this assignment was to tell of a time my life was in danger. while there were a few times (almost drowning in a pool, almost choking myself with looped string) when i was young, i don’t remember any of them. i didn’t actually come close to dying in this misadventure– but in the moment, anything seemed possible.
My courageous team and I valiantly struggled through the raging current, desperately holding on to our backpacks—and our lives. Okay, so the reality didn’t add up to quite that level of intensity, but it sure felt like it at the time. This was no treacherous Amazon expedition— just a camping trip we took near Yosemite last summer.
Our group, sixty people in all, had taken motor boats across a lake to reach a certain hiking trail. After the destination of the hike had been reached and the trek back begun, my friends Jon, Linnea, Matthew, Jonnie, and I decided that would have a go at walking in the river that ran alongside the trail. We only planned to traverse the river for a short period of time, so of course there was no need to tell our parents or anyone else. Besides, the trail could be seen from the river. What could possibly go wrong?
Thoroughly enjoying our little adventure, we talked, joked, and sang funny songs as good friends are apt to do. At some point, after about half an hour, someone suggested returning to dry land, since the riverbank up ahead looked too steep to climb.
We all agreed and sat by the edge of the river while Matthew climbed the bank to look through the brush for the quickest and easiest path to the main trail. When he came back, his voice was stressed with alarm.
“You guys… I can’t find it.”
“You can’t find the trail?!” Jon asked.
“No!” he responded urgently, “It’s not there! And I don’t hear any voices. We’re lost!”
Our little troop discussed our options: we could go deeper into the forest towards the general direction of where we thought the trail lay; but the brush grew too thick to walk through, and we really had no clue which direction to take or how far to go. That left one choice: keep walking in the river until it meets with the lake, and from there find the location of our boats and families.
The course of action decided upon, we actually remained in high spirits. I mean, how exciting is it to get lost when you’re not in real danger? This would be our best adventure yet!
Or so we thought.
After we’d continued on our watery road for a couple of hours and still had no sign of people or trail or lake, we began to actually worry. We knew that we had to be back at the boats at a certain hour, but with the progress we had made so far, there was no way we could get to the lake in time. After all, walking through water is a whole lot slower than walking on land; but any one of us would have gladly walked on land—if we could have. However, on both sides of the river, the bank was too high, the brush too thick, and the rocks too slippery. To make matters worse, the farther downstream we went the deeper and wider the river grew. For me, the shortest of my friends, this became a real problem. At certain parts I had to swim holding my backpack above my head, and—barely—holding my head above the water. Two or three times at these deep spots, I started to panic; my muscles ached with exhaustion and I feared I might not reach a shallow area before losing control. Thankfully, about the time that I had become genuinely stressed, the water went shallow again, the high riverbank fell away, and we could walk on dry land once more.
By the time we figured that we’d been off-roading for three hours—about two hours longer than it should have taken—our exhaustion forced us to rest for a while, and even consider spending the night by the riverside! Of course, that idea didn’t entirely sit well with us, so we pushed on. And then we saw it. The lake! We’d made it. To our relief, we found the rendezvous point not far from the mouth of the river. Even more wonderful: one of the boats had waited for us! Although, if we had taken merely ten minutes more, it would have left without us.
The bright side: we had a boat ride back across the lake as opposed to walking around it. The not-so-bright-side: those who had waited for us were not too happy about our unexplained disappearance. We felt pretty bad about our lack of foresight, and Jon and I kept repeating to each other, “We were such chumps!” Additionally, our broken, bruised bodies faced several days of recuperation. But the predominating fact of the matter was that our journey had ended; we could go back to camp, get clean, and eat dinner. We had survived. This time.