27 Miles in Citrus County

Some outdoor experiences are worthwhile not because of your enjoyment, but because of what they teach you.

My dad and I hiked a portion of the Withlacoochee State Forest Citrus Tract which totaled about 27 miles over two days. We started at Mutual Mine campground and camped at Jackson and then caught a loop back to Mutual Mine to finish.

I have a bit of a love hate relationship with hiking in Florida because I love hiking but enjoy it a little less in the heat and pine flats. I was also weary of going on this particular trip because I’ve been having some ankle problems due to a ligament strain, but we’re preparing to hike the High Sierra Trail and being outside is good for the soul.

Suffice it to say I was quite miserable and spent a lot time crying while I was walking.¬†Hiking 27 miles in bad boots with a bum ankle isn’t the best life decision, I’ll admit.

Life is crazy in that the really hard things are often a way we learn valuable lessons though. Once I limped my way to our campsite we built a fire and made friends with two women on a backpacking trip and a couple who were self-proclaimed “white trash” according to the sticker on their truck parked where the trail crossed the road. Its easy to make quick decisions about people, and that was a mistake we made.

The women seemed aloof and anti-social while we assumed the couple was your typical rednecks. The problem here are the words “seemed” and “assumed.” Dad started a fire and we set up our backpacking chairs and slowly our campsite-mates joined us. The two women, who were just tired from a long day of hiking, shared stories about their jobs and other outdoor trips and listened to my stories of my outdoor semester. The couple shared their food and chairs and water with everyone along with facts about the plants in the forest they were trying to learn about in order to know more about the land. We had a lovely evening of getting to knowing each other and sharing s’mores over the warm fire. It was a good reminder in not making assumptions about people before knowing them.

I also relearned another lesson about myself. On my outdoor semester I was put in many situations that required resolve and mental fortitude. Some were very hard and made me want to give up. But time after time I chose not to give up. I didn’t realize how tenacious I was until someone pointed it out to me. That realization changed my whole perception of myself because it showed me the strength I had in me and a steely determination I could tap into.

On this hike I wanted to sit in the dirt, take my boots off, and give up. But more than that I wanted to finish what I started, plus have something more comfortable than the dirt to sit on. So with tears running down my face and many sounds of discomfort and frustration I walked those 27 miles. At one point my dad turned around and said, “I was listening to NPR,” which was a phrase spoken often on this trip, “and they were talking about a new thing people look for in their employees and leaders. That thing is grit.” He explained grit to me as strength and determination, and then told me I had grit. I smiled and rolled my eyes a little, at first writing it off as a cheesy encouragement to help make the hike better. But once we finished walking I pondered that a little more and remembered being applauded by other people for not giving up and being told that I’m quietly brave. The reminder made me smile for real.


Post-hike happiness

Theres something about the outdoors that compels me to push myself. I’m not sure if its a desire to say “Look what I did!” or a want to prove something to myself or grow or just do cool things, or maybe all of the above. But I often find that being outside helps me be the best version of myself. I feel closer to the Lord, less distracted, and strong, plus it absolutely is a confidence boast to do cool things.

So, even though my feet are still a little sore, my ankle is more swollen, and the cartilage in my heels is a lil crunchy it was still worth it.

The hard things usually are.


OLDS: Caving

For our next section we went caving and had a small primitive skills section.
Caving was a blast because it was essentially playing in the mud, but underground.
For the first two days of caving we split into two groups. Our first cave was mostly mud and dirt to crawl through and throw at each other (which was the best part and also). The caves were so dark and cool and damp, the opening of the cave even felt like air conditioning coming from the ground. Inside the cave we threw mud at each other, crawled through the dirt, saw bats, and turned our lights off to experience real pitch black darkness (literal actual complete darkness). We also had to administer WFR skills because a substantial amount of mud ended up in my ear.

The second cave was a more technical experience in that there was less mud fights and more squeezing through tight spaces. I definitely enjoyed playing in the mud more, but exploring rock tunnels was fun too!

The last two caves were a mix of both mud slinging and rock squeezing. There was also a room where people made mud sculptures, a huge mud slide, and an underground river that we swam through to get out of the cave.

