If you recall when the adventure last came to a close I was desperately trying to find a location where I could get cell phone service. Concerned people were waiting for word from us. It was imperative to get a message to my daughter to let her know that we were ok – maybe a little rattled from our overnight stay in the wilderness but not seriously injured.
It’s at this point that I need to give you a little backdrop to this story. There has always been a rule in our house that if you aren’t coming home or if you are supposed to be at one place and decide to leave to go someplace else…you text or call. You let someone know where you are just in case something happens. I’m sad to report that the rule hasn’t always been followed with exact precision at our house. The rule is in place but sometimes rules are broken and if so, the appropriate consequences were handed down. Never, ever, disregard the fact that your children will remember the lessons you teach them. My daughter knows how serious I am about “checking in” which is another reason that I am really, really concerned with getting a message to her. I’m afraid of what the repercussions may be for me not “checking in”. She also knows that I have an odd sense of humor. Honestly, I don’t think she puts anything past me. So for this reason, I want to make sure that she knows, without a doubt, that this is not a joke and that we weren’t pulling some twisted Halloween prank on her…not that I would ever, ever in a million years do something that thoughtless. I just don’t know where her mentality is at this moment so I want to make sure she understands that this situation is for real.
Keeping that in mind, I text:
This is not payback for you not checking in. We got into some serious crap up here. We are ok and I will call as soon as I get signal. We will be home shortly. Love you.
This is what she reads:
This is payback for you not checking in.
From what she tells me, she never got past this first sentence. Her mind explodes in total blackness with paralyzing angry freak-outs coupled with an almost uncontrollable urge to get her hands around my throat but we’ll get back to that situation later – right now, I need to get this text out.
I’m standing there staring at the words I’ve typed on my phone, praying that my one, simple, single text of assurance takes flight to her. I’m waiting…still waiting…waiting…come on! Go-Go-Go!…waiting…waiting…FINALLY – message sent! YES!!!! Now at least she’ll know we are ok and I can quit panicking because I’m worried that everybody else is panicking.
So off we go, we are on the last leg of our little journey. My mind has eased because I know we are going to be back to civilization very shortly, I have gotten word to my family that we are ok so suddenly my troubles seem a little less troublesome. The pathway that we’ve been walking finally opens up and becomes even wider, more distinguishable and easier to follow. It’s become more of a wooded dirt road rather than an unkempt wilderness trail. I can almost smell home. These were all reasons to put pep in my step and a smile on my face. I’m feeling happy and confident even though physically I still feel like I slept under a rock in the local landfill last night. Our morning walk feels like a straight uphill climb even though there’s only a very slight incline to the trail. I feel like I’m pulling a big load of wet laundry behind me while wearing iron shackles. I’m hungry. We haven’t eaten in over twenty-four hours. Water has been non-existent except for the few slurps that we stole out of the creek as we crossed over. I’m still wondering if some bacteria induced, feverish, chill-laden poop-fest is going to hit me over the next couple of days from drinking untreated water out of a wilderness stream. It’d be just like Mother Nature to hit me when I’m down.
I am so tired but I keep going – prodded along by the knowledge that we are just a short distance from some wonderful creature comforts…transportation, food, water, a hot shower, a bed…home. We are slowly trudging our way along when off to the left I spot it – one of the reasons we came on this disastrous adventure to begin with – the old Johnson family cemetery. I could have fallen down and kissed the ground at that very moment. I was so happy to see that cemetery because from my recollection of the the trail map I know that the cemetery is only about a mile or so from the parking lot…just a little bit further and we are home-free!
We have our sights set on returning to the parking lot as we make our way up the trail. Slowly we are passing the old cemetery’s entrance on our left. I keep glancing at it and with each step I can see the cemetery fading behind me but I can’t help peeping back for a look at it. The entrance was quite near the trail and I could see the tombstones as we were walking by. I was mesmerized by the old cemetery and could hardly walk for peering off to see what I could see in the distance of this foggy, damp morning. I could hear them calling me- the tombstones – the symbols of times gone by – they wanted just a moment of my time. They needed to show me something. They needed me to know that they represented those souls that had lived long ago. The ones that had forged our history. They wanted me to pause just a moment in remembrance. The spirits of yesteryear beckoned me to stop and ponder the lives they had lived, to speculate on the stories that had been born out of them and to give homage to the footprints their lives had left on our local history. I wanted to go home – badly – probably more so than any other time in my life but I was compelled. I turned to Russell and said, “I have to go back. I want to take just a minute to go to the cemetery and see the graves. I won’t be but a minute. I promise” He looked at me like I had lost my mind but gave a wilted, “Ok. Girlfriend and I will stay here.”
