Feeling my usual sense of adventure and independence, I took off on a weekend backpacking trip. I had gone on many backpacking trips by myself with great ease and pleasure.
With the warm climate and short length of the trip, I packed light; just a tank top and shorts. A light sleeping bag and open net tent. For the first time, I wore hiking sandals instead of sneakers so I could be lighter and faster on my feet. Just enough food to make it through the weekend but lots of Gatorade as it was hot.
It was a short walk, maybe a mile or two to the creek where I would set up camp. Just a flat, straight and forested trail leading into the valley. Eager to get started with my long dayhike, I hung my backpacking pack from a tree and took my small backpack with all my emergency supplies, a good amount of water, and some snacks.
Slowly the forest opened up as I reached the hill. I had about a ten mile hike to make it around a loop to return to my campsite. The trail was to head straight up the hill, across the narrow top for about six miles, down the hill to the creek, and then follow the creek in a well forested trail back to my campsite.
As I made my way up the hill I realized it was going to be much hotter than I anticipated, probably around 110-120° F. The terrain shifted towards more desert-like plants; all low to the ground, dry, with their many pointed edges.
At the top of the hill I turned left for the six mile trek. Feeling the sun penetrating even harder I stopped to wipe the sweat off of my face and add another layer of sun block on my fair skin.
The trail narrowed and every once in a while I could feel a prick on my toes and the sides of my calves. Sometimes I noticed a little blood piercing out. I realized this may not have been the trail to try something new and hike with sandals.
The trail continued to narrow and I was brushing up against more desert-like plants. I was not worried about straying off trail as I was certain it went straight across the long mountain top and the top only spanned between 5-10 feet wide.
With a desire to finish what I had set out to do and not to backtrack where I knew there was brush, I convinced myself the trail would get better. I had not seen any other people. I knew it was not a well-trodden path and the further any trail gets from start, the less trodden it normally is. Yet I maintained hope.
After a few more miles and a few more scratches, I still thought, “Just a few more feet and it will get better.”
In this remote land, clear of any signs of human life, there was a blue tarp and thick yellow rope on the ground in a small clearing the perfect size for a small tent.
By this time I had hiked so far I knew the end of the mountain top was near. I encouraged myself that once I made it downhill again the path would widen along the creek as that trail was more well-trodden.
Finally the barely discernible trail started to head downhill. Soon, from what I could detect, it looked like the trail split into three. I chose the one furthest left thinking that would end up closest to the direction I needed to go. I followed it for as long as I could make it out. As the foliage grew thicker the trail seemed to end in the bushes.
I walked back up to the split and tried the middle trail. The same thing happened. And again with the trail on the right, I ended up in the bushes.
At this point I was faced with a big decision to make. It had taken me longer than expected to get that far because of the thick brush to wade through. No matter what, I would have to finish the trail in the dark if I wanted to make it back to my campsite.
If I bush wacked down the hill to the river, I speculated I could follow the river until I found the trail. I had a feeling that leg of the trail would be easier to walk on. However it was a big risk to take a new trail in the dark. Thus, even though possibly longer and harder, it seemed wiser to repeat what I had already done in the dark than try something new.
I realized I would need to ration my water in case I needed to spend the night on the hill. I poured rehydration salt in my water to make the most of it. I did not have enough food to spend the night but knew water was the most important thing. Then I tied ace bandages around my lower legs to protect them from the brush.
I started running so I could get further in daylight hours. Unfortunately the brush was too thick and ace bandage too rough. It kept getting caught on the shrubbery and slowing me down. I had to take the ace bandages off. I decided to sacrifice my legs to increase the probability of making it back to my campsite before dark.
Part of the survival plan was picking up the tarp and rope on the way just in case I needed to create a tent to sleep under.
As it got darker it was harder to find the trail. I was not too worried because, with such a narrow mountain top, if I ever went too far downhill I would know I was off of the trail. Once it was completely dark I switched to walking to make it easier to stay on the trail.
I had made some good progress but was not sure how much further I had to go. I started to sing as a defense mechanism to make it really clear to any animals that I was coming through. My theory is most animals, even ones that eat humans when really hungry, would rather avoid humans. The singing also kept me calmer and more joyful. I seemed to feel fairly calm inside and focused more on what needed to be done in the situation. I had all of the emergency supplies I needed. I figured it should not be a big deal if I had to sleep away from my campsite for the night.
Soon I noticed a little light ahead. As I got closer I noticed a tent and two people. My initial animal instinct was ready to be on the defensive in case I needed to protect myself.
As I got closer the human side of me returned realizing these people might be able to offer me some help and protection, or at least support. It was a young couple; all the safer.
And as I reached them, before I could even explain the situation and hardships I had been through that day, I burst out in tears. Somehow in the comfort and safety of this young couple I could let down my guard and release the fear I was hiding.
I was too ashamed to admit how hungry and thirsty I was. Even though I was drooling over their pasta, I only took a little of their water. Since it was a warm night they offered me one of their sleeping bags. Instead of making a tent with the tarp I decided to put it on the ground to keep the sleeping bag clean.
