Thoughts from the Creeper Trail

DSC_0281

by Joanne Depp

I lift my eyes up to the hills.

From where does my help come?

My help comes from the Lord,

who made Heaven and earth.

Psalm 121

As I’m sitting down to reflect on our family’s first Creeper Trail trip, I can’t help but to be reminded of the Psalms of Ascent, a collection of songs sung by Jewish pilgrims on their way to worship in Jerusalem.  The metaphor is not perfect, of course, as the pilgrims were on their way UP to worship, while the Creeper Trail is a steady descent, proving itself a manageable ride for bikers of most ages and abilities.  

Nonetheless, we, Arborbrook, joined together as sojourners, worshipped along the way, and ended in a joyous feast together.  It is a beautiful picture reminiscent of those who have gone before us in the Christian walk.  But even more poignantly, the trip is a beautiful picture of the journey we’ve been on, both collectively and individually, as we sojourn this earth and head towards Home.  Individually, we came from all different kinds of backgrounds, seasons, joys and sorrows.  And collectively, we came together, perhaps bruised by living in a world that condemns us, but encouraged by the fellowship of being banded together as believers set securely upon the rock of God’s promises.

Yes, this was more than an ordinary bike trip.  This was God’s call to me to slow down and look towards Home, and to ponder that with every turn of the pedals, with every breath and every word and every thought, I was one step closer.  With this thought as a backdrop, please join me as I reflect on our trip.

DSC_7015

On Thursday afternoon, families slowly trickled into the common area provided by Damascus Cabins.  After three hours in the car, the children were eager to explore the creation before them.  As the kids happily caught frogs and crayfish, rode bikes, waded through the stream, held the wild ducks (literally!), the adults casually fellowshipped and lent helping hands to those setting up tents.  The mood was happy –  bikes littered the lawn, families exchanged hugs and smiles, and the steady, joyful noise of volleyball and soccer games filled the air until sunset.

Friday morning was the big day.  We caught shuttles from Sundog Rentals, where families rented bikes and trailers to haul the smaller children.  The 30-minute drive up to the top was long and windy – someone told me they counted more than a hundred switchbacks! First observation: it was COLD.  Layers were a necessity for the old; optional for the young.  Second observation: you can avoid the pit toilets at the top of the trail and use restrooms with legitimate plumbing a hundred yards down the trail at the Visitor’s Center.  Third observation: you may not actually pedal the first couple miles of the trail because the descent is so steep.  This is especially true if you have a bike trailer propelling you forward like I did.

Our ride started off cold, somewhat damp and uneventful.  The kids were in high spirits. I loved hearing the steady hum of conversation amongst the junior high girls and seeing the younger children absentmindedly wind in and out and across the trail.  Adults rode defensively and conversed casually and easily.  Sojourning had begun. The path was constantly changing, and varied from a dark path tunneled beneath the canopy of trees and rhododendron to large open fields with barns, cabins and antiquated houses.  The trail followed a stream closely, providing beautiful bridge crossings and places to play along the way.

IMG_8022

The Lord was truly on our side (Psalm 124).  The sun came out, our families were safely kept (Psalm 121), and the minor snags were met through the community on the trail (Psalm 133).  Sundog Rentals loaned a bike for free to a boy whose bike broke at the last minute.  Two elementary school dads repaired the tire of a middle schooler’s bike.  Moreover, they fixed the tire with a tube gifted from a complete stranger. At the halfway lunch spot, families shared food and there was an abundance.  As the group formed into pockets, parents embraced any children who happened to be near them, whether they were theirs or not.   The beautiful picture of the journey Home was working itself out into what it should look like.  For those few and sweet hours on the trail, we were focused on getting home, staying on the narrow path, and keeping watch over each other.  

