Friday, December 13, 2013

Desolation of Smaug: Initial Reactions


If you read on and don't wish to know what happens in The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug don't say I didn't warn you.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

"I go to prepare a place for you."

This is a funeral sermon I delivered at my congregation on December 6, 2013. The text was John 14:1-6. I like to respect individual's privacy to a very reasonable extent and so I've eliminated specific names. If you find these words to be helpful or comforting please feel free to pass them on.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, peace be with you, Amen.

When a loved one falls asleep, it hurts. This person whom we had known and loved for days and months and years is no longer with us, and of course, we miss them. Our heart pains us to look ahead to each day that they won't be by our side on this earth. This is just a glimpse of what we experience today as we remember our departed sister, mother, grandmother, [Deceased's name].

And even though we knew this day was eventually coming, it doesn't make the hurt or the pain simply go away. As [Deceased's name]'s body withered away day after day over the last few months it seemed as though this day was taking its time in coming. I know you found yourselves torn wanting to keep mom with us awhile longer, and yet also to see her go and be free of this body that had nothing left to offer.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Fantasy is Escapist

I ran across this quote of J.R.R. Tolkien on twitter tonight and of course it got me thinking:
"Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don't we consider it his duty to escape?"
This quote is recorded in several writings of Tolkien including "The Tolkien Reader".  I find it sums up Tolkien's motivation behind all his sub-creation of Middle Earth rather well.  When people would ask, or even criticize him, about the lengthy hours and obsessive moments spent over his many works, this is how I would imagine him responding.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Potawatomi Trail

Trip Report

This hike was planned out several weeks in advanced.  When I learned that my wife and kids were going to be out of town for the Thanksgiving holiday it opened the door for exploration on my part.  I stumbled upon knowledge of the Potawatomi Trail awhile back when I was researching marathons throughout Michigan.  Turns out there is a trail marathon held on the Poto in April every year and this got me researching the trail itself.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Aim at Heaven

The following is a passage from C.S. Lewis' fantastic book "Mere Christianity".  Every time I read through this work this passage strikes me.  It was starting on page 160 and begins the chapter on "Hope."

Hope is one of the theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth 'thrown in': aim at earth and you will get neither. It seems a strange rule, but something like it can be seen at work in other matters. Health is a great blessing, but the moment you make health one of your main, direct objects you start becoming a crank and imagining there is something wrong with you. You are only likely to get health provided you want other things more -- food, games, work, fun, open air. In the same way, we shall never save civilisation as long as civilisation is our main object. We must learn to want something else even more.

I understand Lewis to be looking at life much as St. Paul did as he wrote to the Philippian Christians "for to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Phil. 1:21)"  It is common and even appropriate for Christian to yearn for the  days of sight in heaven.   We can take great comfort day after day knowing that that gift (eternal life) is a present reality for us.  Through baptism and faith we are owners already of it.  Yet, we don't yearn for heaven to the detriment of our joy in our days on this earth.  Rather, the joyful yearning for heaven is to add more to our days on earth. Or as Lewis put it, "aim at heaven and you will get earth 'thrown in.'"

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Power of God, Who Wants it? Job? Gandalf?

This morning I was teaching Bible Study at my congregation on the book of Job.  What a study this has been!  If you want an in depth look at the human condition and human nature Job is the place to look.  During our study this morning we were reading about God's final conversation with Job in chapter 40.  In that chapter (as well as chapters 38-39) God is offering the final word on the discussions that have taken place throughout the book of Job.  God is especially addressing the moments where Job has seen fit to challenge God himself.  One such incident came in Job 30 where he says:
"God has cast me into the mire, and I have become like dust and ashes. I cry to you for help and you do not answer me; I stand, and you only look at me. You have turned cruel to me; with the might of your hand you persecute me. (Job 30:19-21)"

Thursday, November 7, 2013

For All Live to Him

In Luke 20:28, Jesus says "Now He is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him."

