chocolate. I had failed.
What started out as a beautiful snowy fall hike had turned into a disappointment. A disappointment that I could see in my son’s face and hear in his small voice. I had failed. I knew what the best decision was given our current circumstances. The best plan was to use what light we had left to get packed up and head back to where we had began this adventure hours before. I had failed. I broke the news to my son, and with tears in his eyes he helped gather up all the gear and secure it into our packs. We slipped our way back up out of the forest and back onto the trail — this time, heading back to the car. I had failed.
As we began making our way back, my mind was racing. I had failed. Not only had I failed, but my failure impacted my son. He had dreamed of this day when he finally had dad’s approval on his ability to go backpacking together. But all I could think about is that even with all my experience and skill sets, I had failed — more specifically, I had failed my son. This was supposed to be one of those core memory makers that we look for as dad’s in the lives of our kids. But, I had failed.
We made it back to the car and loaded our gear back up. We drove for an hour in silence — my son resting on the window as he peered out at the White mountains, which would have to wait for another time. After a stop at the Red Arrow diner for some well needed supper, we headed home. Home to sleep in our warm beds where I was left to think about the ways I had failed and disappointed my son.
The Hard Reality
It has been almost a year since this took place but the emotions I felt that day are still as fresh as if I just returned from that trip last night. Some things have changed since then. For one, I became much more detailed in my packing list for all my trip types. I never wanted to be in a place again where key equipment would be forgotten.
But most importantly are the lessons I learned about myself, my son, and the parallel of how my Heavenly Father interacts with me. I am thankful that in my relationship with God, I have a personal God who sees my failures and has dealt with and works amid those failures. Scripture does not deny that the human experience is full of failure, but it always points to the solution, Jesus.
I am God’s beloved child. He wants what is best for me, for what He designed me to be. My Father wants me to stand and live a life that reflects my identity in Christ. He wants me to trust Him. However, He doesn’t reject me when I fall short and fail. His heart aches because He knows my potential. God knows what I am going to learn from that failure. He doesn’t heap more chastisement. God loves and supports me every single step of the way.
It may not always be a walk in the woods, but my trust is in the finished work of my Savior Jesus Christ. May we rest in the reality that our Heavenly Father cares for us far more than we often realize.
“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10 (CSB)
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26 (CSB)
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