When we safely returned to our destination, we were greeted by warm sunlight, perfect temperatures, and a beckoning stream.  Again, play in God’s beautiful creation amongst children and the ease of conversation amongst adults continued.  There was no agenda other than fellowship, with the exception of the feast to come that evening. The children swam out to a giant rock in the middle of the stream and enjoyed the thrill of jumping from its top.  The braves ones climbed the steep, cliff-like rocks along the bank and jumped from heights that left mothers cringing.  Middle and high schoolers hung nonchalantly from Eno hammocks.   A two-year-old and a thirteen-year-old sat along the bank for some time together, and in the context of the Creeper Trail trip, this made perfect sense.   My only regret is that there are friends and acquaintances I wish I had more time to catch up with.

DSC_0234

DSC_0204

DSC_0294

As for the feast… Wow.  Our group gave thanks to the Lord and gathered before an abundant spread of soups, sandwiches, salads, chips, and the most decadent s’mores bar I have ever seen!  Tired from the day’s activity, we were especially hungry and food that may have seemed ordinary in different circumstances was especially appreciated.  We ate until we were full and there was plenty left.  This was only a foretaste of our real journey Home – the everlasting one that counts for all of eternity –  which will also end in a feast beyond our imagination.

DSC_0359

DSC_0396

DSC_0379

DSC_0314

IMG_8136

Saturday morning was a fitting end to the utopic weekend.  We woke up to the heavy pounding of rain on the tin roof of our cabin.  It was the kind of rain that soaked tents and people, regardless of weather seals, rain jackets and umbrellas.  Packing up was soggy, especially for the adventurous campers, and the downpour hindered our goodbyes with one another.  After this sacred retreat together, the rain provided a gentle re-entry back into the world, where our fellowship would temporarily break, and duty and responsibility would demand our focus once again.

DSC_7312

I give thanks that God has given me this trip as a visual to remind me of where I am ultimately going – Home to Heaven forever one day. The journey there and the destination work together; and how much lighter the journey seems when we’re mindful of where we’re going.  How I wish to love this earth less and love Heaven more!  

This is my prayer for Arborbrook:  that we would be an eternally focused school, grounded in grace and truth, knowing that we are strangers and exiles in the world heading towards the city he has prepared for us.  May we deeply appreciate our teachers who journey alongside our children, point them Home, and teach them what the narrow path looks like.  May we, as parents, have the courage and conviction to teach these same truths to our children.  May we marvel at the child-like faith of our children and believe with the same satisfaction and peace.   May we look to the Lord, giver of all good gifts, to help us in all these things.  And as Jesus prayed for as, may we be one.

It is only suiting that I end with the final Psalm of Ascent:

Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the LORD,

who stand by night in the house of the LORD!

Lift up your hands to the holy place

and bless the LORD!

May the LORD bless you from Zion,

he who made Heaven and earth!

Post by Joanne Depp, Arborbrook parent

Photos by Joanne Depp, Amy Norman, April Petrie, and Joy Fisk

Advertisements

A Creeper Trail Adventure!

DSC_0475

by Libba Armenta (Arborbrook Parent & Junior High Writing Workshop Teacher)

My family joined around 100 students, parents and faculty members in Damascus, Virginia, last weekend for the third annual Arborbrook Creeper Trail trip. We had heard nothing but praise for the trip and, even though it felt a bit ambitious with our young children, we decided to give it a go. The weather forecast predicted a 90% chance of rain, but inspired by the Creeper Trail slogan, “More than a trail, it’s an adventure,” we prayed for safety and loaded up the truck anyway.

No sooner had we carried our last bag inside the cabin than the skies let loose and it began to pour. Was this going to stop our fun? Of course not! Children flocked to the open field to catch raindrops in their smiling mouths. Some older students bravely entered the cool creek water and swam all the way out to the rock. Others mounted their bikes for an adventurous, slippery ride around the campground. Tent campers were invited to sleep under the covered porches of the cabins. Our Thursday evening bonfire may have been squelched, but not our sense of adventure!