I turn around and walk the several feet back to my destination. A quiet calm envelops me as I enter the old cemetery. The ground is covered with iridescent white sand strewn with colorful fallen leaves casting the cemetery in a well-manicured albeit ghostly appearance. A layer of fine, gray mist hovers over the worn, weather beaten tombstones. Faded. silk flowers wearied by time intermittently dot the sparse, uniformly spaced graves – a rose here – a carnation there. Most of the sites are marked with rough, hand-hewn rocks containing no inscriptions. A few of the battered headstones contain simple scrawlings of a name and date as the only reminder of the life that came to rest here. The misty morning’s fog is glowing in an other-worldly fashion lending to the atmosphere of this sacred haven for souls long since departed. I gaze upon the darkened and aged, century year old tombstones with wonder. I’ve come here to mingle amongst them if only momentarily. The essence of the lives they represent swirls about me softly. Most would have missed the gentle quietness of the exchange but this is exactly was why I was here. The silent and sacred aura of this place affords me a few second’s solitary congregation with the legacies of those who passed so long ago.
I was so eager to return to home, and also so exhausted from the past night’s misadventures, that I failed to take even one picture of this peaceful, silent spirit garden even though my trusty camera was safely tucked away in my back pocket. One day I will return to the cemetery and visit once again with the shadows of days gone by. Maybe, if luck will have it, I will be able capture the true essence and specialness of that place and share a bit of its story with the world.
But for now….I’m starving and I feel like I’ve gone a couple of rounds with Muhammad Ali. All I want is food, a hot shower and a very, very long nap!
I rejoin Russell on the trail. We’ve caught a second wind and move at a good pace now. Yesterday’s picnic lunch is calling to me from the parking lot. It beckons me to quicken my steps with promises of lukewarm water left floating in the watery remnants of ice cubes that had long since melted. Bread, chips, cookies, crackers, bananas and other goodies that have been curing overnight in the well-used picnic basket await me. I’m thinking I sure could use a ham sandwich and an oatmeal cookie right about now. Envisioning what I’m about to stuff my face with takes my mind off the walk. I’m wandering along with daydreams of string cheese and trail mix…wait…no! Not TRAIL mix! Ummm…make that mixed nuts…yeah that’s better…no more trails for me right now! And before I know it…there is it….my beautiful, black four wheel drive truck staring at me from the space where it had held a long night’s vigil awaiting my much anticipated return. My truck, oh how I love my truck and the treasures it holds within!
About that time…my phone rings…it’s my daughter…I answer hurriedly. I want her to hear my voice and to know that I’m ok but I want it to be a quick conversation…there are visions of Cheez-its and Reese’s Cups dancing in my head. As I shakily hit the “accept call” button on my phone I hear what sounds to be a wild banshee crying out in anguish over a beloved’s tragic death. The shrill, deafening, blood-curdling voice on the other end screeches “WHERRRRRRE ARRRE YOOUUUUU!!!!” (A little flashback here… do remember the misread text? This is not/is payback?) Yep…here comes my payback. I say “WAIT! WAIT A MINUTE!! We are OK!! Quit yelling!” I don’t think she heard me because over my own words (still in a shrill, blood-curdling squawk) I hear “WHAAAAT DOOO YOOOUU MEEEEAN THIS IS PAAAAYBACK? DOOO YOOOOU KNOW HOW………” Once again, I give it the old college try “WAIT!! WAIT!! WAIT!!!!! I DID NOT SAY THIS IS PAYBACK! I SAID IT IS NOT PAYBACK! We really got into some serious stuff up here. This is not a joke. We lost our trail. It’s been bad. It was cold and raining and we spent the night in the woods but we are ok and we’ll be home in just a little bit.” I hear the rushing sound of deflating worry come across the line and then, “Are you sure you’re ok? What happened? I’ve been worried sick about you. I was up crying all night. We’ve called everybody. We called Aunt Eva, Uncle David, Uncle Dano, Jason, Angie & April & Wesley and your work. Uncle Ron and Aunt Chuckie are here with me. Uncle Ron called both county sheriff’s departments and the forest ranger’s station. They’re out looking for you and Aunt Chuckie called Uncle Jimmy.” Wonderful…Jimmy…the one call I wanted to avoid now it’s really time to start worrying. Jimmy is probably on his way up here, along with three or four other family members which means we are going to have to explain ourselves for giving them reason to come rushing to our aide – inadvertently it seems and all because we couldn’t find our way out of a wet paper bag. I immediately say “Well, call everybody back and tell them that we are ok. Call off the sheriffs and the rangers. And whatever you do, make sure you call Jimmy and let him know. I don’t want him to head up this way when we are fine. I hope he hasn’t left yet. We’ll be home in a little bit. We are sore, tired and hungry but we are ok. We just need a hot shower and some sleep. I’ll talk to you soon. I love you.”
