The cure for being very cold and scared in the woods is whiskey and a soaking pool.
Last week, I was snowshoeing with two girlfriends and after a series of small mishaps (broken gear, a couple of wrong turns, covered trails), we found ourselves lost right as it started to get dark. What started as an intended few-hour hike through Central Oregon’s beautiful snowy woods turned into a much longer experience that ended after multiple 911 calls and a snowmobile search-and-rescue.
This story clearly has a happy ending; I’m sitting in a coffee shop in downtown Portland, Oregon, writing this blog post. We are all safe and healthy. But the experience itself was a wake-up call, one of those pivotal Life Moments, the moments you look back on from the future and think, “Oh yeah, that was important.”
Like really important.
I’ve struggled to find the right way to tell this story. Do I tell it in its entirety? Do I write a chronological account of the time we stepped out on the trail to the time we made the first 911 call to the hours that we spent walking in circles to keep warm to the moment we saw the headlights from the snowmobiles? Do I write an emotional account that runs through fear and fortitude in an endless loop as I tried to keep my brain calm and worry at bay?
I’ve settled, for now, on telling this story in gratitude and in lessons learned, from the practical — don’t ever, ever, ever go out on a hike, on a river, into nature, without a level of awareness and preparedness for worst case scenarios — to the incredibly emotional and spiritual — just how far meditation, yoga, taking a deep breath every so often, and the process of physical activity can take you, and how all of that work isn’t just for day-to-day stress but can be life-saving in a crisis mode.
I am grateful for my trail companions and their incredible strength and resolution (honestly quite the microcosm of the many strong, graceful women in my every day life). I am grateful for the 911 dispatch team for staying incredibly patient with us as we grew more and more anxious in the woods in the dark, to the [volunteer] SAR team for their commitment to helping people, and to the people we later encountered at the nearby McMenamins (because the cure for being very cold and scared in the woods is whiskey and a soaking pool).
I learned that love, kindness, and compassion go so, so far, and that if you give people the chance, they will blow you away. That when people make mistakes (like not bringing the right kind of gear on a “short” hiking adventure), it goes so much further to love and teach and train than it does to roll your eyes and ridicule.
I came away from this experience with a new humility, a new resolution to do things, go places, and live in a state of truth that I had dimmed. The people-pleaser in me who worried more about what people thought than whether or not I was happy, she is now more concerned about getting the most out of every day, being true to herself, and seeing people through a lens of kindness and compassion (and a lot less concerned about trivial things).
There’s more to tell, really lovely (in retrospect and perspective) vignettes within this larger story that I believe are worth sharing, though perhaps in a different format or through a different medium. For now, I just wanted to acknowledge that this happened, to set this foundation for the way I write, live, and coach now and moving forward.
For now, I will commit to taking wilderness safety classes, I will commit to getting back onto Oregon’s trails with a lot more preparedness, and I will commit to showing more grace, compassion, and kindness to people I meet every day.