This kind of reminded me of her first experience with mountains, about half a decade ago, when she gave her old man a bit of a scare. The column from that event follows, a blast from the past. See more columns here.
Straying from the beaten path
Originally published Aug. 14, 2008
It isn't every day someone calls you on the phone to let you know your 13-year-old daughter has been lost on the side of a mountain in Wyoming for the last three hours, so her mother and I weren't quite sure how to react.
You can prepare for a lot of things as parents. You can envision how you’ll react should your child come home with a bad report card, or if you find out she’s been drinking at a beer party. Sadly, you even prepare for horrible things like illnesses, car accidents, drug abuse or unexpected pregnancies. You pray they’ll never happen. You hope you've taught your child to avoid them. But they still flutter through your mind like a rabid bat in the night, and you very quickly envision how you would handle the situation as a parent. Then you just-as-quickly chase those thoughts away.
But lost on the side of the mountain for three hours?
We didn’t see that one coming.
Last week, my daughter and a bunch of her friends went on a church youth trip to Wyoming. They took a bus ride out there for a week of fun and games in the wilderness — or about as close to a wilderness as you can get in the continental United States in the 21st Century.
They slept under the stars, they rode horses, they went rafting or tubing — or something like that — on a river. They got all kinds of high-quality fresh air and exercise.
They also went hiking. Up the side of a mountain.
It’s only about an hour walk, I’m told, to the top of the mountain. A group of them were supposed to hike to the top, then hike back down. There is a beaten path for them to easily navigate. So I’ve been told. There were adults hiking up and down the mountain with them, I've also been told.
But something happened. Something usually does.
My daughter and two of her friends made it to the top, and supposedly, were in a hurry to get back down to the bottom. They went out ahead of the rest of the group on the path.
The alleged path has a lot of zigs and a lot of zags. At some point, the three of them decided to take what was ironically referred to as a “short cut” down the mountain. I’m not sure if that amounted to an extra zig or an extra zag, but it really doesn't matter.
They were lost for an hour before anyone realized they were even missing. That’s the way things work when you get turned around and mixed up in the wilderness.
Once they were officially missing, there were a few very difficult hours for my lost daughter, her two lost friends, all the friends who were worried about them and all the adults who were concerned about how they were going to explain losing my daughter to my wife and me.
But there is one thing that’s unique about the 21st-century wilderness — different from all previous wildernesses. Unlike their ancestors, kids who get lost in the 21st-century wilderness often times have cell phones. And often times, these cell phones work, even when you’re on the side of a mountain.
The three kids were smart enough to climb back up — far enough to get some phone reception — and call 911. Their phone had just enough juice to allow them to have a conversation with a park ranger before it went dead. The park ranger directed them to find a stream and follow the stream down the mountain. They were assured that the stream would either lead them to a campsite — where there would be people to help them — or back to the path.
They did as they were instructed and found the path. They made it down the mountain. There was much relief and much rejoicing.
It wasn't until later that her mother and I got the call — after everything was said and done. While we had been going on with our daily lives, our daughter and two of her friends had been desperately lost on a mountain. We didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so we laughed. There will be plenty of opportunities to cry later, we both figured.
When we asked our daughter what she had learned from the experience, she said, “Never go off the path.” Everyone seemed to agree with her answer.
But that answer made me feel a little sad, because I’m sorry if that’s really the lesson my daughter learned.
You see, I don’t want my little girl to just follow the beaten path. I want her to blaze her own trail. I want her to see sights that no one’s seen and hear sounds that no one’s heard.
Sometimes that means going off the path. Sometimes that means zigging when you’re supposed to zag.
Sometimes, that means you get lost for a while.
I would hate it if my little girl spent the rest of her life blindly following the beaten path just because she’s afraid she’ll become lost.
Because it’s OK to occasionally get lost. It’s the only way to get found.