DSC_0543

As families gathered Friday morning at Sundog Outfitter for bike and shuttle preparations, conversations seemed to center around rain survival and tall cups of morning coffee. The shuttle vans knew the way up the winding roads, but our stomachs did not. After a few minutes, passengers on the back rows of the van commiserated over feeling queasy. But before we knew it, we were greeted by mountaintop air, fresh, cool, and inviting. We climbed on our bikes, snapped a few pictures, and began the journey.

DSC_0496

The Creeper Trail was breathtaking and peaceful. Patches of the gravel trail were damp, but the tree canopy had spared most of our path from the rain. Every plant in sight showed signs of the Virginia summer’s gentle warmth and abundant precipitation. We watched the creek for miles, enjoying its gentle soundtrack. With quiet space comes a heightened awareness of all that is around. Think of the last time you looked as far as you could in every direction and found not one person. What a treat to enjoy the mountain breeze and beauty with the sense that they were, if only for a moment, just for you.

DSC_0518

The cheers and encouragement from passersby were plentiful. My favorites were directed at my 4-year-old son, who rode most of the trail on his own bike: “Way to go, big guy!” Another memorable remark came from a group riding a good distance behind me (thankfully): “BLACK SNAKE!” One group that finished shortly after us counted nine snakes; my family saw none. I give credit for this to a sweet prayer said by Jon Miller on Thursday as Mrs. Rosser’s kindergarten class prepared for lunch: “Dear God, I pray for the Creeper Trail and for everyone to be safe and for NO snakes.”

When hunger and fatigue compounded, families gathered at the Creeper Trail Café, a hot dog joint with splurge-worthy onion rings and milkshakes. You could see the trail’s mark on all the riders as they stood in line to order: matching mud splatters up our backs like a skunk’s stripes.

Fueled for a strong finish, we jumped back on our bikes. Breaking for lunch had re-distributed our group to some degree; what fun to ride in closer proximity to other families on the final stretch back to Damascus. Excited, energized junior high students breezed by as those of us with small children spent the last several miles coaxing our young riders to “pedal, push, come on!” Whether they whizzed to “Off the Beaten Path” for a double scoop of mint chocolate chip, or sought after the nearest shower, every rider seemed to relish the accomplishment of completing the 17-mile ride.

Back at the cabins, the sun was still shining and the creek was once again full of Arborbrook students. A crowd gathered at the water’s edge to cheer on a handful of swimmers as they ventured toward the rock. What a joy to overhear numerous conversations among adults and students alike, focused on hobbies and passions, family and faith. Junior high students threw the ball with younger students and parents of older children helped chase other families’ little ones. As we circled up for prayer before dinner, I marveled at the uniqueness and authenticity of the Arborbrook community.

DSC_0561

Dinner was delicious. The salads were fresh and colorful and some saint thought to bring Fritos for the chili. Mrs. Andrade carried out a pot of fettuccine Alfredo with chicken and the crowd rejoiced. The s’mores spread was elaborate. Cinnamon and sugar graham crackers with Nutella spread and a roasted, toasted coconut marshmallow ̵ now that’s bonfire-gourmet.

DSC_0560

My family headed in early to put our little ones to bed, but we continued to enjoy being serenaded by the echoes of conversation and laughter outside. I said to my husband, “Today was a child’s feast.” The weekend was a picture of what we desire for our children: that they be so enthralled with God’s best, that all else pales in comparison. This weekend our students ran, swam, climbed trees, frolicked in bare feet, splashed in puddles, played tag and hide and seek, biked, laughed, tossed rocks, shot rockets, roasted marshmallows beneath the stars among friends, and more. My children never even noticed that there was a television in our cabin; they were satiated with the bounty of God’s creation. Arborbrook community, you are a gem, and Damascus, Virginia, we’ll be back!

DSC_0531

-by Libba Armenta, Arborbrook Parent and Junior High Writing Workshop Teaher (photos by Malana Ennis)