On Closing Doors... A personal reflection
1. On June 3, 1967 I stood before a church in Pennsylvania and closed the door on dating and romance with the women still available at my college. But that closed door enabled me to walk through the door of a superb marriage to Sharon for the rest of my life. Closing one door opened another.
2. In 1969 I closed the door at my first pastorate by resigning and numerous folk thought I was making a mistake closing the door on that that church. But I could then walk through the open door to being a full time student at Princeton Seminary. Closing one door enabled me to walk through another door.
3. After seminary I closed the door on a developing career running camping programs for the Salvation Army in New York where I had my first ministry after seminary. I could not be both a Salvation Army leader and a Wesleyan pastor—closing the Salvation Army door made it possible to walk through Wesleyan ministry doorway.
4. In 1971-72 I wandered the country with Sharon living in a VW camping, backpacking, and living like the hippies of that day. To the disappointment of that hippie generation we closed the door on our care-free wandering life in 1972. But that closed door opened another one: to work at my denomination’s headquarters in Children’s ministries for the next six years.
5. In the 1970’s everyone was talking about over population and I even went to a doctor to get an operation guaranteeing we would not contribute to the world’s “Population Bomb.” (The doctor talked me out of it.) In the late 70’s we I closed the door to our happy “just you and me” life together and opened the door to parenting when we decided to have our first child—one door had to be closed before the other could be opened.
6. In 1976 I closed the door to children’s work in the youth department and walked through the open door to become my denominations executive editor of curriculum. A General Superintendent called me on the carpet and said, “You have made a terrible mistake—you belonged in the youth department and now you’ve gone and ruined your chances of election to be in charge of youth forever.” Right or wrong I had to close the children’s ministry door in order to walk through the open door to leading my denomination’s curriculum the next two years.
7. In 1980 my denomination shut the door to my curriculum work when it ignored the opinion of the GS and elected me to lead my denomination’s youth work for the next eight years. The curriculum door shut and youth work door opened.
8. By 1988 I was worn out on youth work and announced I would close the door on that era of life against my mentor’s advice. At the summer general conference I closed the door on yet another opportunity and went to IWU to teach Christian Education. Those closed doors enabled me to be present in my son’s lives instead of traveling every weekend in denominational work—one door closed, another opened.
9. Even though I loved teaching college, I closed the door on it in 1990 when I felt prompted to accept leading my denomination’s Christian Education department. If I had not closed the door on teaching I could not have walked through the door to six important years of learning in my life.
10. In the Fall of 1995 I sensed that it was time to close the doors on denominational service forever, even though many friends and advisors urged me to stay put. It is the only time I have ever “put out a fleece” for a decision. I wrote one Tuesday on a Day Alone with God, “The first Wesleyan College that offers me a position teaching without my applying I will accept it immediately.” I got an unexpected call Thursday and by Tuesday I had a contract—I was willing to close one door in order to walk through another door and retired from denominational work in 1996. Teaching college again also opened the door to a new summer avocation—backpacking. I started that summer trying to finish the Appalachian Trail, a childhood dream of mine.
11. In the next 12 years of summer backpacking I have been able to take students or other professors into the mountains and I have had wonderful times. I’ve been able to finish the Southern Upland Way and the West Highland Way in Scotland, complete the entire 2160 mile Appalachian Trail, and 2600 mile Pacific Crest Trail along with completing the Colorado Trail. The last few years I’ve actually been repeating miles on these trails, including re-hiking the bottom 500 miles of the Appalachian Trail this past May. In total I’ve had the privilege of backpacking more than 10,000 miles of trails the last 12 summers. Now I’m closing that door. I have six summers left before I’m 70 years old, 16 summers before I’m 80. There are other summer adventures I want to experience. As I close the door on backpacking I can walk through the door to other things—like canoeing, bicycle-trekking, and whatever other adventures open up. I will still do some walking in the woods and mountains, but I am closing the door on backpacking as my primary summer career, and pondering several open doors to other adventures.
So, I need a career change. Not a change in my day job as professor but a change in my summer avocation of backpacking. I'm wearing out on long-mile backpacking.
I hiked more than 600 miles this summer but this came to me most clearly in August while I was hiking the Colorado trail with three other guys, We were doing a moderate 15 mile a day with three or four thousand feet of elevation gain. The trail beat me and I dropped out before the end of our planned 100 mile hike. I was "surviving" each day only by using up all my reserves… and all my Advil (16 per day) to enable my knees to carry me. It took the fun out of hiking. I turned down a jeep road near Silverton Colorado and eventually got a hitch with a 4WD jeep 60 miles back to our starting point where I retrieved our car to meet my hiking buddies when they ended their hike in Durango. Now I'm pondering next summer....
Some options for my new [summer] career are:
Reading/writing. Maybe I should forget trekking altogether and get a cabin in the mountains each summer and read and write for four months. I love reading and just to read all the books I’ve already purchased would use up the first five years. Maybe my treks in the future should be through books and my output should be words not miles. Maybe I’ll settle down in one cabin that has a great view of mountains and read-and-write all summer. I could switch to a reading-writing career.
Motorcycling. Or, maybe I could move into motorized trekking. I could buy a motorcycle and wander around the nation (and the world) like the guys did in “Motorcycle diaries.” I could write a daily travel blog on the road. Or maybe I could buy an off-road motorcycle and explore the 200,000 miles of 4WD forest service roads in the national forests I met two guys in Yellowstone park this summer riding from Canada to Mexico on these 4WD roads. I once rode my moped along the 600 mile Blue Ridge Parkway/Skyline Drive and It was fun—maybe I could adopt a motorized trekking career next.
Canoeing/kayaking. I left a canoeing career for backpacking. I had canoed nearly a thousand miles even before I did the entire Missouri River in 1999. I was planning a canoe trip down the Yukon River in 2000 when Paul Kind talked me into doing the PCT with him instead. He used the argument, “Coach, you can canoe when you get old.” Maybe now I’m old enough to go back to canoeing. I still have all the maps and research done for both the Yukon and Mackenzie Rivers along with books and guides to 14 other great rivers of America. Maybe I could switch back to a canoeing/Kayaking career.
Bicycling. I could switch to a biking career too. Biking is easier on the knees than backpacking. I might start by doing the Rails-to-Trails treks including the Great-Alleghany-Passage/C&O trail from Pittsburg to Washington DC. And there are other long off-road bike trails. I might even try to tackle the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail from Canada to Mexico which parallels the Continental Divide backpacking Trail. I have far more friends willing to bike than backpack and Sharon likes biking better too since one can sleep in motels each night. Maybe I should switch to a biking career.
Maybe there are other summer careers too—but I sense my knees are saying it is time to switch careers. It is time to lay down my backpack. So if you are reading this personal blog you must be one of my friends... So what do your think? After dropping my backpack what do you think I should pick up?