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by Anna Marie Stefanick and Rev. Ron Stewart

Photo Credit: Kemp Davis

She drew yellow lines scrupulously over each completed trail on her Great Smoky Mountains National Park map for several years. Her goal was to successfully navigate all of the signed trails in the park. One beautiful Tennessee morning in the summer of 1996, friends from the SMHC and the Thursday Club joined forces to help her do just that. Determined to accompany Becky Stewart as she completed the last hike on her map down Jenkin's Ridge, Mary Chollman and Anna Marie Stefanick began their trek at Lead Cove. They arranged to meet up with the Thursday Club at the junction of Pinnacle Creek and piggy-back their ride out on a hired boat back to Fontana. In addition, a surprise party lay at the trail's end to celebrate Becky's monumental accomplishment.

The hike started typically with bright skies, warm breezes, gorgeous scenery, and good company; however, ominous clouds of doubt produced a sudden change when the women encountered several fallen trees at a covert switchback within a mile of Jenkin's Ridge trailhead, just past Spence Field. Unable to ascertain which direction to proceed, the adventuresome bunch posted Mary on the last of the trail they recognized, while the other two circled her, searching frantically for the pathway to Lakeshore. Sometimes searching on their hands and knees through thick rhondo, the experienced hikers were reluctant to admit they didn't know the trail's whereabouts. Becky and Anna Marie returned to Mary's sentinel post to find her patiently waiting with a new-found friend. Mary silenced them with a finger anchored severely against her lips as she pointed to a stone-deaf rattlesnake curled near her feet and whispered,
When the laughter subsided, the search for the lost trail resumed.

Undaunted, the ladies refused to give up, knowing that Becky counted on them to help her become one of the few hikers who actually scaled every trail in the Smoky Mountains. Mary and Anna Marie also knew that the surprise party awaiting Becky at Fontana wouldn't mean as much if this trail was not conquered. No closer to identifying Jenkin's Ridge an hour later, they realized a timely rendezvous with the Thursday Club would soon become impossible. The women thought of trying to forget their failure over a tasty lunch in Gatlinburg, but decided to scurry down Eagle Creek and attempt to intercept the Thursday group. Moreover, they knew the others would be concerned about them if they didn't show up at Pinnacle Creek.
Swallowing their pride, the three hikers altered their plans and began the descent down Eagle Creek. Disappointed and discouraged, Mary and Anna Marie contemplated the ill-fated party at the end of the trail.

As they voiced their frustrations, Becky responded, "You know, I believe there is a reason for everything. We may never know why all of this happened to us today, but God always has a plan for our lives. We just have to trust His wisdom.

"Her words provided little comfort to the wounded egos of the veteran mountain hikers. The trio missed their rendezvous at Pinnacle Creek but arrived at the shoreline in time to meet their friends for the boat ride. All expressed their concern over the women's tardiness. In the parking lot at the boat dock, the women ate cake, washed down with a swig of shame, and vowed to return as soon as possible to complete their adventure.

Four weeks later, the resolute trio returned to find the hidden trail. With a few more friends and renewed confidence, they began their march down Jenkin's Ridge. Nearing at the same confusing spot where fallen trees still concealed the switchback, the debate resumed over which direction the trail yoked. In the midst of the discussion, two timid voices sang out,
"Hey, wait up, please! Hey, over here!"
A young couple scrambled up the mountainside, excited to encounter other hikers in this remote location.
"We've been hoping for some trail-angels to find us. We've been lost for over an hour. Can you help us out?"
The backpackers revealed they'd been hiking for three days already. Their faces showed exhaustion and angst. Their original plans included hiking to the dam where a parked car promised a safe journey home. Instead, they became disoriented and while searching through the brush, the young lady sprained her ankle. She limped badly. Their adventure suddenly turned dangerous.

As they pulled away from the Fontana parking lot, the young man asked, "How can we ever repay you?"

Becky suggested he pass the kindness shown to them to someone else someday. He vowed he would. Waving exuberantly, the couple continued to shower everyone with thanks for being their guardian angels that day.
Becky then reminded Mary and Anna Marie of what she shared with them the previous month.
"Remember I said I believed there was a reason for everything that happens to us in our life?" she queried. "I said that we may never know why we missed the trail, but the Lord had a plan. Those two people WERE THE REASON we missed Jenkin's last time. They needed help today, and the Lord made sure WE were there to provide that help."

Descending Jenkins Ridge victoriously, Becky taught Mary and Anna Marie a lesson in faith. After thousands of miles of walking, talking, and sharing tales, this story is special - almost as special as Becky Stewart!

"In as much as you have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, you have done it unto me." Matthew 25:40