I read through this verse several times as I began to ponder my sermon for November 10, where this verse from Luke 20 is part of the Gospel pericope.  I had initially seen this verse in the NIV which translates the last phrase like this "for to him all are alive".  This struck me with one of those eyes wide open moments.  From God's perspective, all are alive!  Jesus says this in the context of God's Words to Moses at the burning bush (see Exodus 3) where God is called "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob."  Even though Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were long dead (400+ years) in Moses' time, God was still their God for they were alive to Him at that very moment.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Tolkien's Eucatastrophe and the Resurrection

As many of my close friends know, J.R.R. Tolkien is one of my favorite authors.  I fell in love with his books back in the 90's as I prepared to head off to college.  The way he was able to "subcreate", as he would call it, a whole world as he does with Middle Earth is almost unparalleled.  My love for his writing grew deeper as I read through The Silmarillion several times and realized the deeper connection Tolkien's writings have with Christian theology.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Becoming a Distance Runner, Part 1: Story

Running sounds like a 4-letter word to many of my everyday acquaintances.  Some can't fathom the idea of enjoying pushing the body to breathlessness and sweatiness.  Some see it as a form of punishment and anything but a hobby or a sport.  For myself, running is something I've had to learn to love.  It did not happen to me overnight.  It is also not something that I forced upon myself.  But as I look back over the last several years of my life I can see it as something almost inevitable for me.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The 10 Essentials of Hiking

Recently I was privileged to be asked to speak to a local Boy Scouts troop about hiking and its essentials and the gear involved.  One of their leaders is a member of my congregation and well aware of my affinity for the outdoors and backpacking and the like.
I joined them for an evening and brought all my gear in to do a bit of a show and tell.  It was exciting answering questions for them and encouraging them to get out and enjoy the same things I do.  A part of my presentation was to review these 10 Essentials of Safe Hiking.  The foundations of this list have been around for sometime.  What you'll find here is my own personal take on these basic essentials.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Wandering the Wilderness

As a teacher of the Old Testament it always brings me delight to show people how much we can learn, still today, from the Old Testament.  I cringe when people mistakenly argue the O.T. to be an outdated collection of moralistic or allegoric stories. Because it isn't. Or many well-meaning Christians will hide behind the mantra "All I need is Jesus" as an excuse to render the O.T. irrelevant to the Christian life today.  While Jesus Christ is certainly the center and object of our faith, it doesn't follow to then eliminate the need to also study the rest of Scripture.  After all, Jesus himself was the greatest student in all of human history of the O.T. and himself was a believer in the importance of the O.T. 

In this post I'd like to explain how we can look at the wilderness wanderings of Israel throughout the books of Moses and how this compares to our life in the present. To elaborate on this connection I've broken it down into 4 basic similarities between us and Israel.  In understanding these connections and understanding what happened in the time of Israel, we may gain new insights into life as a Christian today.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Seeking the 54

Though I've never considered myself an avid writer, I have been moved more and more lately to look for an outlet to express my thoughts.  Part of this movement has been the time I've been spending on the sidewalks and the trails running mile after mile.  There's no better time for wholesome, meditative thought than when its you and the open road ahead.

I've given the blog thing a try in the past but never found myself with much to write about and quickly gave it up.  We'll see if this time is any different.  With many new interests swirling around in my life right now, however, I hope to find this to be an enjoyable and fruitful path of expression.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Boyne Mountain (10/7-9/13)

Location: Boyne Mountain, Michigan

Hike #1: Attempt to follow Red Loop on Boyne Mt. (10/7/13)
Distance: 8.10 mi.
Elevation Gain: 1280 ft.
Time: 2:09:12

Hike #2: Biking/Walking the Gold Loop with Sarah on Boyne Mt. (10/8/13)
Distance: 7.38 mi.
Elevation Gain: 1014 ft.
Time: 2:15:29

Hike #3: Trail-run a loop along the red/blue/green trails on Boyne Mt. (10/9/13)
Distance: 3.10 mi.
Elevation Gain: 498 ft.
Time: 37:49

Friday, July 26, 2013

Chicago Basin, Mt. Eolus, North Eolus (7/25-26/13)


Chicago Basin Ascent (7/25/13)

Needleton Start Time: 11:26am
Camp 2013 Time: 2:17pm
End Time: 2:27pm
Needleton Elevation: 8232 ft.
Camp 2013 Elevation: 10908 ft.
Basin End Elevation: 10980 ft.
Hike Elevation: 3254 ft.
Hike Mileage: 6.25 mi.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Kilpacker Basin (El Diente) (7/24/13)