In the middle of caving we did a couple days of primitive skills. During this section we covered debris shelter building, basic fire assembling, map and compass reading and orienteering, and to top it all off we each killed a chicken (most of us with our hands) and then skinned them. The point of this section was to teach us very basic survival skills should we ever find ourselves in a situation without the proper gear and shelter. On the very first night of this section we were given a paper bag with various survival items and had to use them to build a shelter and start a fire. My partner and I had a magnesium stick and cotton swabs for our fire.


Our primitive skills location

During this section we also had a 40 hour solo. We were each dropped off in a section of the woods about 200 yards from our neighbors. This time was meant for us to reflect on our semester, spend time with the Lord, and relax. It came at a very opportune moment for me as I was sick as a dog and needed some time to recover. In the beginning of the solo I had to set the tent up by myself, which was quite a time.

During the solo I spent the day alternating between praying, reading from the book of Jeremiah, journaling, writing poetry, and singing worship songs (there was also a couple naps thrown in). I also spent some time listing out sins I struggle with and praying for the Lord to help me deal with them. It was a refreshing and incredible time of simply sitting with God and allowing Him to speak to me and help me process different things.


One of the poems I wrote during the solo sums it up perfectly:

I lay on the leaves and
watch the wind push them
from the sky to the ground.
They fall and dance
with the clouds and sun
before becoming a carpet
and place for me to rest
my body and mind as
I think on a Creator
who laid these leaves
down years before for
me to feel His peace
from and see His
power and experience
a love deep enough
to let me feel the
wind on the leaves
and know He gave them to me to remind
me of Him and me
and Him in me

This whole semester showed me how nature can be an outlet for worshiping God and spending time with Him, but the solo really showed me the value of going out alone into a completely distraction free situation with nothing to do other than spend time with the Lord.
That being said, sleeping alone in the woods was a terrifying experience, but nevertheless I prevailed.

Our teachings primarily covered Ephesians 4, 5, and 6:1-9.
Ephesians 4 talked about speaking with authority and realizing that we, as believers, are a threat to the enemy. Also, not letting anger have a hold on us but realizing that God can handle our anger so we should give it to Him.

Ephesians 5 discussed the importance of being precise in the way we imitate Christ; we are to represent Christ in a way that shows people exactly who He is.

Ephesians 6 covered the topic of marriage. We discussed this in a group, which was a good way to hash out our thoughts and learn from each other.

Overall, caving was an experience unlike anything I had ever done before. Being underground is like being in a whole other world, not to mention sliding down mud and swimming in underground rivers was a blast.

OLDS: Rock Climbing!

This section was my favorite wilderness section of all semester. I have never experienced anything like starting the day on the ground and then at the end of the day being able to look down at that same spot from the top of a mountain.

Theres nothing like feeling you’re on top of the world.

On the first day we were issued our gear (a harness, carabiners, ATC, webbing, prusik loop, helmet, and climbing shoes) and practiced using it on the climbing tower at camp before hitting the real rock. I had never rock climbed, or really climbed anything other than trees, in any sense before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.¬†It was very difficult at first, and that made me nervous for the rest of the section.

We started on actual rocks with some bouldering. Bouldering is a type of rock climbing done without any ropes or harnesses. Though you don’t need hardware for this activity most people use climbing shoes and chalk to help stay on the rock. Bouldering was a lot of fun, I wasn’t very good at it (which I know is seeming to be a reoccuring theme) but it was nice to get a feel for being on real rock before beginning the actual climbing. I had a lot of almosts during bouldering but only made it to the top of one called “E for Everyone.”¬†Bouldering was a challenge by choice activity, meaning we only had to participate as much as we wanted to and could just hang out and watch when we weren’t feeling up to it. It was nice to have time to hang out as a group and relax together.

Next we top roped; top roping is a style of climbing in which the climber is attached to a rope that goes up the route, through an anchor, and back down to the belayer. We¬†top roped at two places: Rumbling Bald and the Chimneys at Linville Gorge. The first day at Rumbling Bald, the first day of top roping at all, we had three routes to chose from. I only managed to make it to the top of one route (I spent about 20 minutes smacking the wall in frustration on one unable to make it over the first push before my group made me take a rest). I can’t remember the name of the route I did, but it was slightly slanted, had a section with a big crack down the middle on one part of it, and I had to get a boost onto the first part to get started. In the beginning I couldn’t riddle out¬†how to smoothly and successfully advance up the rock. After a bit of fumbling it began to make a little sense and I managed to make it to the top.

