Hoofprints of the Stag

Hoofprints of the Stag

Monday, May 5, 2014

Preparatory Pilgrimage Part 1: Journey to Huntsville

The Monastery (picture not taken by me)
A few weeks ago, I decided to make a mini-pilgrimage partly in order to begin training for the Path to Rome.  I thought such a journey would be a good preparation because of its combination of strenuous hiking and spiritual development.  I'd actually wanted to attempt this trip last summer, but I was never able to have a long enough span of time to complete it.  The original plan of this trip was to hike from Salt Lake City up to the Our Lady of the Holy Trinity Abbey in Huntsville (run by the Trappists), remain there on retreat for a few days, and then return the same way I had come.  My spring break this year afforded me the time I needed to make the journey properly.  The intended dates for the hike/retreat were March 30 - April 5: 2 days of hiking, 3 days of retreat, and 2 days of hiking back.

Being the season of Lent, it was the perfect time for a retreat.  I called up to the abbey to make arrangements for my arrival on Monday night and a subsequent four night stay, with plans to leave early Thursday morning.  I would be there a full three days.  I planned to bring some spiritual reading, some chants and copies of pages from my breviary, but not much else, other than what was required for the hike itself.  I made a point not to bring anything pertaining to work along with me so that I could truly give my time to God.

As for the hike itself, I prepared my day pack with many things.  I went to a few sporting goods places to fill out my supplies, but I already owned most of the stuff I would need.  The main thing to do was to map the hike itself.  I completed the mapping pretty far in advance.  I used my subscription to alltrails.com to discern some accurate trails along the ridges of the Wasatch mountains.  I determined that I could make the hike in two days with about 25 miles per day, which is about what Ed and I will have to do this summer.  I planned to camp near Bountiful Peak (despite the fact that the campgrounds were closed).

Unfortunately, most of this planning was all for naught.  I left on Sunday after Mass at the Cathedral, heading up City Creek Canyon, where the trail would eventually connect with the Great Western Trail and run along the Wasatch Mountains.  As I left the Cathedral, the clouds had already begun to gather.  And as I began to head up the canyon, it started to rain.  This isn't so bad, I thought, I'm an
It got even worse than this.  I turned back at Mile 5 1/2.
Oregonian; this is nothing.  I got out my gloves and put the rain cover over my bag.  My wool sport coat (given to me by Ed last summer, incidentally) repelled the rain nicely.  As I made my way up past the gate that
prevents cars from going further up the canyon, it got a bit colder and began to snow.  At first, it wasn't too bad, but it only got worse.  I continued on, trusting in God's help but also asking God for the prudence to turn back when necessary.  After three long hours of nonstop snow (in April, mind you), I finally decided to turn back (probably a little later than was prudent, but I survived, so it's okay).  I got home wet and cold and tired and despondent for failing to accomplish my mission.  The worst was that I couldn't try again the next day even if the weather was better because the monastery was expecting me the next night.

The Oaks
Farr Better
The next day, I almost decided just to drive the whole way, but I instead gave myself a consolation prize.  I would drive to Ogden and hike from there.  I parked at my old school's parking lot, nestled at the foot of the mountains, and hiked through Ogden Canyon.  It was fairly easy, although the road's shoulder got narrow at times (though not unsafe for a cautious traveler).  There were two construction workers I must have passed 4 or 5 times because I'd pass them installing a marker of some kind, they would drive past a few minutes later, and then I'd pass them again putting in another marker.  They waved the first couple of times, but then after the fourth time, I guess they got used to it.  The canyon dragged on for quite some time until I reached 'The Oaks,' a fantastic restaurant I've only actually been to once or twice.  I got a cup of two flavors of ice cream: Brownies on the Moon (chocolate with marshmallows or something), and something with moose in the name (with peanut butter cups).  It was the perfect meal to restore my energy.

The second day hike: from Ogden to Huntsville
Shortly after The Oaks, I arrived at Pineview Reservoir, home of the mysterious sea creature (ask Peter III to hear that story, if you know him).  Walking along the southern shore, I made my way to Huntsville.  I stopped to rest at some point and prayed Vespers overlooking the water.  It was a quiet beautiful moment.
Where I prayed Vespers

Continuing on, I passed by St. Florence Catholic Church, which I did not know existed.  I discovered later that it is a mission church of St. Joseph's in Ogden, my old parish from when I lived there.  The doors were locked, but I met a young man outside praying in front of a shrine to Mary.  I explained to him my pilgrimage and asked for his prayers.  As I made my way again, he drove by in his car and offered me a lift, worried that I may not make it to the monastery before the gates closed.  Confident in my pace and wanting to preserve what was left of my already halved journey, I declined.  I told him I'd pray for him, but I forgot to ask his name.  Alas.

St. Florence Catholic Church
Upon my arrival in the town of Huntsville, I met a couple of ladies outside the convenience store.  I asked if they had any maps of the town available (in case I decided to make Huntsville another Small Town Adventure (more on these later)).  The lady who worked there obliged.  The other lady asked me what I was doing, being dressed so strangely with a large backpack.  I explained I was on a journey (though I did not elaborate that I was going to the monastery), and made my way.  I quickened my pace in order to make it to the gate on time.  Upon my arrival at the gate at 7:50 PM, I discovered that it was another half mile to the monastery itself!  What a long half mile!  As I passed the guest house, I heard a voice call out to me.  It turned out to be one of the ladies from the gas station who'd talked to me.  She was apparently also going on retreat at the monastery.  What a small world (which one can expect in Huntsville, I suppose).

The Gate at Twilight
Brother Joseph let me in and allowed me to select from the available rooms.  For some silly reason, I picked the room farthest away from the bathroom.  With sore legs and sorer feet, this was quite the penance I suppose.  Each room was labeled with a saint's name, and I picked St. Joseph in honor of my old school and parish in Ogden.  I went to sleep after jotting down some notes from the day, knowing full well I would have to wake up at 6:00 AM for Lauds and Mass.  Ah, the monastic life!

So ended the first day of my preparatory pilgrimage, and so ends my first post about it.  In the second part, I will talk briefly (if possible) about my experiences at the monastery and the journey home.

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