taking the goat trail

Standing on the cliffs above Blacks beach in San Diego, I knew - intellectually speaking - what I was getting into. We had a 7D stuffed inside a water-proof housing and I was wearing a wet-suit. In theory, I’d be doing what I always do - creating striking imagery in an effort to tell a client’s story - only, I’d be in the frigid Pacific. But between us & the beach hundreds of feet below lay two paths - a decently steep but tame set of steps or what the surfers all call the goat trail.

Little did I know, the way down would define the experience.

Rob, the surfer I would be shooting, looked at me and said, “You’re taking the soul way,” as he hopped out onto the incredibly narrow trail that traced the ridge line winding down to the beach below with his board; a few steps later, he disappeared from view.

Surfer & Active Multimedia Designer, Rob Thomas, on the goat trail at Blacks.

Surfer & Active Multimedia Designer, Rob Thomas, on the goat trail at Blacks.

My first blush with the Christian faith came in the Presbyterian church, where I learned a word that would come to have particular significance to me as a storyteller - narthex.

In simple terms, the narthex is a porch between the front door & the sanctuary, but in ancient church construction, the narthex had great significance. In this space between the world and the kingdom the uninitiated would prepare their hearts and offer prayers. So, when Rob said to me, “ You’re taking the soul way,” he was inviting me, the uninitiated, into an experience that would prepare my heart for something meaningful and transformative.

The way down was well worn, but every step felt treacherous. It took a level of concentration that I don’t normally assign to the simple act of walking and unused muscles were called to attention. In every possible way, the goat trail prepared my mind, body and soul for what would come next.

Standing on the cliffs above Blacks beach, I knew - intellectually speaking - what I was getting into. But it was the goat trail that prepared my heart for the moment that first wave crashed over my head, pushed me under and refused to let me up. It was the goat trail that called every cell in my body to attention, enabling me to endure the exhaustion of treading water for two hours while holding a camera and constantly battling nature for the perfect position.

When the last of the light was gone and I was forced to come back to shore, I tweeted this:


“Nearly drowned, never more alive,” words that are only possible because of a narthex experience. A goat trail. Life is an unruly ocean and stories are the goat trails of redemption. In the narthex, the spirit learns the things that the intellect can never know.

Thanks Rob, for showing me the soul way.