Route: Kilpacker Basin Approach to South Slopes of El Diente Peak
Trailhead Elevation: 10,088 ft.
Basin High Point Elevation: 12,548 ft.
Hike Elevation Total: 3100 ft.
Hike Mileage Total: 10.3 mi. (my GPX)


Start Time: 3:25am
12550 in Basin: 6:40am
End Time: 9:37am

For myself, today was day 5 of 6 preparing to hike a 14er summit. Last Friday my family and I successfully summitted Quandary as a "warm-up" acclimation hike. On Sunday and then Monday Denny, David and I hiked the Wilson's. Yesterday we had a wonderful hike on Sneffels. And now today El Diente was on the table. Thus far, the weather had been great to us. However, today's report was the worst of the week. We were hopeful it would hold off til close to noon and give us a chance to go for El Diente's summit. We set plans to wake up at 3am to give ourselves as much time as possible to hopefully beat the weather. Our new friend Paco was also ready on time with us. We were able to hit the trail at 3:25am.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Mt. Sneffels (7/23/13)

Route: Lavender Col from Yankee Boy Basin
2WD Trailhead Elevation: 11,341 ft.
4WD Trailhead Elevation: 12,463 ft.
Summit Elevation: 14,150 ft.
Hike Elevation Total: 2907 ft.
Hike Mileage Total: 5.54 mi. (my GPX)


Start Time: 7:47am
4WD Trailhead: 8:48am
Top of Lower Gully: 9:48am
Summit Time: 10:41am (36 minutes)
Top of Lower Gully: 11:56am
4WD Trailhead: 1:13pm
End Time: 2:14pm

Mount Sneffels is a mountain I've looked forward to for years now. As far back as 2007 I've been making plans to find my way to its beautiful summit. In 2007 we were hiking in the San Juans for the first time in many years and we started on the easier ones like Handies, Redcloud and Sunshine. After summiting all 3 of those my brother had to head back home. We dropped him off at Albuquerque's airport and then were back in the San Juans. My father and I made plans on Aug. 6 to hit Mt. Sneffels and were geared up that morning and in our minivan heading for Yankee Boy Basin. The weather that day wouldn't cooperate for us however. We made it just a few miles up the Camp Bird road and found it washed out. We ran into a road work employee who said he could possibly get it open for us but it might just as likely close up again. Given the poor road chances, as well as the poor weather risk up high, we had to bail.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Wilson Peak (7/22/13)

Route: Southwest Ridge from the Rock of Ages Approach
Rock of Ages Trailhead Elevation: 10,349 ft.
Rock of Ages Saddle Elevation: 13,043 ft.
Wilson-Gladstone Saddle Elevation: 13,316 ft.
Summit Elevation: 14,017 ft.
Hike Elevation Total: 4260 ft.
Hike Mileage Total: 9.87 mi. (my GPX)


Start Time: 4:23am
ROA Saddle: 6:56am
Summit Time: 9:09am (20 minutes)
ROA Saddle: 10:59pm (13 minutes)
End Time: 1:36pm

We moved wake-up call back half an hour today knowing we wouldn't need as much time for the Peak as we did on Mount Wilson yesterday. So we set it for 4am. There was some concern how our legs would feel this morning after yesterday's long haul, but we were pleased to find they felt pretty decent getting started. We ate our quick breakfast and took care of our normal morning routines and were on the trail back to Rock of Ages at 4:23am.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Mt. Wilson (7/21/13)

Route: Northeast Ridge from the Rock of Ages Approach
Rock of Ages Trailhead Elevation: 10,349 ft.
Rock of Ages Saddle Elevation: 13,043 ft.
Navajo Basin Low Point: 12,241 ft.
Summit Elevation: 14,246 ft.
Hike Elevation Total: 6531 ft. (GEarth estimate of GPX)
Hike Mileage Total: 11.8 mi. (my GPX)


Start Time: 3:55am
ROA Saddle: 6:45am
Summit Time: 10:07am (10 minutes)
ROA Saddle: 12:57pm (15 minutes)
End Time: 3:23pm

It was tough setting a wakeup time for today's hike as we were running on a short amount of sleep (bedtime at midnight) but we also knew the amount of time that would be needed. We had it in the backs of our minds that we wanted to do Wilson Peak today as well. The Rock of Ages approach is a long haul and we were certain we'd have the time and energy to hit Wilson Peak on the "way back". The compromise time was wake-up cal at 3:30am which we did. I was pleased that I slept like a rock for the short 3 1/2 hours I was in my bag. Usually before a hike of this caliber, and at this elevation, I just can't sleep that well. This night, I did, a good sign.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Quandary Peak 2013

Trail: East Ridge Route
Trailhead Elevation: 10,897 ft.
Summit Elevation: 14,265 ft.
Hike Elevation Total: 3404 ft.
Hike Mileage Total: 6.58 mi.


