Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Needed Break and a Reminder

Every fall for the past 15 or more years, a group of men gather for 1-2 days somewhere in the mountains of the East for fun, fellowship and exercise in nature. At the beginning it was an all-day hike, later a day-long bike ride was added.

This year there were ten of us gathered at a camp ground on a Sunday evening outside Jim Thorpe, Pa. The huge campfire not only helped cook the evening meal, but provided the warmth necessary to be outdoors on this late October evening. It also formed the backdrop for guy talk; rarely do we deal with weighty subjects, we just catch up on each other’s lives and tell the standard jokes.

Indeed many of the jokes were repeats from previous years. Someone came up with the idea of numbering them so that all we would need to do each year is repeat the number and we could laugh without having to hear all the details. At our ages, however, few of us could remember the details let alone the number of the corresponding joke.

Monday morning saw us preparing for a 50-mile bike ride along the Lehigh Gorge State Park Trail; from Jim Thorpe to White Haven and back with lunch in White Haven. I hadn’t been riding much, so I decided that I only wanted to do about 30 miles. I ride a recumbent stationary bike regularly, and wasn’t worried about my legs and lungs, but other parts of the body—indeed my shoulders, pectoral muscles and elbows felt it the most. I drove my car to White Haven, then rode my bike toward my companions until I met them, turned around and rode with the pack until we arrived in White Haven for lunch.

What a lunch it was; 14 oz. hamburgers at a well-known greasy spoon diner. When we men are together, we tend to eat foods not allowed on our home table; at least not three times a day! One companion quipped, “that was a three-Lipitor breakfast.” He could have added, and lunch and dinner. But we had to load up for the upcoming bike ride.

14 Oz. Hamburger
The weather was perfect for the ride; cool enough to ride in comfort without sweating much, and warm enough not to freeze the extremities. The sunlight filtered through the remaining leaves on the trees, and I rode in and out of shadows depending on the location of the ridges skirting the Lehigh River. The leaves were a bit past their prime, but there were still some brilliant reds and yellows to delight the eyes from time to time.

The trail
Riding in a pack is lots of fun with conversation and jockeying for position. It also helps the length of the ride to seem shorter. However, on this occasion, I was glad to be riding alone. I took in every sensation: the sounds of the river, the water falls passing over rocks, the wind rustling the leaves of the trees making various whistling sounds, the pounding of my heart and the sharp sensation of my lungs filling with cold air. I was at one with nature. I was at peace with the universe. I experienced the presence of God.

My two-day experience was a wonderful break from my normal routines. I experienced community through male bonding; I experienced a rare oneness with nature; I happily abandoned some of the strictures of my normal rhythm and rule. I experienced mellowness of heart; a topic about which I am writing a book and that I do not enjoy often enough. Oh, and I didn’t check my email for 36 hours.

As wonderful as the time away from my regular routine was, it was only good because it wasn’t normal. We need such breaks to keep us healthy both physically and spiritually, but we also need to find ways to have small retreats and breaks every day during our more regular routines. That’s the challenge of developing a healthy lifestyle—and a mellow heart. 

A waterfall behind me

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