First Professor to Embark on Trek

by Tom Dunn, Art History Professor

"Oh God don't let anyone ask me to go on the winter trek. I am not physically prepared. I am 56 years old. I haven't put my body under that kind of stress in many years." This was my prayer and my excuses when I arrived at Bass Lake to teach the Art History course of the Great Works Program in January of 2003. The students arrived ready for a rigorous academic and physical schedule. They are so young and filled with so much energy was my thought. Was I like them when I was in college? Oh well, if I am real lucky I can bluff my way through any invitation to attend the trek. Twenty-five miles carrying 35 pounds in the snow, in a tent at night. I don't think so.

I made it through the first few days of excitement and settling in. The trek wasn't even mentioned, but we were still two weeks away and the students really weren't thinking that way yet. Then it happened, the dreaded question, the heart stopping moment that I feared would eventually occur. "Hey Tom, have you thought of the trek yet," Don Lawrence inquisitively asked. "Well Don, ah, ya know I would like to but, I am not physically prepared, I am 56 years old, I haven't put my body under that kind of stress in many years." You see, I had planned my response just in case "the moment" would happen. "Oh Tom, it's really not that far or that hard," Don said with this funny little smile on his face. I have since learned about Don Lawrence and his ways. "Well, let me pray about it" was my response. I have been a pastor for 20 years and I've learned that throwing in spiritual responses are good for a few days of reprieve and usually people will forget about things after a little time has passed, especially if I just turn around and walk the other way when they come up to me.

Well, to make a long story short, I got blindsided one evening when a few students pleaded with me to go. A student even promised to carry my gear if I couldn't make it all the way. Now, a 220 pound football player that offered to do that would be one thing, but it was a 105 pound freshman girl that made the offer. Now my pride is in this thing and with trepidation I blurted out, "You bet I am going, this has been on my heart for weeks. I can't wait to get out on that snowy path." There, I said it, now I was committed and I couldn't possibly fail to attend; the humiliation would be too great to face for another 13 weeks.

The big day arrived, my pack was filled, my boots were on and off to my right, was Don Lawrence with this funny little grin on his face. We climbed into the vans and we were off to the drop zone for four days in the High Sierra wilderness. Over those four days I learned a lot about myself, my team and God's beautiful creation. I learned that I could accomplish most anything if I just didn't give up. I learned that with a team of friends and encouragers I wasn't alone, they were my greatest cheerleaders. I learned that God made a beautiful world for me to enjoy. His wilderness was a special gift to me for those few days. We saw the rays of sun hit Fresno Dome in the early morning. We walked on untouched snow and crossed crystal clear streams of water needing each other to do it successfully. We saw mountain lion tracks almost the size of our hand and we enjoyed each others' fellowship around the campfire. I also learned about my tent partner's funny little grin. It was Don's way of saying, Tom, I have absolute confidence in you, your team and your God to get you through this physically hard time.

Well, four days later and 25 miles under my feet I walked back to the cheers of 44 students that had also made the trek. I did it, I didn't wimp out and nobody had to carry my pack. I was physically spent, every bone and muscle hurt, my feet were cold, I smelled really bad along with everybody else, but I did it. My fears were unfounded and I wish I could explain how good I felt inside. It was an experience I desire to repeat over and over again if I have the opportunity. You see, I learned that we must be pushed to our limit to understand the all sufficiency of God. To remain in the comfort zones keeps us bound to the ordinary and I don't believe God has called us to be ordinary. I believe we are called to be unordinary and unusual people that have chosen to follow the most unordinary and unusual man that ever lived on earth.