In the two previous installments of this story I shared about two lessons I learned from being lost in the wilderness with four of my weird and beloved friends. Part 1: “Pride comes before a fall” and Part 2: “Don’t ignore warning signs.”
Finally I get to tell you about the swamps, moose, a remote cabin, a lost sole, and our rescue along with the final lessons I learned.
Once I realized we were nowhere near the route we had intended to take, I gathered my friends together for a serious talk and confessed, “I am lost.”
“There are two things I know.” I said.
“First, I know we are in the mountains.” This caught no one by surprise because majestic peaks surrounded us and there was hardly a molecule of oxygen anywhere.
“The second thing I know is that when one (or five) is lost in the mountains the best plan of action is to find a stream and follow it downhill until you come to civilization.”
I made this decision based on survival training I had taken years before. If I had applied some of that training at the beginning of our adventure we would not have been lost.
I now know a third thing. If you follow a stream in the mountains you are going to get wet. Half of the 12 miles we hiked we spent slogging through highland swamps where water had settled on its way to the stream we were following.
As we trudged along there was a flapping sound that I could not identify. We soon discovered that it was John Branyan’s shoe.
The sole of John’s “stylish” shoe had come loose all the way from the toe to the heel. Every time he took a step his foot looked like a talking duck. Fortunately we had ventriloquist, David Pendleton, with us who gave voice to the flapping lips of the shoe.
In spite of the moments of humor, it was exhausting and demoralizing to continually sink to your shins in the endless mire.
Then a sudden ray of light. I was in the lead and as I came to a small clearing I stopped abruptly. There, standing at the end of the clearing were two monstrous moose. With a raspy whisper and wild gestures, I beckoned to the guys behind me to hurry.
New energy coursed through their soggy legs as they rushed to where I was standing.
“Look,” I said. “Mooses!”
They stood in disbelief for just a moment. Then the “meese” decided to distance themselves from this pathetic little party of jokers. At that moment my friends turned on me and made a proclamation. Tim Hawkins spoke for the group.
“Don’t you ever call us again with excitement in your voice. Don’t ever tell us to hurry to where you are standing unless you see houses, a road, or people who belong to the human race.”
With his face just inches from mine, eyes wide with intent, he continued…
“We don’t care about moose. We want food, shelter and dry clothing!”
As darkness began to fall, the five of us stopped to pray. It wasn’t a panic prayer. We gave thanks to God for our friendship and asked for his guidance and protection as we continued down the mountain. We asked him to teach us from this experience and tighten the bonds of our friendship.
We continued following the stream down the mountain for several more hours. Then gradually we began to see signs of humanity; abandoned mines, an old cabin, a circle of stones where a campfire had once burned, and finally a road. I also saw three deer, but to avoid getting beaten senseless by four comics, I kept silent until I spotted the road.
Eventually the road led to houses with people in them. Two of those people agreed to give us a ride even knowing that one of us had lost his sole. We were safe.
Back at home, Diane was looking up the number for Search and Rescue when I was finally able to call and tell her we were safe and on the way home.
I love these friends. We had survived. But in the following days we almost died from the laughter that rolled through our house. We talked at length about the lessons we had learned. Every one of my friends assured me that they would gladly trust me to take them on another adventure.
The final lesson I learned is this:
It is not a negative thing to be prepared for the worst as you aim for the best.
With the exception of Tim Hawkins, none of us had rain gear. Each of us should have had emergency rain gear with us. Preferably not pink.
If the threatening storms had dumped rain on us we would have been in serious trouble.
Diane had insisted we take jackets or we might not have had that important layer of clothing in the cool evening air. If we had been caught in the wilderness overnight those jackets might have saved our lives.
We did not bring flashlights of any kind. This is another critical item needed if you are caught in the dark.
This lack of planning goes back to the lesson I learned in part one of this story: “Pride comes before a fall.” I was so proud of my wilderness expertise that I didn’t think we would ever get lost or need these emergency supplies.
The simple truth is this: Bad things can happen that are completely out of your control. A sudden storm, an injury, or a wrong turn at the pass can change a casual hike into a serious event. Life doesn’t always go as you plan so plan for the things that can go wrong. The army slogan has it right. BE PREPARED.
Oh wait. There is one more thing I learned.
If you’re going to get lost in the wilderness, do it with friends like these.