There I laid in the warm night not really needing the sleeping bag but glad for the comfort. I was very thankful to the couple for creating a safe haven for me to spend the night. I also was still completely agitated from the experience.
Unable to sleep, nor fully calm myself down, I wanted to seek the comfort of Michael, the guy I was dating. Despite a few attempts, he did not answer the phone. I was left on my own to soothe myself. And so I laid there all night feeling the intensity of the day and weakness in my body from lack of enough food and water. Everything was vibrating at a very intense level.
Early the next morning the young couple took down camp and was ready to hike down the hill. Knowing I was still very weak, it felt safer to trot along behind them and try to keep up. It turned out we had slept right by the turn off in the trail to go downhill. It was not far to reach my campsite.
My pack was still hanging there on the tree as I left it. Immediately I gave them one of my bottles of Gatorade to thank them for the water they offered me. After saying our goodbyes it only took me a few seconds to drink the next bottle of Gatorade.
I laid my legs into the creek to wash the dirt off my many wounds hoping nothing would become infected. My legs were a sad site to see. Swami Kriyananda made note once of me having extra will power and he was right. My will to finish the trail overcame the protection of my own body. At least I had the wisdom to take the safer route in the dark. I did not know what to make of that experience at the time.
Feeling absolutely finished with my adventure weekend in the woods, I put my pack on and walked back to my car.
At home I took a nice shower feeling the prickles of pain on all my open wounds. I finally caught Michael on the phone. He suggested I head over to his home and sit by his pool with him.
Michael’s father was on a lounge chair nearby not reacting to my presence as usual. Michael and I sat on the edge of the pool with our legs dangling in the water. He looked at my legs and in a loving and detached way suggested, “You should be more careful next time. Don’t do things that hurt you.”
That was kind of him but I also wished he would have been available to talk to the night before when I needed him most. His distance and aloofness pained me without realizing it. Maybe the marks on my legs signified the pain.
I kept my legs hidden the rest of the summer and slowly the marks went away. While my legs healed, a hidden pain inside lingered. Nothing I had done that weekend resolved anything for me inside except create more pain.
How many times do we keep traveling the same trail in pain thinking it will get better without attempting to change our approach?
Embarrassing to say, except for changing the name of the guy I was dating, this is a true story from about ten years ago. It keeps coming up in my mind lately so I thought to write it. I was left so mystified why I went through such an extreme experience.
As you can see from the photos, this was a beautiful place and looked innocent from a distance. We have heard the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Sometimes we find the inside does not look as good as the outside.
I continued to walk on an overgrown trail that only showed evidence of continuing in this manner. How many times do we end up in a situation that does not look good but somehow maintain hope it will change by itself? I have been in a couple situations lately that did not look good and I reminded myself of this story. I cannot expect anything to change if I carry on in the same way I have been.
I dreaded walking back to the start of the ridge trail because I knew for sure I would have to go through the pain of the brush. And the same has happened again, once in a commitment, breaking the commitment sometimes seems worse than the hope things will get better.
Because I got myself so deep into the pain, I had to go through even worse pain to get out. Instead of walking through the brush, I had to run through the brush and get even worse cuts while starting to feel dehydrated and tired from the sun. At least now I have this story to remember before getting too deep into the brush.
There was no easy way out. No matter what, I had to suffer to get out of the situation. We get ourselves in deep and we have the lessons made even more apparent. It was a little like God would not let up on me because he really wanted to make the lessons visible.
There is a theory that we manifest what happens in the world around us by what we feel inside. I think the external pains were trying to reveal the internal pains I was avoiding by backpacking in the wilderness by myself. Today I see the mirrors constantly around me and try to let them tell me their messages before too many disasters happen.
Swami Kriyananda mentioned my extra will power, I think, not just to compliment my gift, but also to tell me to be aware of when it can be a hindrance. I have had to learn that my will power is so strong it sticks to the original plan without noticing pain, nor messages to shift directions in the process. How freeing it has been to accept that commitment is not to what you set out to do initially but rather to tune into God's guidance in every moment.
Whatever I may have been seeking for on that mountain I now know comes from the comfort of God’s presence inside, which can happen anywhere.I still have that tarp and rope today. I often look for excuses to give them away but nobody ever accepts them. Maybe those will be my permanent gifts of protection from Divine Mother.
One day a forest fire burnt down most, if not all, of the region where I went backpacking. Never again would anyone have the same experience I did there.
There is even more I could share that I learned from this experience. I believe the biggest impact was to give me a story that leaves its permanent mark of what can happen when we are not aligned with the Divine. It would not have been a big deal to say, “This trail does not look like a good trail to walk on,” and then go home and face the demons I was trying to hide from.
Or what would have happened if I went the more challenging route all the way around the loop? Would I have broken through all of the challenges I was facing by following through with my commitment?
“O Infinite Power, I will use my will, but guide Thou my will in everything I do, that it reflect Thy will.”—A prayer from Affirmations for Self-Healing by Swami Kiryananda.