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Walking with the Spirit of Esther

A word from Curt

This week is a time of adjustment.  Instead of trekking into South Sudan, we’re packing to go to the U.S.  It’s time to get rid of Smaug (that’s what I’m calling this dysenteric bug in my gut).

I’m processing how I feel about all of this.

With your permission, I’ll be sharing transparently this week about the transition.

The story below sums up how I feel tonight.

Take Heart.

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Maybe you’ve come into the kingdom for such a time as this.

-Mordecai to Queen Esther

 

 

The Spirit of Esther

 

I never met Esther.

Nor did I meet her fellow hiker Miriam.

I like their names.
Sounds like two Jewish girls in Exodus.

However, their journey wasn’t to Canaan.
It was to Maine.
From Georgia.

I followed their journal notes across one hundred miles of the Appalachian Trail in 1996.

It’s known as the A.T. and there’s nothing quite like it.
It’s America’s first and most famous hiking trail.
Begins in the Georgia woods and ends atop Maine’s Mt. Katahdin.
That’s over 2000 miles and an estimated 5 million steps.

The view from atop  Mt Katadhin in Maine.

The view from atop Mt Katahdin in Maine.

Each year hopeful hardy souls begin in February or March in Georgia and walk “North with Spring.”

They’re called Thru-Hikers and their goal is to reach Maine before its early winter sets in.
Usually within a month before or after Labor Day.

About one in ten who begin Georgia complete the odyssey.
Miriam was one.
Spirit of Esther came close.

Open-sided trail shelters are located about every 5-6 miles on the A.T. Each shelter has a spiral notebook known as a trail journal. Passing hikers write their thoughts and leave notes for fellow thru-hikers a few days behind.

It is fascinating reading and I’ve never been guilty of passing a journal without at least a cursory reading.

Much of it is poetic.

The outdoors does that to the human soul.

Some of the writing is obscene; some stupid.

But within the pages of scrawls with pen and pencil,

Personalities and stories come alive.

KatahdinAT

That’s how I met Miriam and Spirit of Esther.

I was walking south with my hiking partner Macon Rathburn.

It was late August and we shared campfires with the lean bronzed hikers who were nearly to their goal at Mt. Katadhin.

There was Lord Bacon, Pilgrim, Interplanet Janet, and an alphabet soup of trail names.

But I never met Miriam.

In the trail journals, I followed her northward trek and probably passed her on the trail one day.
She going north.
Me going south.
Two ships passing in the night.

Miriam always signed her journal entries, “Miriam and Spirit of Esther.”

It took about sixty miles and ten journals before I got the full story.
Miriam and Esther were hiking partners.

I don’t know if they’d walked the entire A.T. together or met up in Virginia, Vermont, or elsewhere.

The final northern portion of the A.T. is known as the 100 Mile Wilderness.

There are virtually no roads along this beautiful stretch of mountains and lakes.
It’s not tough climbing but there’s lots of hopping over mossy covered boulders.

That’s when Esther had her accident.
She slipped on a rock, took a hard fall with her pack, and fractured her arm.

She was off the trail.
After two thousand miles.
That’s the day that her handwriting disappeared from the journals.
Esther went off the trail.

To the ER

And back home to Boston or Brooklyn or Atlanta.

That’s when Miriam, heading north alone, began notating her entries as “Spirit of Esther and Miriam.”

 

According to the final Trail Journal at Daisy Pond Shelter,   Miriam made journey’s end to the top of Katadhin.
Esther was with her in spirit.
I’d bet a backpack of trail mix that Esther made the remaining miles of her journey.
Maybe the next year.
Maybe alone.
Maybe with her friend Miriam.
Esther, I hope you felt the same elation and satisfaction that other Thru Hikers felt on reaching their holy grail in Maine.
Esther, it doesn’t matter how or when you finished.
You finished.
Take Heart.

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I’m here in Uganda.
In a few hours, we drive to the Entebbe Airport to meet Kevin and Justin. They’re on their way to South Sudan.

I’ve called it the trip of a lifetime.
Going from the chaotic capital of Juba
By bush plane to difficult to reach refugee camps
Where the needs are many and the people are desperate.

Desperate for hope.

To know they’re not forgotten.

Our team is going.
Going to see.
Going to bear witness.
Going to learn how we—Baptists of South Sudan and America—can help.
How we can reach the least reached.

MapSS_Area_Jan14

And the Spirit of Esther will be with them.
That’s me.

I’ve dreamed of this trip for two years.
Planned it for the last three months.
Lived it and breathed it.

But Esther won’t be going.
He’s leaving two days later for the U.S.

It sure ain’t the way we planned it.
But I’m (mostly) at peace about it.

Kevin, Justin, Pastor Edward, Adam, Ding, Giwa, Joshua, and many others are the ones called to make this journey.
And Spirit of Esther—aka Mzee Curt—will be with them.

I’m inviting you to join them, too.
As possible, I’ll use Facebook and this blog www.creekbank.net to keep you up to date with their journey.

You can hold the rope.
You can pray and touch a land we’ve come to love called South Sudan.
You can be the spirit of Esther.

Take Heart,
Curt

Pamoja!  Together!
Pamoja! Together!

 

 

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About Curt Iles

I write to have influence and impact through well-told stories of my Louisiana and African sojourn.

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