“The Walk” Summarized
On July 11-22 of this summer of 2013, I reversed the steps of a thousand Owens Valley Paiute on the 150th Anniversary of their tragic forced march by the US Cavalry. In this summary of my 208 mile walk through the California Desert, there are no fireworks or instant gratification. I never expected this walk to produce such. My belief and hope is that this act of obedience will do more in the “unseen realm” than what we may ever see in this physical world – at least in the short term. It’s really just one step in a much longer metaphorical walk. And though I hope to communicate to my Native American friends the sincerity of my heart, I also realize this walk only goes so far when so much trust has been broken by so many for so long. Time, love, and consistency will speak the loudest – pray for us (and yourselves) in this regard. I also ask that you understand that much of what I “could” share with you would dishonor these developing relationships if I were to do so – it is my deepest desire to bring honor in all of my relationships. My heart for this walk is to point the Native AND the non-Native to hope, healing, relationship, and the loving Creator.
Click Here to see photos from my walk.
Such as all this is, let me regale you with a summary:
The Route & View From My Shoes: On each of the twelve days, I walked from 15 to 24 miles, attempting to walk most of those miles in the morning hours, yet it was often 100 degrees before I was through with each day. By a miracle and welcomed permission, I started the walk at the old Sebastian Indian Reservation School on the private property of the Tejon Ranch to the east of Grapevine, CA, likely where the Paiute had ended their walk. Over the course of my walk, I witnessed many different terrains. On the first and second days, I walked through lush orchards of nuts and fruits, vineyards of grapes, and fields of peppers and other vegetables as I navigated the agriculture of the southern San Joaquin Valley near Arvin. As I rose up into the Southern Sierra, traversing Caliente, Walker Basin, and Lake Isabella, I walked up canyons and ridges covered by golden grasslands filled with grand oak trees. Eventually I rose up into a Pinion Pine forest covering rugged mountain peaks, crossing over Walker Pass at 5,250 feet. The final and longest stretch of the journey took me through six days of desert strewn with Joshua Trees, Creosote Bushes, and cacti. As I came into the Owens Valley region on those final three days, the mountains around me rose higher and became more rugged, eventually passing by Mt. Whitney and other 14,000 foot peaks towering 10,000 feet above my baking desert road. After a time of prayer at the historical marker memorializing Fort Independence where the walk had started 150 years ago, I finished a short distance further at the Powwow and Campgrounds of the Fort Independence Indian Reservation.
Overcoming the Pain: As much as the terrain varied and adjusted, so did my body. As one of my friends put it, “You are doing a marathon a day for 12 days!” My body certainly felt it. The first week of the walk included blisters, stiffness, painful feet, and extreme muscle aches. After the walk each day, I felt like an old man hobbling around, wondering how in the world I was going to walk another 20 miles the next day! On day five I visited a clinic to get a checkup and antibiotics to curb what seemed to be a growing case of pneumonia from saliva I had aspirated on the first day. But as time went, my body slowly adjusted, my blisters (which never broke) went away, my lungs recovered, and my aches decreased to a barely noticeable throb. I think this process is reflective of working through the challenges associated with developing relationships between the Native and non-Native communities. Most people never even try because it is too hard, and so a divide that is never bridged only widens further with time. But committing to the challenge and persisting through misunderstandings and differences – even when it is painful – I “hold to hope” will eventually give way to trust, friendship, and progress towards resolving the brokenness between our communities today.
Revelations from Creator: Though this walk truly bore a very physical reality as I have described, I believe it had an even deeper spiritual reality. As I walked, I prayed, sang songs of worship, listened for long periods for the voice of the Spirit, and often just spent time thinking. Here are some of the things that I “saw” along the way where I believe God was speaking: facing a rattlesnake during prayer at the very start of the first day; the finding of a snake skin and an owl feather a few feet apart; a hawk circling 20 feet above me while carrying a snake in its talons; the meeting of a ranch family whose ancestors had raised one of the Paiute children from the forced march; a mutually encouraging encounter with a Paiute elder who is chairman of her tribe; the discovery of the old wagon road where the members of the forced march had walked; a fiery sunrise over the Coso Mountains which was to me what the rainbow was to Noah (God’s promise to be faithful – the name of our new outreach is “Coso Rising” – “coso” meaning “fire” in the local Paiute language).
