By David Butler
Coordinator, Learning Lounge
After I finished my undergrad degree in 2015, I had the opportunity to start full-time at Grand Canyon University working in the Office of Student Development and Outreach. A quick 90 days went by, and I was blessed to begin the Master of Business Administration program.
The format between the undergrad and graduate programs is different, and both have their strengths. I liked the master’s program format because I was able to take one class at a time every eight weeks. Our evening cohort met on Tuesday nights from 5:30 – 9:30 pm, with a dinner break. I was able to finish classes one after another, with a two-week break around Christmas, in about 18 months. There have been many experiences over the past several months, but one that is special to me occurred recently.
During the program, I had some classes with Azzu, an international student pursuing his master’s degree from GCU. Over the course of the program, we developed a friendship, which led us to connecting outside of GCU a few weeks ago. I picked up Mr. Azzu around 6 pm and our quest began. We were about to embark on Azzu’s first hike.
He was a little nervous about the whole adventure. Before I picked him up we clarified what good “hiking attire” would be, and he wanted me to assure him that he wouldn’t get bit by a rattlesnake. It brought a smile to my face to see him ready and waiting outside upon my arrival.
I thought the evening would be simply two friends going for a hike; it ended up being a learning and growing opportunity for both of us.
Although I’m not a “Hello my name is David and I hike every single second I can” type of person, I’ve definitely had my fair share of hiking experiences. For example, every Wednesday morning, my pastor and I get together at 6:30 am to go for a hike. It’s nothing crazy, but we walk a trail every week.
So yes, I know how to “hike.”
Azzu and I were headed to Piestewa Peak (Squaw Peak), when I thought, “David, you should probably start with a trail that is a little more ‘user-friendly’ since this is his first hike.” I decided North Mountain would be a good alternative since the trail is paved to the top.
Our hike started at a modest speed, and we took breaks every now and then. Azzu was still nervous, though. He didn’t want me walking towards the edge of the paved road, even though there was still a gravel path before the actual edge of the cliff. He walked as close to the innermost ledge of the trail as possible. About one-third of the way up, Azzu began to explain to me that he is afraid of heights. We kept our eyes on the trail and kept walking.
He was caught off guard with how much of an exercise hiking can be, and I recall him saying, “Look, man, there are little children walking up just fine and here I am resting.” He quickly shot up and proceeded to put a little pep in his step. We finally reached the top about 20 minutes before the sunset, which is what I was hoping to share with Mr. Azzu.
Although we were at the top of the paved trail, I did not think the view was as good as it could be (I wanted his first hike experience to be magical!). There was an unpaved trail that was connected to the actual top of the mountain, and that was my new target. It was mild, rocky terrain at a slight incline.
I called for Azzu to follow me, and I proceeded up the trail. After a few steps I looked back and Azzu was still on the paved path. He wasn’t moving and had no intention of moving.
“No way, man. I’m not doing that,” he said.
I encouraged him, but the task asked too much of him. He was already facing his fear of the height and now was being asked to leave his comfort zone.
“David, man, my legs are shaking, man. I can’t do this.”
After a few minutes of talking back and forth, the heavens didn’t open. A bird did not pick up Mr. Azzu’s feet. There was not some super-intense, star-aligning experience. He got brave and took a step. He started low to the ground almost in a crawling state, but I put my hand on his back and we walked right up that trail. He did it. He reached the very top of the mountain.
He sat down on a rock at the top and stared at the view while he gathered his thoughts.
I said, “You should take some pictures so you can show your family back home.”
“No way, man,” he responded. “I can’t show them this. They would get mad at me for doing such a reckless thing.”
After a brief photoshoot at the top, I decided it would be wise not to wait until the sun set. We stayed at the top of the mountain for about 10 minutes before we began the walk down to the paved trail.
The descent started with a simple question:
“How do you get down?”
But, just like before, it began with trust and a step forward. I proceeded first and he followed right behind me. Right. Behind. Me. I’m telling you the amount of death grip his hand had on my shoulder was quite impressive. We proceeded down the trail at a constant and steady pace. I offered to stop but the response was, “No way, man, we’re going. Go. Go.
We returned to the paved trail, and I was half expecting a kiss on the ground. He made it back. He conquered his fear. The stroll down was a discussion of victory and accomplishment. Towards the bottom of the trail he answered a phone call and had a conversation in a language I do not understand with a little English mixed in. I could pick up that he was recapping the experience we just had, but he said two words that caught my attention and brought a smile to my face:
I hike every week, but I can’t tell you how many times I have “mountain trekked” before. That phrase has more of a meaning to me than simply “a hike.” Mountain trekking consists of trust, facing fears and trying something new.
My friend and I “mountain trekked” that day. He mountain trekked his fear of heights and walking off the paved trail. We mountain trekked becoming friends. We mountain trekked leaving our hometowns. We mountain trekked our master’s programs. It will be interesting to see what is mountain trekked next.
What goal or obstacle are you looking to mountain trek? My encouragement is for you to keep your eyes on your path, whatever that may be – or you may need to leave your comfortable path! Whatever it may be, share your concerns and passions with the Lord and trust. Maybe you need to do something for yourself. Maybe you need to seek a friend to help you along your journey. Whatever it is, you may be able to share your mountain trek one day.
Now, what is YOUR first step?
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More about David Butler:
David Butler joined Strategic Educational Alliances in February 2014 and served as a Grand Canyon University (GCU) Learning Advocate (LEAD). He worked with local high school students throughout the Canyon Corridor to create fun and engaging learning opportunities. In May 2015, David joined the student development and outreach leadership team to serve as a coordinator. He has worked closely with many of the university’s Canyon Christian School Consortium (CCSC) scholarship students to meet necessary service hour requirements at the GCU Learning Lounge. David began his collegiate journey at Mt. Hood Community College (MHCC) in Gresham, Oregon. During his two years at MHCC, he served in the Student Outreach and Recruitment (SOAR) office as a SOAR leader. During his time at the college, he also gained experience as a manager for a movie theater company. Upon the completion of his associate degree in business, he transferred to GCU in fall 2013. In April 2015, David completed his bachelor’s degree in business management with a 4.0 GPA. David currently lives in Phoenix, and enjoys playing soccer, going on hikes and spending time with loved ones.