At the second top roping site I had similar troubles and found myself getting incredibly frustrated and discouraged with myself. At this point I had pretty much given up on being a rock climber because everyone else had managed to succeed while I had made minimal progress. Sometimes when you’re frustrated you just gotta take a drink of water from your Nalgene, take your climbing shoes off, have an hour long conversation with the proctor of the year about theology and marriage and letting things go, remind yourself that the whole point of this is to have fun, and then you hit the rock on all three routes, make it to the top of two of them and land a sick dyno on the third (I didn’t get to the top on that one because I figured I’d quit while I was ahead).

Following top roping we did two days of multi-pitching at Tablerock. Multi-pitching is a type of climbing where the route is split up into several sections, in this case three, called pitches. The lead climber builds the route and anchors as they go and then belays up the next person, who then belays up the third person. The last climber cleans the gear as they go, and then the process is repeated on all the pitches.

I would love to try and explain fully the sensation of hanging from the side of a giant rock by a harness and rope and being able to see for miles and miles and realizing how small and insignificant you are, in a good way, with people you love, but I don’t know if I could.
So heres a poem about it instead:

Sitting on top of a rock
Looking at a scene of beautiful change
And reflections on faces of the
face of God
is as beautiful as this

Somewhere along the line after I relaxed and stopped verbally berating myself for not being as good as everyone else and focused more on having fun climbing clicked for me. I wouldn’t call myself a phenomenal climber, or even a great climber, but I was successful, and not just in the sense that I put myself out of my comfort zone and tried. I was good at it, much to my surprise and excitement, and that was an incredible boost of self-confidence. Its absolutely true that you can have fun even without being good at something, which I had learned on the river, but being¬†good at climbing added another element of it for me; unlike the river I would love to do this again. This also taught me not to give up on myself so easily, because even though it took a minute, the abilities I had showed up and the skills I was learning grew stronger.

This section was a time of immense growth and realization for me. Our teachings focused on different spiritual disciplines and how when we as individuals are disciplined enough to grow in the Lord the whole body is built up (Ephesians 4:7-16). This deeply impressed on me the importance of my study time not only for my sake but for the whole body of Christ. I learned to have heaps and piles of grace and patience for myself and others. I received peace about hurts and confusions I had had for a long time about being a female. ¬†I did something, several things actually, that I never thought I’d be able to. I saw a spark and determination in me that I had never before realized I had. I surprised myself, and it made me feel strong in a way I never had before.

This section has so many stories and memories: the bear that tried to steal our food, city and star gazing after the sun had gone down, fight club Friday on the bus, sunrises and sunsets, sitting late at the campfire after it had gone out, rappelling, reading poetry aloud on Lunch Ledge, packing camp up in record time because we thought it was going to rain on us, going around the campfire and affirming our group, growing as a body, having everyone cheer for me as I took 18 tries to land the dyno.
I could write books about all those things and more, and maybe one day I will, but all of that was simply consolation to the overwhelming peace and joy I felt from learning and growing and being built up and accomplishing.

Rock climbing is this insane thing where you have to put your trust in gear and other people and just do it. Its hard and seems crazy and often make you wonder what on this green earth you’re doing. But its worth it, so so worth it. Because once you push through the fear or the doubt or the difficulties (or all three) you make it to the top of the route and your breath is taken away by the vast beauty of the world you can’t see when you stay on the ground.

Following Christ is a lot like that. Instead of trusting gear you have to trust the Lord. Its hard and on the surface doesn’t seem to make sense. You’ll have seasons of fear and doubt and seasons where it feels too hard, too tiring, too completely insane to carry on. But its worth it. Living for Christ, living in Christ, letting Christ live in you, is like making it to the top of the route and realizing that all the hardship and difficulties and pain brought you to somewhere beautiful. Its not easy, following Christ isn’t easy, but it takes you to a place you could never imagine¬†or get to on your own.

Ephesians 4:1-6 is the best way for me to sum this time up:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called;5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.


IMG_4416 (1)

I’m not sure why we’re all fuzzy, but nevertheless heres my people

OLDS: White Water Raft Guiding

Ah, the river.

Honestly, this was the most stretching section for me.  I am not a big water person anyway, but water that is 45 degrees, moves quickly, and is littered with hazards makes me even less of a water person.

We spent eight days on the Nantahala River learning to guide and also completing a Swift Water Rescue Level 4 Certification (SWR). This involved a lot of time spent in wetsuits practicing rescuing people and trip after trip after trip down the river in our rafts.