After getting her assurance that she would call off the blood hounds, I once again set my sights on pimento cheese sandwiches and Rice Krispy Treats.
We rush to the truck and throw open the cooler. I grabbed a bottle of water and chug it, then I proceed to make a ham sandwich. Just mustard – I’m much too tired and hungry to put effort into making a real sandwich complete with all the trimmings. That simple ham sandwich and plain water was a meal that I will always remember. At that moment, to me, it tasted as good as a five-star restaurant meal prepared by an executive chef.
Russell and Girlfriend eagerly partook of the picnic bounty right along beside me. All three of us, standing in the parking lot, woofing down day old sandwiches, bottled water and snack cakes. It was still cold. All three of us were covered with mud, scrapes, bumps and bruises. We were still exhausted and hurting but it didn’t matter. We were out of the woods…literally. It was a good day.
After we had eaten enough to recover our energy, we gingerly poured ourselves and Girlfriend into the truck and set about the drive home. As we drove along, mile slowly passing mile, we hashed over our harrowing experience and the fact that we truly were lucky to have found that last trail just when we did. About this time we happen upon a Jack’s Restaurant and all of a sudden that ham sandwich just didn’t seem so stellar. A pork chop biscuit – that was the cure for what was ailing us at the moment. So we take our place in the drive-thru line and order two pork chop biscuits a piece plus, one for Girlfriend. A pork chop biscuit seemed too lowly of a reward for all that we had put her through but at the moment it was all we had to offer.
Finally we arrive home where we extract our mud-covered, battered and sore bodies from the truck, vie each other for bathroom use, a hot shower and then slip into some sinfully grand-feeling clean clothes.
At last our dreams are realized…hot showers, a warm soft bed and a heart full of gratefulness that we came out of our misadventures with a little wear and tear but basically unscathed.
We slept the afternoon away and when we awoke, we started talking about all that had happened on our misadventures and making tentative plans for the next hike.
We did take that next hike only three short weeks later and when we left for our hike that day, we made sure that several people knew what area we would be in, the exact trail we would be on, we had an emergency kit in a backpack and we chose a much shorter and more traveled trail for our adventure.
I don’t how a dog’s memory works, how much they remember or how long grudges stick with them but this I can tell you, it took a LOT of work to get Girlfriend in the truck for that next hike. As we left the house, she bounded happily out to the truck only to tuck her tail, run a few feet away and lay in the yard with her head down, staring at us in distrust. There was a lot of coaxing to be done and many rewards given before we could convince her to get in the truck but eventually we won her over and as it has turned out, she is once again fond of going on adventures.
I am not deterred from hiking but Mother Nature taught me a valuable lesson on the long and winding Trails of Misadventure. If you want to play with her, be prepared to play the game right – have your gear in order, have a well thought out defense in case you find yourself down at the final quarter and make sure that you have notified your team members of the entire game plan. In the end, it could mean the difference between winning the game or losing the game.
Do you want to know a secret? I’m really (and I mean really, really) grateful that I won this round and survived to tell this story.
I hope you have enjoyed the story of The Trails of Misadventure. Thanks for joining us on our journey. My hope is always that our adventures will continue…