The Final Gathering: For the end of the last day of the walk, I invited several native friends to meet me for a gathering. Thirty some people came, mostly Paiute (Numu), with a mix of personal backgrounds and tribal responsibilities. We met a few hundred feet before the finish, and there I gave out some rocks to some of the elders which I had carried in my daypack since the first day, and together we walked in silence, carrying the rocks to the end and remembering those who had unwillingly started here 150 years earlier. Once we arrived, we prayed and returned the rocks to the earth. I then had a time of “Protocol” where I gave gifts of blankets and pottery to various representatives of the different tribes from the area, and then we honored Creator God with a song in the Numu native tongue. Once I gained permission to share my thoughts and stories, I recited what I had learned of the history of the Numu of the Owens Valley. I shared of their early days as expert agriculturalists and of their initial positive interactions with the European Settlers. Then I shared the story of greed and disregard by the settlers that led to the loss of the Numu farmlands, the subsequent starvation of the Numu, and the resulting war and build up to the forced march. As I shared about the forced march, I read a firsthand account from the memoirs of Lavinia Lightner Rankin which had just been typed and sent to me the day before by the Rankin Ranch Family. I then stated that when their first starving ancestor was shot dead for trying to feed his family by killing a settler’s cow, I believe that what the settlers should have done was feed these hungry people, not kill them. That IS what the Indians did in Plymouth when the Pilgrims were starving – I believe that IS what Jesus desires of us to do for others. I told them I did this prayer walk in obedience to God, and to communicate to them that, though I can’t change the past, I can do something about the future – I want to “walk in a different direction.” Upon completing these and other thoughts, I told them that I wanted to do for them in a small symbolic way what should have been done 150 years ago – so I had a meal prepared and served and we all ate together.
Conclusion and Walking Over the Impossible: I believe this was a very sacred and significant time – it certainly was for me, and it seemed to be for others. I feel very honored that so many Numu cared to sacrifice their time to drive 30-40 minutes each way to listen to me share my heart well into the evening. And the twelve day, 208 mile walk was, for me, an important step in my own life and a strengthening of my resolve, by silently declaring that it is time – time for us all to face what we fear, time to believe and endure for the impossible, time to stare each of our terribly broken cultures in the face and realize there IS an answer, there CAN be healing and restoration. I believe Creator sent his son, Jesus, to live, die, and overcome death to give life to this dying world, to declare real hope and healing to our festering wounds, and to restore all creation to the Creator, and all peoples to each other. We ARE God’s creation, and he loves us all. So I will love and honor my Native friends whatever they choose to believe, in hope and faith that OUR Creator will make right what has been so broken. Let us all turn our eyes towards the only answer – Creator God.
Honoring Where Honor is Due: You may think that I walked this alone, and although 95% of the time the only footsteps I heard were my own, there were many people who paid a price for me to do this. We are never really alone, and I am extremely grateful to those that sacrificed so this walk could happen. Maybe they never took a step, but they might as well have walked the entire distance because their hearts bled for the same purpose. I thank my wife who gave her blessing and struggled with six of our lovely but sometimes unruly kids in a place not our home, and I thank those that supported her in that place. I thank each of my 8 children. I thank my father who sacrificed so much time and effort to give me moral and logistical support. I thank the Cripe Clan for their love, sacrifice and logistical support. I am very grateful to the Independence Tribe for allowing me to finish my walk on their reservation, and for each member of the Owens Valley Paiute and other Native American friends who supported and prayed for me. Thank you Alan & family, and thank you Violet for your delicious Indian tacos. I thank the Tejon Ranch Corp. and my “Guardian Angel” who provided permission and passage so that this walk could start where the original ended. Thank you Glenda and the Rankin Ranch for your time, support, and for providing your family memoirs. And I thank the many servants, believers, supporters, and YWAMers who prayed, encouraged, and have taught me on this journey. Thank you Will & Millie. May you all be blessed, encouraged, and find loving grace, peace, and hope for the Creator’s call on your own lives. Thank you, Creator, for this is the second time you walked this journey.