- Ray Bradbury
"We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen."
A couple of weeks ago, I started out on what was meant to be a very reasonable ten mile trail run in the North Carolina mountains with five other running friends. There were a few factors I didn't take into consideration. First, our event organizer, an Army veteran, had a reputation for memorable "adventure runs". Secondly, the area where we would run is called a "wilderness' which turned out to mean that there would be no easy means of rescue or escape. Thirdly, we should have realized that when a trail reviewer labels a trail extremely difficult and "double black diamond", they mean it. Lastly, I should never forget poet Robert Burns's warning, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. Alas, I did not take a single one of these things into consideration. We set off on our trail run in high spirits.
Three hours and seven arduous miles later, we found ourselves at a water crossing facing a deep, swollen, surging, tumbling stream. It had rained steadily for several days prior to our trip. There had once been a bridge to allow for safe passage. A few pilings were all that remained of the bridge. The rest had been washed somewhere downstream by the rushing waters surging through the channel between two rocks. This 20 foot wide space between these two boulders was the narrowest area and impossible to cross due to the intense current. We stood surveying the scene with several other hikers.
At this point, we learned that our leader was aware of the bridge washout but a picture on an online trail guide showed a hiker easing across thigh deep water with his backpack held high and dry overhead. He did not account for the two straight days of rain which had caused the river to swell and rise several feet higher than normal. The water was well above our heads and the current was forceful. What might have been gentle rapids between boulders had become an impressive small waterfall. It was also icy cold.
We only had two choices. We could turn back and retrace our steps, traversing the familiar terrain we already hiked to return in three hours. The other option was to swim across the stream and hike thirteen more miles to complete the loop. Did I mention we had only brought food and water for a much shorter hike? As we were discussing with other hikers, we learned that one of them had already made it across from the other side. She told us that she had swum across the widest area of the stream, smimming diagonally against the current 40 feet upstream from where the bridge had once stood.
I eyed her closely, and determined if she could do it, so could I. I am not a strong swimmer. Heck, I even have difficulty getting from one side of the swimming pool to the other, but I do have a fierce survival instinct. It was clear which decision would be safer and less difficult, but that didn't faze us. Without hesititation, all 6 of us chose to go forward. I should mention that we are all experienced trail runners with at least one 50k trail run under our belts, and our leader did have a water filter.
Minutes later, after throwing my shoes across to the other side of the stream, I balanced on the edge of a rock in bare feet, took several deep breaths, pushed off into the stream, and started kicking my feet and paddling my arms with all my might. Not only did I have the aforementioned survival insticnt, I was also motivated by my strong desire to avoid becoming a viral YouTube sensation by drowning in a raging river while my buddies stood by filming. Once I jumped in I was seized with the conviction that I would certainly make it to the other side. I felt strong and determined. The current was not as forceful nor was the water as cold as I had imagined. I easily made it to the other side, as did all of the others, to continue our long hike.
Let me tell you, the swim across the stream was the moment I remember most of the ten hour hike. The memory will stick with me, because I faced my fear and overcame it. To just jump into the water would have been foolhardy. To evaluate and proceed is courageous. As with most experiences, there are lesson learned here that can be applied to other areas of my life. When faced with a new challenge, you can either take the safe way and return to your usual way of doing things - the well worn out trails, or you can forge ahead into the unknown. Jump in the water, take a risk, and savor the rewards of pushing outside your comfort zone. Here are a few things to consider before taking the plunge...
Life is about courageously moving forward in the direction of our dreams. Jump!