Start Time: 5:55am.
Summit Time: 10:45am
End Time: 2:10pm

Quandary Peak was to be the first 14er attempt for my two youngest boys, Jonah and Seth. Jonah is 6 years old this summer and Seth is 4 years, 11 months. If Seth makes it he'd be the youngest in our family to summit a 14er, eclipsing his older brother Luke's record of 5 years, 7 months. We settled on Quandary Peak for this job because of its relative ease in route and the 6.75mi distance seemed within reason for the boys. We helped prep them this week with acclimation hikes on Mt. Royal and other trails in the area.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Yakutania Point, Smuggler's Cove (Skagway, AK) (6/12/13)

Route Name: Yakutania Point Trail
Start Elevation: 18 ft.
High Point: 115 ft.
Distance: 2.0 mi.
Elevation Gain: ~200 ft.

Start Time: 1:24pm
End Time: 2:43pm
Duration: 1 hrs 19 mins


Sarah and I stopped in the trails office in Skagway to ask about a good hike that the two of us could do out of Skagway. One of their recommendations was the Gold Rush Cemetery and Lower Reid Falls hike. This involves hiking along city streets to the northeastern part of town and then through the cemetery. It would be a short forest trail beyond there to the falls. We opted out on this as a long walk through town wasn't as enticing as option 2. The second option was the hike to Yakutania Point and potentially Smuggler's Cove. The hike to Yakutania Point was easy access from our cruise ship dock and was only a half mile each way with less than 100 feet of vertical. The hike on to Smuggler's Cove adds around another half mile each way with 100-200 feet of up and down vertical along the way. This was our choice.

Upper Dewey Lake (Skagway, AK) (6/12/13)

Route Name: Dewey Lakes Trails
Start Elevation: 36 ft.
Lake Elevation: 3,083 ft.
Distance: 5.6 mi.
Elevation Gain: 3,155 ft.

Start Time: 7:39am
Upper Dewey Lake: 9:10am (spent 10 minutes)
End Time:10:19am
Duration: 2 hrs 40 mins


This hike begins on the edge of Skagway, Alaska. I was on the Norwegian Jewel cruise and we had about 10 1/2 hours in port this day to have some fun. I had done some research in the past few days on hiking around Skagway and found that the Dewey Lakes Trail system made a lot of sense. There was a simple trail leading up to the lower lake and from there several options presented themselves. One could hike southwest along the lower lake all the way out to Sturgill's Landing, about a 7 mile roundtrip hike from town. One could hike northeast and head towards Icy Lake and Upper Reid Falls, about a 6 mile roundtrip hike from town. One could also take the loop hike around the lower lake. I opted for the elevation climb. A trail heads up the slope towards Upper Dewey Lake and that was my goal.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Salt Creek Greenway Trail (5/11/13)

Distance Total: 40.21 miles
Total Time: 3 hours 38 minutes
Start: 6:47am
Brookfield Zoo: 8:23am (+15 mins stop)
Return: 10:25am


This Trip Report will focus heavy on the detail of the Salt Creek Greenway Trail. We didn't happen to capture any photos along the way as this was more of a fitness hike than a scenic hike. For future use, and other users as well, I'll seek to explain the ever so slight obstacles and route questions we encountered along the trail.

We started our trek with the Illinois Prairie Path in Lombard. Though it crosses many small side streets as it strolls out of Lombard and into Villa Park, its pretty easy-going. Just after crossing the bridge over Route 83-Kingery Hwy we looked for the Salt Creek Greenway Trail sign and sure enough it was easy to spot at the bottom of the hill. To catch the real trail we headed south on Rex Blvd. (almost no traffic) to its end and on the right it was evident where the Salt Creek Trail started. It was a dirt and partial wood chip trail right into the bits of woods that ran along the creek. It almost felt like we were at the back edge of people's yards. This initial trek was slow-going because of the softness of the trail. This eventually connects you to the paved trail. A better starting point as we would catch on our return trip would be to pick this up just west of the intersection of Fairview Ave. and Madison St.

