By Kirstin Shrom-Rhoads*
On Friday, September 25, the energetic and hopeful directors at Manidokan —myself, Rev. Kirstin Shrom-Rhoads, and Steve Lane — were dropped off in the wee early and still dark hours of 5 a.m. in Harpers Ferry, WVa. From there, a town well known to our staff and campers as a hiking destination and ice cream stop, we began our dauntless task of hiking north to complete the 40+ miles of the Maryland section of the Appalachian Trail.
This feat was accomplished with over 300 training miles, many prayers, many donations towards Camp Manidokan Programming, and gracious volunteers providing food and water along the way. We surpassed our pace goal by accomplishing 40.9 miles at 3.1 mph. This brought us out at the other end of the trail, at the Mason Dixon Line just after dark.
Why This? Why Now?
When our summer camps made the decision to close because of COVID-19, we, like many of our campers and staff, felt discouraged and looked for ways to live into the spirit of summer camp in this odd season. The decision to create the Manidokan 40 for 40 challenge came out of wanting to put a positive spin on a difficult time and have something meaningful to work towards. This challenge seemed perfect because it included the themes of nature, adventure, and time with God that camp provides for each camper at Manidokan.
During our training hikes, God continued to speak into our spirits in many ways. Our conversations wrapped around topics including history, politics, family, and faith. On the day of the 40+ miler, I felt drawn to a song by Mary Mary called Can’t Give Up Now.
The first verse talks about the mountains we climb and battles we fight.
The second verse continues describing trials before us through which we sometimes fall, sometimes lose hope, and sometimes feel stuck and powerless. This spoke to me of both of the trial of continuing to hike through pain and fatigue, of stumbling steps and turning ankles, to reach my goal as well as representing this season’s unique trials like closing camp, the unknown around COVID-19, and our desire to serve meaningfully. I found myself lifting my voice to sing lyrics of the chorus in prayer and thanksgiving, reminded that God has never left me/us and never will:
I just can't give up now
I've come too far from where
I started from
Nobody told me
The road would be easy
And I don't believe God's brought me this far
To leave me
The Manidokan 40 for 40 Challenge also carried a fundraising goal towards a new growing vision for a rustic and environmental stewardship program area we have named Meadow View Village. Programs that involve deeper connections with creation, more intentional partnership with the outdoors, and living that includes a little bit more contemplative community and faith formation for nature enthusiasts will be shared here. Campers and retreat guests will learn practices of environmental justice and sustainability while studying habitats, cooking over campfires, and paddling river trips. A first hammock shelter is under construction and had hopes of being completed for camper use during summer 2020.
In addition, September was to be the kick-off for our I-KAN Manidokan inaugural 5K Adventure Race as an annual fundraiser for this same program. Unfortunately, it too was cancelled because of the coronavirus, with plans to re-establish our starting date in 2021.
In the meantime, we move forward. Some funds from the hike have been used to purchase a 2 burner propane camp stove and supplies for a Paw Paw Butter Cooking Workshop this month, the first in a series of opportunities for participants of all ages to learn more about creation, sustainability, and permaculture. During summer, campers will try their hands at new outdoor cooking recipes, too.
Finally, we chose the Manidokan 40 for 40 Challenge as an activity that provided a personal spiritual and physical challenge to both of us. We are both fit and active, enjoy adventure activities, and love the outdoors. Yet the idea of hiking 40 miles in one day would be an achievement that took intense focus, preparedness, and risk. After over 94,000 steps on the trail that day, we learned that we could count ourselves among those few who were both strong enough and crazy enough to accomplish this feat (leaving us, as you can imagine with very sore feet too!).
We had fun stretching our own limits and hope that we have inspired others to get outside, take risks of their own, and invest in the camp programs and opportunities that we both believe in deeply. We are so VERY thankful for all our support and for those who chose to give towards our $3,200 goal. We have currently reached just over $2,400 towards that goal, so if you want to be a part of this, too, you can connect through our donation links at http://www.bwccampsandretreats.com/donate/ or by mailing a check made out to BWC Treasurer with Memo: “Manidokan40for40,” and sending it to 1600 Harpers Ferry Road, Knoxville, MD 21758.
* The Rev. Kirstin Shrom-Rhoads is director of Manidokan Camp and Retreat Center