Almost a decade ago, I hiked in the Rockies, and I was a lot better prepared then, compared to this weekend’s ill-fated date night adventure!
Anytime your date night ends with a desperate call to 911, you know you will have an interesting story to tell in the morning! My wife’s already shared a few recollections of our misadventures on her blog in an entry titled, “Surviving Date Night.”
I think that any date you have to “survive” doesn’t sound like much fun. But Jessica said it was the best night of her life. I wouldn’t go that far, but I will admit that getting lost in the woods at dark is an experience that taught us a lot!
You see, this story starts with me having a completely terrible weekend. Our main computer in the auditorium gave me the Blue Screen of Death Saturday morning. (For you non-computer-people out there, the Blue Screen of Death is Windows’ way of giving you the finger right before your computer gives up the ghost.) I had worked extra hard Monday through Friday so that Saturday could be a fun day, but it quickly became evident that, that scenario would have to wait for another day. This particular day would be spent first resuscitating this poor Dell workstation and then re-doing all the work I had done during the week so that our worship service could happen the next day as planned.
By the time that unpleasant and frustrating task was finished, I was ready to let off some steam. A good workout or run would do. Jessica suggested we go hiking instead. My ears perked up. That would be perfect!
We headed out to the city park with our trusty sidekick, Marley. I expected to find the simple trail I had hiked many times as a child. To my surprise, though, the park no longer hosted just this single trail that made a simple loop. The government had added three or four new trails of varying degrees of difficulty. The excitement grew! A challenge was just what I needed.
We chose the steepest one we could find — the blue path! I started with gusto, running uphill at a good pace. Jessica lagged behind, but I told her that this was our P90X for the evening and that she should take it to the extreme! When we finally made it to the peak, she said that we should turn around and go back, but I was still in explorer mode. Computer problems seemed so far away up there. I felt like a real man, bravely leading my family off into uncharted territory!
We pressed on, heading downhill. But soon the trail ended. Simply ended. We had two choices — turn around or pick one of the other trails that intersected with our blue path. Still in an adventurous mode, I chose another trail, and we set off. That same scenario happened four or five more times, and before long we had no idea how we would backtrack even if we had wanted to do so.
We were truly lost. But it was OK. This was the city park, after all. How badly could we be lost? I pulled out my iPhone, but it was unable to triangulate our location very well. It just showed our location as a big circle in the middle of a forest. Very helpful.
Before long, it became painfully evident that it was getting dark. Not wanting to alarm Jessica, I just picked up the pace. I ran to the end of each trail, hoping that just around the corner would be a familiar landmark. Nope. Just more choices to be made. Another four or five times, we picked a random trail and hoped for the best. Several times, we heard wind rustling the trees or a plane flying by or the, mistaking these sounds for traffic on a nearby road. Our hopes were dashed each time, as we realized just how far away we were from the real world. Only eerie silence and the sound of our own steps.
Soon, it was hard to see where we were going. Once dusk falls in the forest, it falls hard. Still walking very briskly, I pulled out my phone once again and tried to place a call this time. No one answered. I tried another number. Jessica asked what I was doing. “Calling Mom,” I whimpered. I finally got her on the phone and shared our situation.
“We’re lost in the woods, and it’s getting dark,” I told Mom.
Her response? “What do you want me to do about it?”
Good question. I replied, “I don’t know. I just though you should know.”
Mom’s advice was to call 911, so that’s what I did. I was hoping they could triangulate our location via my phone’s GPS and place us on a map. Then, they could lead us out. It would be as if they were in a helicopter overhead, shouting down directions for how we could get out of the giant tree maze. Maybe that was expecting too much of my county’s 911 system. I’ll never know because about two minutes into my emergency call, our path started to widen. We saw the parking lot’s light through the trees and heard the sweet sound of rap music coming from some guy’s car stereo.
With only a few minutes of daylight remaining, our path finally intersected with a gravel trail, which led us back to our car. I thanked the nice 911 lady, apologized for wasting her time, and hung up.
Suddenly, I felt so foolish. In reality, I had been just a few more steps away from the parking lot. If I had been able to see myself from a helicopter, I would have never called 911. There would have been no fear of the unknown because nothing is unknown from up there. The path would have been clear. But from a hiker’s point of view, we had no idea which direction we were headed. We could have been going in circles on different trails through the woods. We could have been walking farther and father away from the park, never circling back. Or, we could have looped back and walked so far that we had passed our original starting point on another trail. There was no telling where we were because we didn’t even have a map.
We were so lost that, even at the very end of our adventure, only a few more steps from safety, I considered turning back. What a terrible decision that would have been — trading two minutes of easy walking to the trail’s end for for two hours of crawling up steep hills in the dark. If someone had been able to see us from a helicopter, they would have shouted down, “Just keep going! You’ve almost made it. You’re almost there!” But, without that perspective, we could have been five miles away, for all we knew.
If we had only brought along some basic supplies, this would have been a different story. A map and compass could have kept us from going in circles. A flashlight could have crushed darkness’ chokehold on our emotions. Even without someone yelling down to us from a helicopter, we could have known that we were almost back to safety.
All this got me thinking: Most of us are lost in the woods on life’s journey. Right now, you and I may be just two minutes from our paths intersecting with greatness. But, not knowing that, we let our fear of the unknown prevent us from taking those last few steps forward. There’s no helicopter shouting down to us, so we better remember to pack our maps for the journey. What’s the map?
In Psalm 119:105, we read that the psalmist says God’s Word is a “lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” Although Scripture won’t directly tell us which job to take or who to marry, it can guide our decision-making. If we say, with the psalmist, that we will not depart from the law (Psalm 119:102), that makes our choices a lot easier. And even if it feels like dusk is falling, God will still light our paths so that we can take the next baby step without fear of falling.
I know I’ll never go on another hike again without a map. And that was the last time I will ever step into the woods without a flashlight! Lessons learned. I just hope to remember the lesson in the rest of my life too. Step out with me in faith… one step at a time.