I’ve always been pretty athletic, but my first introduction to hiking was not especially enjoyable. It occurred during Survival Training at the Air Force Academy and included seven days of hiking about 8-10 hours a day in the mountains of Colorado. We hiked at night so I was not able to enjoy the beautiful views or abundant wildlife. When it was over, I swore I’d never hike or camp again.
I suppose it was inevitable that the man who would one day become my husband was an avid outdoorsman. He finally coaxed me to accompany him on a hike by packing cookies, cheese and a small bottle of wine to enjoy at the summit. We climbed the trail together, talking and soaking in the beauty of nature around us. We ate our little snack on a flat rock in the warm sun, and I had to admit I actually enjoyed the experience. I bought a pair of good hiking boots and began to include hiking as part of my regular workouts. When our children were born, we carried them on packs and gradually accustomed them to longer hikes, luring them to the trails with Gatorade in Camelbaks and the promise of their favorite dehydrated mealsat the summit.
You can imagine our family’s excitement when my husband recently found a new job in a small town at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The trails beckoned, but record-breaking rain and snowfall kept us away. Now that spring has arrived, I decided that today would be a good day to dust off the hiking boots.
A sign at the base of the 3-mile trail I had chosen advised hikers to “Follow the blue blazes.” As I traveled the wide, clearly marked path, I noticed bright blue plastic disks nailed to the trees about every 20 feet. “Why bother with trail markers?” I thought. “A child could follow this path!” Yet as I continued upward, crossing roads and going deeper into the forest, I began to rely on those little blue markers to guide my way. At times, I couldn’t see them and had to continue on what I thought was the right path, looking for a glimpse of blue ahead.
I pulled my Rosary from my pocket and prayed the Luminous Mysteries, matching my pace to the rhythm of the repeated Hail Marys. I asked the Blessed Mother to guide my thoughts and was suddenly struck by the symbolism of the blue markers on my trail. Blue is Mary’s color, and she leads us to her Divine Son through her favorite prayer, the Rosary. The trail I hiked was occasionally wide and easy, but more often it was steep, rocky and rough. The path to heaven is quite similar. Sometimes it is so easy to practice virtue, but more on most days I struggle and lose my way. Like the markers on the trail, I rely on Our Lady to guide me through those difficult parts of the journey.
I finally reached the summit and spent a few minutes enjoying the breathtaking view. The reward for staying on the right trail was a good one, and I hope my devotion to the Blessed Mother and the Rosary will lead to a heavenly reward as well.
Before I started back down the trail, I bent over to adjust my laces and was struck by the realization that my hiking shoes were the same brilliant blue as the markers. I smiled, knowing that Our Lady was guiding my feet on the right path as well as my heart.