The week began with a short lesson in the classroom about all the hazards of white water, and consequently how to avoid them, or what to do if you can’t avoid them. Then we went to the water and learned rope throwing and spent time getting accustomed to our wetsuits before actually beginning training in the water. We even voluntarily went into the water just to check it out.

Throughout the week we learned how to rescue people and boats in trouble through the sequence SRTHRGH, which means Self Rescue, Reach Out, Throw, Row Out, Go, and Helicopter. In every rescue drill we went through we would have to go through this sequence before deciding how to rescue the victim. We started with throwing ropes to the victims and then progressed to going into the water ourselves. Another part of the SWR certification was learning how to make anchors, vector pulls, and the knots that go along with them.

We then took turns guiding down the whole river. The Nantahala River is a class three river (the scale being from one to six). The guide sits in the back of the boat and is responsible for steering the boat away from obstacles and hazards. I developed this really weird habit of speaking in a British accent whenever I was guiding. Straight lines are not my strong point, so we ended up stuck on rocks and in the bushes quite a bit when I was guiding.

This section held many metaphors and lessons for me.

It is not an understatement to say that I was terrified of the water; I didn’t even want to get in it during the slow moving portions. Deep down I knew that if I fell in just once I would probably be fine, and then I’d know that certainly a caution was necessary, but I did not need to be afraid. Well, low and behold, on one of the first days the boat hit a rock just right and into the water I went. As I had predicted, I was just fine and this ended up being one of my favorite days rafting (it also helped that earlier when I was guiding I caused us to lose one of our paddles so for a good chunk of the day I just chilled in the raft, but that’s besides the point).
If you’re scared or want to do something you think you can’t accomplishing it can be as simple as just falling in. Rarely do things turn out as bad as we think they might, so the best option is to just go for it. This isn’t a perfect metaphor, as I only became slightly less afraid of the water and would still sit in the middle of the boat in rough parts, but the lesson still remains: go for it!

I was really uncomfortable this week. Wetsuits aren’t the most comfortable clothing in the world, I hurt my left pinky finger pretty badly on day two, I fell in twice, I cried A LOT, tied my brain into knots while learning knots I didn’t understand,¬†scraped my feet up, blushed and sweated from embarrassment often, and was just in general afraid of what I was doing and wanted to be doing something different.
Despite this rather long and dragging list I learned many valuable things. Even though I was uncomfortable and just in general pretty bad at guiding I was pushed out of my comfort zone, which is exactly where I needed to be that week because being there taught me lessons I would carry over into the rest of OLDS and back into the frontcountry. This is a rather cliche topic, but guiding down a class three white water river well before I was ready made me realize that I can accomplish more than I think I can, and even if you get stuck on every rock (basically) and go down the wrong side of the fork you can still finish strong, even if you cried a lot in the middle and at the end. This also taught me that not every situation of value is an enjoyable one; you could hate every second of something and come out with valuable and life changing lessons.

And most importantly, it taught me to loosen up. Every time I was the guide I found myself incredibly tense and stressed out. Everyone else in my boat would be singing river songs and trying to grab leaves with their teeth as we passed under trees and I would be fuming about how miserable I felt and about how bad I was at guiding compared to everyone else. The week would probably have been much more enjoyable had I relaxed a little and gracefully excepted the fact that I will likely never be a world class river guide, but I could still have fun anyway.

In the end, none of the hazards of the river killed me (though I am 98% certain I tumbled through a hydraulic), no one was harmed too bad while I was guiding, everyone passed their SWR certification, we got grilled cheese for lunch one day, and I never have to river guide again if I don’t want to.

During this section we took a break from Ephesians and had several sporadic teachings and attended a few services.

Some highlights:
1 John 1- Jesus is the light and to live in Him, truly, we cannot keep sinning and doing wrong in the dark; we have to bring it out into the light and let Jesus deal with it for us.

Genesis 1&2- God is community, therefore we need community. In that community everyone has a part and we have to find out what our part is.

The message of the gospel is offensive, but that does not mean that we are to be offensive


The whole gang 

OLDS: WFR Certification

Our first section of OLDS was a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification course. This course gave us instruction and training in backcountry first aid. Essentially, to quote our instructor Bailey, we were taught how to “do the best we can with what we have.” Believe me, this came in handy later on (even later that week).

