FULTON, Calif. - A group of 28 service members and civilians led by Maj. Everett Zachary, Family Life Chaplain for the Presidio of Monterey, set off on a non-denominational 'Spiritual Fitness Hike' in the forests of central California July 27. The hikers gathered at the POM Chapel and ventured to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in Fulton. The group hiked six miles across hilly terrain, fallen logs and sandy meadows.

"I'm from the [Great] Smoky Mountains. For me it's just nostalgic to get out there and hike these trails," said Zachary. "It just reminds us we're connected to nature, we're connected to creation."

The hike began with Spc. Brittany Taylor, Religious Affairs Specialist, guiding the group through the Redwood Grove Loop Trail, a path through a section of the park's tallest trees. Along this trail POM students and employees discovered old-growth trees, fire-damaged tree trunks, banana slugs, numerous plant species and the Fremont Tree, a hollowed out redwood with a cavity large enough that the entire group fit inside it.

Among the most impressive sites along this loop was 'The Giant', a redwood that towers 270 feet tall and 17 feet wide. The base of the tree is so wide that it required 21 hikers to form a human chain around the trunk.

"Just getting transported off post is nice," Spc. Melody Sobey, an Army student linguist in the 229th Military Intelligence Battalion said. "It's a day trip, and I got to see more of California!"

The group spent the bulk of the adventure negotiating a series of trails intended to showcase the diversity of the region with ever-changing landscapes. The trails were constructed through steep ravines carved by creeks that cut through the foggy, coastal hills. These hilly climbs ushered the hikers from the forest floor to the pinnacle of the park, known as the 'observation deck'. There, a wooden platform provided sweeping, 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains and Monterey Bay.

An interpretive panel attached to the observation deck reflected on the spiritual impact of nature with a quote from noted conservationist John Muir, reading, "Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul."

While the group took a break to enjoy the scenery, Zachary reflected on the purpose of the Spiritual Fitness Hike. He spoke about the importance of relationships, and that people should not only care about helping others but also themselves.

"Hopefully today is a little bit of self-care," said Zachary. "You've got to take care of yourself - and if you take care of yourself, you can pour over into the lives of other people."

Following this talk the group made their way down the mountain via another series of paths, featuring additional overlooks and a cable bridge over a steam, before eventually arriving back at the parking lot. There the hungry hikers enjoyed food provided as part of the trip, before loading back into the vans and heading home to the Presidio.

These hikes are part of an ongoing series offered by the Chaplain's office. Many of the participants on this month's trip have taken part in other outings offered by the command to enrich the souls of the students and staff, in addition to their minds. These outings occur the fourth Saturday of each month. August's trip will be to nearby Point Lobos State Natural Reserve and September's trip will be to Pinnacles National Park.

If you are considering joining an upcoming trip, Zachary wants to stress the inclusiveness of these opportunities to commune with nature, saying, "Our goal is to facilitate the faith of everyone, when we say 'all', all means all."

For more information call the Chaplain's office at 831-242-5632.