I have often joked that I would write an autobiography one day and call it 'Too Stupid to Quit'. I think it sums up my life pretty well. You see, the smart man knows that the odds are against him, that he should give up and go home, it isn't safe, it just won't work, no sense in beating your head against a wall. But the stupid person is oblivious to such well rationalized thoughts and keeps going. Well, that's me. Here is a story to prove it.
When we first came to Middle Earth we went to Rohan and stayed in Edoras for a year and a half. Our company did not have anybody in Gondor and really did not know how to get anyone there. I remember going into the head office back home and speaking to our area director. I had a ton of questions. How were we to get to Gondor? What would we do there? If we went with an aid agency which one? With the banking system down because of the civil war how would we get funds? How would we communicate? I had alot more questions than that but these are just a few. He looked at me across his desk and said, "We are looking forward to your going there and then calling us and telling us the answers to these questions." It was of course, the very best answer he could give. Only somebody really stupid would take on a job like that and he knew I was the man for the job.
So, once in Edoras I began making short term trips across the border (which I described in an early post) and began making contacts that would lead us to join an aid agency and go to Gondor. There were three routes to Gondor. We couldn't fly in from Rohan as they had no flights so we had to cross by land. But, with a civil war going on the borders were not pleasant. I had tried them all and those are some great stories that I have yet to tell here. The Southern Border was full of young guys with guns who acted rude and irresponsible. I didn't want to take my wife and two young girls that way. The Middle Border was just plain mean. They hastled me and tried to turn me back everytime I went so I did not want to put the girls through that. The Northern Border was not bad. Trouble was, it only led to the northern city of Cair Andros. It was a long way and two high mountain passes from the capitol city of Minas Tirith. But there was a flight. So, we decided to go that way. We taxied up to Meduseld- Capitol of Rohan- then spent the night with friends. The next morning the guy that we had arranged to take us across the border didn't show. So, we spent an extra day there. The next day he did turn up and he drove us to the border. We then walked across the border with our two small suitcases and got in another taxi to go to the airport. It was only about a four hour journey. We got to the airport and found that the plane had left an hour before. The next one would not be until tomorrow. But why did the plane go early? "Oh, we changed the schedule," she said. When? "Yesterday." Great.
It was mid-July of 1997. It was hot. It was darn hot. I went over to the hotel next to the airport. "You guys have any rooms?" I asked. Oh yes they did. "Electricity, water, fans, anything?" Nope. So, we could sweat here all day long and spend a sleepless miserable night fighting fleas or..... what? Just then a taxi driver came up to me and offered to take me and my family to Minas Tirith for a mere $150. That was thirty dollars cheaper than the plane. Then it occured to me. We could sweat here all day and be miserable and still be... here or we could taxi over the mountains all day and be miserable and then be there. But would Arwen, my lovely wife, buy it. She had seen my video of that second pass before. She might not want to do it. I pitched it and she went for it.
We climbed into the little taxi which was a small car- kind of like a 1970 four door Datsun only brand new- and headed off down the road. We made great time all the way to Argonoth. Argonoth is an ancient city in northern Gondor. Why people have wanted to live there for the last three thousand years is a bit of a mystery to me. Hot, dry, nothing green in sight. We stopped there. Why? "Oh, my brother has a much better car for going over the passes than this little thing. Oh no, you don't want to go to Minas Tirith with me, you want my brother and his wonderful car." Said the not very honest taxi driver. So, around the corner came his brother in a .... well it was... a .... I don't know how to describe it. It was like a 1956 four door Chevy after my cousin had got a hold of it for a few months. It wasn't nice. We had no choice seemingly and got in. It backfired, belched and guzzled down the road toward the first pass. A mere ten thousand feet up and over the mountains of Gondor.
The mountains of Gondor are unique. They are rugged and tall and completely barren. If you see anything green you know there is a village there. We swerved back and forth and back and forth up and up and up the winding road. The car was not up to the task. We stopped more and more frequently at small springs to cool the tired motor. It was clear to me the points were pitted and it was equally clear that the driver didn't know what points were. Finally however, we crested the top and then coasted down and down and down to the river valley below. It was beautiful and majestic and I was stressed and irritated. At last we reached the bottom where there is a small village and a militia post. We stopped at the militia post where the car died for the last time.
I was not too concerned at first. There are four bridges over the river that the road to Minas Tirith crosses over from that point and they are always in bad shape. The first one was closed for repair so no one was going anywhere and the cars were backing up at the post. Surely someone would give us a ride. But no, they were all full. We sat there for most of the afternoon. Just before six I began to get concerned. There was nowhere to spend the night if we were stuck there and if we traveled over the pass at night that could get nasty as there was still a civil war going on. I was not so much concerned about rebel soldiers as I was about difficult militia post who would welcome the opportunity to hassle foreigners traveling at night.
