Unification News for August 2001

A Walk in the Woods: Finding Heavenly Father on the Appalachian Trail

Clark Munsell and William Selig
August 2001

From June 22 to 30, we hiked 130 miles on the Appalachian Trail that runs along Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah Mountains of western Virginia. For eight nights and nine days we walked through Heavenly Fatherís beautiful creation. Rain, thunder and lightning storms, hot, muggy days, and cold, chilly nights, we faced all sorts of experiences and even a bear attack (more on that later). But most importantly, we felt a deeper appreciation of the creation and our Heavenly Father.

Clarkís story

Some probably find it easier to experience God in a majestic cathedral. I have always found it easier to experience the Creator by immersing myself in His creation. Being a camper and hiker most of my life, I learned early the truth of Paul's words: "...that his invisible nature, namely his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made."

Given today's hectic schedule; working, raising kids, and community involvement, there's scarcely time available to leave it all behind and head for the woods. But that is exactly what my friend Bill Selig and I have done the past two Springs. Living in the Washington, D.C. area, we're less than two hours away from the Appalachian Trail which runs 2,100 plus miles from Georgia to Maine. Last year's hike was over a three day weekend covering the forty mile stretch of the A.T. through Maryland. Using mostly rented equipment, our first foray whetted our appetite for backpacking. This year we took the plunge, bought our own equipment, and decided to begin tackling the Virginia section of the trail.

Hikers on the A.T. usually fall into three categories: day hikers, section hikers (covering a section of the A.T. at a time), and through hikers (those going non stop from Georgia to Maine or Maine to Georgia) which takes between five and six months. Bill and I plan to take it a section at a time. This year we tackled a hundred and thirty mile section running through Virginia's beautiful Shenandoah National Park.

Though we were never too far apart, hiking is still very much a solitary activity providing many hours for meditation and reflection. I found the freshness of early mornings on the trail the most fruitful time for prayer. Unfortunately, as the day wears on the weight of the backpack and the pounding of the feet tends to intrude on the mind's peacefulness.

Besides providing time for spiritual reflection I have found that camping and backpacking have provided a great opportunity to challenge myself and my limitations. In hindsight the distance we determined to cover was somewhat overreaching but we proved to ourselves that by setting our minds on the miles needed to be covered each day we were able to accomplish our goal despite sore feet and backs.

The pay-off is watching the sunset in the cool of the evening as it disappears behind the mountains. It's not till we're standing looking up into a star-filled sky that we begin to realize how much we miss living in the city.

Billís story

September 1998. There were five doctors in my room: A gastroenterologist, an oncologist, an endocrinologist, a nephrologist, and a hepatologist. We all stood in my crowded hospital room about 3 years ago. I had been admitted to begin treatment for hepatitis C which I had contracted more than 25 years ago.

They talked for a while, I know they talked because I could see their lips moving. They acted very serious and concerned, and finally they left. My mind was so reeling that I didnít comprehend. I asked my wife what they said. "The new tests indicate you may have kidney cancer," Donna said, "Before treating your liver, they have to operate on the kidneys."

Fast forward 3 years, the tumor was benign so my kidney was OK. But for the next 2 years I endured a combo chemical treatment for liver disease that entailed self-administered injections three times a week and daily doses of another drug. In this case, the cure was worse than the disease. I lost about 30 pounds, was constantly fatigued, suffered from insomnia, depression, skin irritation, hot and cold spells, the whole nine yards.

During the treatment I was obliged to help at conferences in Seoul, Washington, and New York. It was a very challenging time, both physically and spiritually. Plus, in summer 1999, our family spent 40 days in Jardim where under less than optimum sanitary conditions, I had to maintain my medical regime.

Finally in November 2000, the doctors announced I was virus free. I had beaten the odds! The probability of success for a person who had carried the virus for a quarter of a century was less than 20%. I felt Iíd won the lottery. I owe my thanks and debt of gratitude to my support group, the church members who prayed for me, for our sacrificial brothers and sisters like Tom Iverson (our families shared a room in Jardim), and Tom Wojcik (who received a partial liver from his wife Kitty,) and most especially my wife and daughter who unconditionally endured me.

Once it was finally over, I wanted to exert dominion over my body. I needed to overcome the hyung sung realm once and for all with a decisive action. What better way, I thought, than to tackle the Appalachian trail, my boyhood dream!

Itís hard to put into words our experiences. The plain truth is that hiking is hard, grueling physical work. Every part of my body hurt. Our feet were blistered and bleeding. Everyday we walked from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. usually over very rocky uphill terrain. We prayed and did hoon dok hae whenever we could. All of the meals were freeze dried, just add water. We dipped our water bottles into the cold, clear streams for the most thirst-quenching refreshing water you could imagine.

We saw creation at its most spectacular like the night we watched the sunset and a deer approached within a few feet of us, or the time we couldnít find a place to sleep and then seemingly from nowhere several deer appeared and led us to a perfect clearing. We saw falcons, hawks, snakes, hummingbirds, deer, chipmunks, squirrels, and bear.

The bear story

Clark was leading our way along a narrow path. All of a sudden he started walking backwards. I looked around him and sure enough there was a big black bear blocking our way, no more than 15 feet away. In unison we thought, "Heavenly Father, what should we do?" We backed slowly off the trail into the woods. Suddenly, the bear stood up on its hind legs. If the bear had continued on the path then I might not be writing this tale, but instead, the bear cut into the woods from where it was. That was a mistake because it immediately became tangled in the brush and the fallen trees. I shot a flash photo with Clarkís camera which further distracted the animalís attention. When it was over we really counted our blessings, but finally, we had a "bear" story to tell that night around the campfire.

Remember the part in "Dances with Wolves" when the Kevin Costner character tells about the buffalo hunt? It didnít matter how many times the story was told. A great story is a great story.

The folks we met hiking the Appalachian Trail are hearty, strong, individualistic, and very determined. Each night after dinner and bandaging our feet, we would swap stories about the dayís events, or the pros and cons of equipment, etc., whatever. The bear story raised our status from middle-aged weekend amateurs to genuine card-carrying AT hikers!

Everyone has a trail name. The group we met up with each evening included, Easy Day and Song Bird, Bloody Stump and Mad Man, Panama Red, Snakecharmer and her dog, Marvin who carried his own food in saddlebags, Silverwings, a 66-year old professor, Dartman, and a guy who called himself, and we didnít ask why, Mary Poppins.

Clark called himself either Rambling Man or Starbucks depending on his mood. I started out as Rocky (as in Rockville, Md., get it?), and ended up as Wild Bill.

We finally reached our car about noon on the ninth day. We were two very ragged, worn out, pained, smelly (I repeat, smelly), bearded brothers, but we had done it. 130 days miles in 9 days, or about 15 miles a day. We found a home-style diner in Paris, Virginia, toasted to our survival with a pitcher of ice cold pink lemonade, and thanked Heavenly Father for a great adventure.

Why did we do it?

My soon to be 14-year old daughter and I were recently riding our bikes in the park. At the top of a particularly difficult hill, I asked Hannah, all red-faced and puffing, what motivated her to keep going because in the past she would walk the final few yards. She said, "I wanted to do it for Heavenly Father and True Parents!" I didnít tell her to say that but her words really warmed my heart. Itís only natural that with maturity, we want to do more for Heavenly Father.

Why did we undertake the hike? I think Hannah has the right idea. "We did it for Heavenly Father and True Parents." To be continued next summer.

Clark Munsell (World & I) and Bill Selig (Summit Council for World Peace) and their families live in the metro-DC area.

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