August 14, 2016
Life is filled with ups and downs. Each morning we wake and prepare for the day not knowing exactly how it will unfold. According to Rick Steves, famous travel guide, the trek down the Samaria Gorge drops 5,000 feet from top to bottom. Others quote it at 3,660 feet. Whichever the case, it is a long way down. The trek is thirteen to sixteen kilometers long depending where you choose to stop. The deep narrow canyon, glistens in golds, browns and dark greens. Outcroppings of Cypress trees perch along the canyon walls and an icy blue river runs through the center. Well at least this was the vision created in my mind when I booked the trek. I scanned blogs, consulted guide books, reviewed photos, and determined that this was a challenging activity for Brittney and me to partake in. Prior to our departure I could not foresee the analogy that would be revealed between this trek and life.
August 12, 2016 was hot, approximately 82 degrees. The sun broke through our window and settled quietly above the sea. Our room at the Alcanea Boutique Hotel, was warm but comfortable. After getting up at 6:30, it took thirty minutes to prepare; pack our snacks, water, hats and sunscreen. During this time we fired up the air conditioner to help slice through the humidity that was beginning to seep into the room. The island of Crete has entertained little to no rain so far in 2016, but because it coexists with the sea, the humidity begins early in the morning. The van arrived at 7:15. Winding up the mountain, we shifted from side to side as the driver propelled us forward for over an hour. The queasiness acquired from this ride did not bring hope to the upcoming event. Arriving at the starting point, we prepared to commence on our trek. From May to October between 1,000 and 2,000 people trek down the Samaria Gorge each day. It truly is a cattle drive.
Brittney hiking the gorge
The entire march is downhill with three miniscule inclines. The river rock trail contains virtually no sand, no cushy pine needles, and no flat areas. For five hours we held our ankles firm, kept our knees bent for impact, and tightened our quads to remain upright. The trail presented a rigorous test for feet, knees and legs. The rocks ranged in size from an average of three inches each to small boulders. The steepness of the path was not difficult, but the constant tension on our lower bodies took a toll both physically and mentally.
An ominous tone was present for our gorge trek. Within the first two-hundred feet I was asked if I would relinquish one of my walking sticks to a woman that had only requested one stick and was having great difficulty. The guide felt that if she had two, it might help to stabilize her. Although I always hike with two sticks, I felt fine, so I obliged. Moving quickly down the mountain, Brittney and I were periodically forced to wait for the rest of our group to catch up. Eventually, at the seven kilometer mark, our guide relinquished our tickets and gave us the go ahead to finish on our own. We agreed to meet up with the group at a designated restaurant in the village.
It was hot in the gorge. The dry rock was barren and lifeless. Aside from a few mountain goats and the rescue donkeys we saw no animal life. The width of this gorge is rather narrow, unlike the lovely Columbia Gorge I hike so often in Oregon and Washington. When planning this trek, I pictured the beautiful cool river running through the center of the canyon, but due to the lack of rain this year, the land was brittle and the river mostly dry. It brought to mind, certain seasons we all go through in life.
There are always downhill moments in life. Times when your entire world seems to fall apart and there is nothing you can do to repair it. The gorge was desolate. Although crowded with people, it felt empty and lonely. When times are tough in life, we often feel very alone amongst thousands, even with friends and family nearby. The dryness and heat felt overwhelming and consuming at times. Life can leave us feeling parched with an unquenchable thirst for something more. At these times, it can feel like there is nothing to live for. The downhill treks in life are miserable, leaving us feeling dejected and depressed. It is difficult. However, we need to remember that if you have faith in the Father, He will make beauty from ashes.
Isaiah 61:1-3 “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tiding unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.”
Looking through clear water, at least six feet down, you can see beautiful pebbles. When you immerse yourself, you can lift your feet off the bottom and float in the briny sea. Gazing upon the little white village and the beautiful sea around you, the grime and grit of the trail begins to wash off of your weary body. The sweat and stickiness is swept away and the coolness of the clean clear water reduces your body temperature to a comfortable level. Within moments, you realize that the dry, difficult, downhill trek has ended and you can relax in the amazing beauty around you. The sea envelops you and your cares wash away. Life is the same. At any moment the Father can and will reach down, pick you up in his strong but gentle hands, wash off the grit and grime of life and comfort you in His peace. So don’t lose hope in the downhill treks of life…God will always be there at the end to wash you off, refresh your spirit and lift you up again.