My two girls Luthien, who was seven and Goldberry, who was six complained that the two young men who were building a mudbrick wall near the post were making faces at them. I went over and talked to them. "Anyone in this village have a car?" "Yep, we do. The only car in the village." Great. "Could you take us to Minas Tirish today?" "For $80 sure. We get off work in twenty minutes then we can clean up and go."
We walked to their house where they got cleaned up and then got into their car. It was sort of like an old Volkswagon Beetle without the comfort or charm. It probably was not as big as a VW bug either. But it ran. And the bridge opened up. And off we went. The twenty year old kid driving, his friend in the passanger seat and Arwen, Myself, our two daughters, and two suitcases in the back. It was kinda cozy. I knew there were seven major post from there to the City. As we approached the first post the kid sped up, put on a big mock salute and blew right through it. I thought we were dead. But as the militia turned and looked startled they realized who it was and laughed and waved them through. Apparently, being the owners of the only working car in the valley meant that they knew everyone and more importantly had given everyone rides from time to time. I was encouraged.
Then up we went. Back and forth up the winding roads up and up toward the Great Pass. 11,600 feet is not the highest of passes in this world but this one is unique in that you leave anything like a road, pavement, guardrails, or your mind behind long before you get to the top. Just before you get to the final push to the top there is a little valley and a pretty little stream. It was ten o'clock when we reached it and my head was killing me. We were wearing all the dust of Middle Earth and we had not eaten anything since the morning. I was really concerned that I was torturing my daughters after we had planned so hard to make this trip easy for them. Luthien got out of the car and looking at the pretty little stream she began to run up and down next to it. "Look at at the river! Look at the river! It's beautiful, it's beautiful! Look Daddy, look Mommy! It's beautiful!" Ok, so the girls were not having that rough of a time. The moon was shining in the river and through the fog of my headache I could vaguely make out that it was a pleasant scene.
Up we went. Now the going gets rough. We got as much speed as we could get and went as far up as we could and then as the poor little car lost power and could go no further the kid's friend and I got out and pushed the car up over the steepest spots. Then we would run behind until the road flattened out enough for the car to slow down and for us to get back in. We did this several times. The last time was the longest and we walked about a kilometer before we found them. It was an odd feeling watching that kid drive away with my girls and leave me and this young stranger in the middle of no where but there was no need to fear. He couldn't get that much farhter without needing us to push him again. It was also disconcerting to see the wrecks of vehicles that didn't make it. They were strewn along the road from where they had rolled down from the switchback above. It was good that it was dark but there was still way too much moonlight for Arwen.
Finally, at about 11:00pm we were up and over the top. As we came down into the valley that leads to Minas Tirith I thought maybe now there would be some problems. Surely these kids didn't have friends on this side of the pass. We were sure to be hassled. And we would reach the City at about midnight which was not a safe time to travel there. We came up on the biggest post. I was dreading this one. There was always a big tank and lots of obnoxious soldiers there. We pulled up and the driver jumped out of the car. He put a small bill worth about 25 cents into the hand of the first soldier he saw and said, 'Sorry friend we don't have time.' Then he jumped back in the car and we took off. Another soldier waved his gun at him and called out but he just shouted out the window, 'Hey, I paid that guy back there.' We went on and the kid said to his friend, 'There's just a bunch of women at that post.' Arwen said to me, 'Were there women at that post?' I said, 'No, the guy on top of the tank with a machine gun didn't look like a woman to me.' I think we just learned another slang word.
Anyway we did indeed arrive at the City gates at midnight. The kid jumped out of the car and did the same stunt again. As he drove off suddenly he stopped the car. As I turned and looked it seemed that the whole post had come out after us. Leading them was a big guy with a white shirt uniform and gold on his sleeves- the commander. He was carrying the 25 cent note in his hand. Our driver jumped back out of the car grabbed the money out of the commander's hand told him thanks and got back in the car. He knew him. Unbelievable.
We finally reached my friend's house just after midnight. Celeborn was waiting up for us. I asked him where his roommate was and he said, 'I knew you were coming. When you didn't come on this morning's flight my roommate said you would wait and come tomorrow but I told him no way. I knew you would get here today no matter what you had to do.' I always appreciated him for that.
You see, this is a too long story to make an important point. There are lots of characteristics in the Kingdom. Holiness, honesty, creativity, humility and dozens more maybe. But the one that you HAVE to have, the one that will get you there in the end is endurance. You just can not quit. Ever. This has become a defining principle on our team. We never quit. There is a lot that we could do better. There is so much I need to learn. But what sets our team apart is the fact that we will not quit. Endurance is the premium characteristic for making it in the Kingdom of God.