We're all in the Wilderness
I couldn’t see the end; the only way was through. I didn’t have to go that way. The way of fighting the ache in my calves as secondary succession had its way, leaving a scattering of small scrapes as brambles pressed into my skin. Sweat trails ran their race down the ravine of my spine, refreshing at first until the coolness of dusk replaced sighs of relief with chills.
You get the picture, I went camping this Labor Day weekend in the Monongahela National Forest.
If you’ve ever watched an episode of Running Wild with Bear Grylls or Survivor my dramatic perspective would say this weekend resembled one of those escapades. We woke up at dawn and shivered in the early morning mist as our propane stove prepared subpar coffee and we packed our bags. Everywhere you look at Dolly Sods Wilderness could be a postcard: endless seas of pines, glistening creeks, outcroppings, and golden annual lupines filled my field of vision. But getting lost is a mental sport.
We started out with spirits as high as the elevation, surefooted. As the day ambled on the minimal trail markings became increasingly scarce and mud started to engulf our feet. In a place with no service, we relied on a compass, a faulty pre-saved Google Maps of the area, and the sun.
We couldn’t let it set.
As the extra miles we didn’t plan on hiking ticked on it was hard to stay smiling, even though I knew my survival teacher from high school said a positive attitude was as important as water in times of duress. The sun started to dip when we reached another part of the hallmark red stream that loops through the wilderness. Fortunately, we came across a couple who had backpacked to camp in an especially secluded section of the forest that recommended a faster way to head east towards Bear Rocks and our campsite, a trail Google Maps never hinted to.
We bounded through the fields with renewed energy thinking of the campfire and the burning sunset that awaited us soon, I mean it had to be past the tree line. Right? But the trail that promised us a quick return winded farther west and away. So we went off trail, blindly pushing through lichens and twisted rhododendrons until moving became impossible, then we crawled. I was close to tears at the end until our destination finally materialized and those frustrated drops morphed into tears of joy.
Why describe our half-marathon trek through untouched West Virginia? It reminded me of some perspectives on life I've filled my metaphorical toolbox with that have kept me strapped in, even when it feels like turbulence will set me loose in the fuselage.
Never forget to drink in what’s beautiful around you. If I kept my gaze down on my weary legs and the dangerously close to empty water bottle in my pack I’d lose the motivation to keep seeking the place I needed to be, even if getting there required immense endurance.
Embrace the bitterness of wrong directions and lost plans, you may find your new route offered answers to questions you never knew you wanted to ask. Forks in the road are daunting but give us time to consider what it will take to continue on a certain path.
Yet, there’s the sweetest part: Friendships that can give almost any cloud a silver lining. It seemed the whole time we all knew separate but integral pieces to the puzzle. One eagle scout with a compass, a guy eager to use his flint, and an avid reader who knew a thing or two about plants.
I’d be lying to say having my head hit my memory foam pillow whilst nestled under my comforter wasn’t a reunion that elicited real joy, but I could never write a story about that moment. Not one that could speak insight into this wilderness of life we explore every day. Not one that reminded you that what inconveniences and stretches us brings the most breathtaking views.