We split our time up between learning about different types of injuries and illnesses in the classroom, and then going outside and putting these skills to practice during real life scenarios.


OLDS students participating in a scenario

The medical field isn’t generally my chosen field of study, but it was fascinating to learn how to treat people using things you would have in your backpack for¬†outdoor excursions. For example, I used sticks, my hammock, my hammock ropes, and a sleeping pad to make a splint for a broken leg. Our WFR class encouraged all of us to get creative and think out of the box of what normal first aid is.


Making an arm splint for Lizbit

Aside from the medical training, WFR week was spent getting to know each other. This was our first section on OLDS, our first time being together. Theres just something about being painted with fake blood and helping each other remember what AMPLE (allergies, medications, pertinent history, last ins/outs, and events leading up to the injury) means that brings people together. Aside from that, we¬†bonded over dinners and teachings at the OLDS director’s house, trips to Walmart, movie watching, singing ( a LOT of singing), working together to “treat” each other during scenarios as well as being the victims, studying for our test, and ultimately passing our certification tests. This week also included a remake of the song Lean On Me (“…you might have a problem in the wilderness, we all need a WFR to lean on..”), and the creation of a dance for our instructor Randy, who told us we were the best class he’d ever had.
We also played a game similar to manhunt, where four people would be the “runners” and have to avoid getting tagged by the “chasers” on their way to a base. During this game I, one of the runners, ended up stepping in a hole and spraining my ankle. The next day I ended up passing out from the pain, but on the way to the ground I somehow managed to bang my face up. Lucky for me I was surrounded by a bunch of qualified enough almost WFRs who could help me out. Even before we entered the backcountry our skills were coming in handy. (I also found a fair bit of irony in hurting myself so badly during a week filled with learning how to fix stuff like that.) S/o to my girl Aleah for going through the triangle to make sure I was okay.

For our teachings during WFR we went through Ephesians 1:1-14. We studied through Ephesians all semester, so we got to dig in really deep. We began by emphasizing¬†that we are Christ’s holy ones and faithful in Him. We would spend the semester learning how to be faithful to each other as the body of Christ (1:1-2). Next we looked at our identity and how it should be formed because we have been¬†chosen by God, and how in being chosen we are made new and blessed with His spiritual blessing (1:3-4). In verses 5-6 we learned that He has adopted us into His family, making all of us at OLDS brothers and sisters in Him. In this section we also discussed how to reconcile that we are chosen by God, but also have to chose Him too. Through the rest of the verses the main thing to realize was that we have been redeemed by God, and because of that redemption we now can place our identity in Him, and not what the world says or thinks we are. Verses 7-12 sum this up nicely,

7¬†In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God‚Äôs grace 8¬†that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9¬†he[a] made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10¬†to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment‚ÄĒto bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.11¬†In him we were also chosen,[b] having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12¬†in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.

We are His, and we must use this truth to glorify Him always (1:13-14).

Even as we spent everyday that week together bonding and learning and laughing, we had no idea how much further, in terms of our knowledge and abilities and relationships with one another, we’d come as the weeks went by.

OLDS: Intro

Hey adventurers! Its been quite a while since I updated this blog, but I am happy to report its because I was otherwise occupied on a semester long outdoor program.

From September to December, I attended a program called Outdoor Leadership and Discipleship School (OLDS). Based out of Andrews, NC, for those three months I showered maybe 10 times, slept outside more than inside, let the leg hair grow, grew closer to the Lord, fell more in love with the outdoors, lived out of a 100 liter backpack, and experienced real true community with the best group of people I’ve ever met.

Throughout the whole semester we:

  • Got Wilderness First Responder Certified
  • Spent two weeks backpacking
  • Learned to river guide and got Swiftwater Rescue L4 Certified
  • Rock climbed for 10 days
  • Went caving and learned about primitive skills
  • Did street evangelism in Asheville
  • Spent two days mountain biking
  • Sea kayaked for ten days
  • And spent a week in Clarkston, GA learning about unreached people and refugees

I well delve deeper into each wilderness section in later posts, as well as others aspects of the semester, to include community, discipleship, relationships, injuries (many injuries), the book of Ephesians, the body of Christ, and self-discovery.

I plan to post these weekly, so check back then!


All the OLDS students + 2 proctors


Ya girl (+ some random hiker)