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In 1949, Mao Tse-Tung ran through China in a marauding storm. His communist army was wiping out anything in their path that would hinder an unrestrained dictatorship of communism. In the path of this malicious army, a CIA operative Douglas Mackiernan had to flee for his life.

The path that he and some of his fleeing companions had to take to get into Tibet was taxing to say the least. It took him seven months to cover the treacherous 1200 miles. In fact when they got to the Himalayas, the air was so thin that the breathing became so difficult that the team resorted to hand signals to conserve their energy.

Not only did they have to navigate through the mountains, they also had to cover a very dry desert. The desert almost killed them. In fact, at one point they almost died when they went for three days without water before they found a seep in the desert floor that allowed them to get enough water to live.

Then they got to the mountains in the dead of winter. The wind was so strong and the snow drifts were so deep that there were times that Mackiernan became confused. The trail they were following was several hundred years old but towering mounds of snow obscured the path. He got snow-blind in one eye. His hands and feet begin to get numb and frostbite almost set in. His horse died and his shoes were reduced to nothing more than strips of leather. However, he just kept on pressing because he wanted to get home.

In every remote and isolated village he was told that small pyramids of built-up stones clearly marked the trail. Everywhere along the trail he saw those mounds of rock. He followed them very carefully because he knew that if he did not, it would mean a certain death for him. He understood that if he ever lost sight of the rocks that he was a goner.

There were times that he had to backtrack and pick up the direction of the stone pyramids again. What were the pyramids of rocks? They were graves of those who had died trying to make their way to Tibet on the trail. The ground was frozen solid, so when men died from hypothermia, the local residents heaped piles of rocks over their bodies. These were now the ancient trail markers that helped those who were escaping.

The value of the trail markers was only evident once the men escaped through the mountain ranges of Tibet.

(SOURCE: Adapted from "Getting There" by Steve Farrar, from a sermon by Philip Harrelson, "The Power in the Watergate", 6/30/08

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