The paved trail then hits Eldridge Park. It wasn't immediately evident which way to go as the paved trail is part of a loop. We went right (south) to stay nearest the creek and this proved correct. After a short jaunt in this direction you'll see the trail then heads right again over a bridge and then heads southeast to where it'll run alongside a parking lot at the very edge of the park. The crossing then at Butterfield Rd. was not a bad one. It was in here that my brother and I were simply impressed at how they snuck this great bike trail amidst so many other things as it passed neatly around a large complex of condos. It then hit the underpass for Roosevelt road where on the south side you zip around some ramps to regain street level and run along the south side of Roosevelt.

The trail starts heading south again at York Woods Forest Preserve. On the southeast side of these Woods we found bathrooms. It was also here you need to be somewhat observant to catch that the trail crosses the Frontage Rd/Harger Rd and then continues south where it uses a bridge to pass over I-88. The trail runs again due south for awhile through Oak Brook. At 22nd St. it is a major street crossing on the surface. After 22nd it runs along Oak Brook Golf Course where you find yourself quite near a pair of greens and a fairway. After the golf course ends you'll be nearing 31st St. Another big street crossing here and it is at this point you'll need to start being very observant. At almost exactly a quarter mile past 31st St. the Salt Creek Trail breaks east on Canterberry Ln. The black pave does continue south and we nearly continued to follow it, but the Salt Creek trail does break east here and we hardly saw any signage.

At the east end of Canterberry Ln. the trail underpasses I-294 and then you'll see more Meadowlark Golf course on your left and you'll be entering Bernis Woods. The stroll through the woods is beautiful and we saw a pair of deer through here. At the east end of the woods is the crossing for Wolf Rd. where we saw a fair amount of cars and no crossing light, so caution was needed. East of Wolf Rd. it now becomes Salt Creek Woods. Near the eastern edge of these woods the trail breaks north and picks up Edgewood Ave. which was basically traffic-less and this takes you up to another crossing of 31st St.

At this point in our bike hike we began to run into a few more bikers as the morning starting to go on. We saw more runners and walkers than anything during this hike. After crossing 31st again the trail heads due north through Possum Hollow Woods until eventually it hits the intersection of LaGrange Rd. and Cermak Rd. It crosses east here at the intersection and then immediately starts heading south on the east side of LaGrange Rd. From here the trail will cut east through Brezina Woods passing close to the subdivisions at its southern edge. The trail will cross 25th Ave and then pass into Twentysix Street Woods. After there its one more street crossing at Maple Ave. and then Brookfield Woods. The trail runs eventually to the western edge of the parking lots for Brookfield Zoo and picks up the dead-end street McCormick Ave. We stopped for snacks at the southwestern corner of the zoo lot. We contemplated exploring the Zoo entrance, and though we saw the sign for "Bike Entrance" for the lots there, we also saw the "No Trespassing" signs. So we stayed put.

Spent about 15 minutes resting up and drinking and eating in some calories. It was about 19.3 miles thus far. As we started back our legs were still feeling fresh and so we held pace and even upped the pace for the first stretch back. On the return we followed our same route exactly til the very end of the Salt Creek Trail. At Madison St. when the pavement seems to end and the initial dirt/chip trail picks up we simply followed the pavement out to Madison St. We then proceeded to follow Fairview Ave. all the way north til it Prairie Path Ln. We followed that east to the paved connector to pick up the Prairie Path again and follow that back to Lombard.

On our return we felt sprinkles at one point for a minute or so. The clouds were ominous at times but we knew the forecast called for a slight chance of rain at best. It was chilly for most of the hike. We figured lower 50s at best. It was cool when we started and we warmed well as we biked. After our 15 minute stop at Brookfield we had cooled again and enjoyed the warming back up. In all we were able to hit just over 40 miles by the time we made it back home. Definitely an enjoyable and somewhat scenic new track to hit.


Here is a track of our bike ride as taken by my Runkeeper app:

My Track .

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