A Trail to Nowhere

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The Wife and I are taking the Girly Girls on a three-day vacation to visit Rock City and the Tennessee Aquarium.

Equipped with GPS in our car and cell phones with Google Earth, we enter the address of the hotel. Instantly displayed on the screens even before we leave our driveway are both the quickest and shortest way to get there, locations of rest stops, places to eat, and gas stations along our chosen route.

As I place the car into drive, I realize that as an adult with all this new technology, it’s almost impossible to get lost. The key word in that last sentence is “almost.”

Last week, Yours Truly found himself walking down a trail I’d never walked before – a trail meandering through Old Growth Forest so thick it forbade any cell phone signal to disturb its tranquility. Either side of the trail was untouched in support of wetlands full of owls, deer, wild turkeys, and creepy crawlies of every sort.

I got totally lost for over an hour. But this hasn’t been the first trail I’ve been lost on. A long, long time ago on that old familiar street not so far away called Flamingo, I got lost on a trail … a trail to nowhere.

A woodsman our dad wasn’t, but we thought he still gave some good advice about playing in the woods. First, don’t turn over any rocks. You just don’t know what’ll crawl or slither out from underneath. And, if something does, it more than likely won’t be too happy about being disturbed.

Dad was right. Anytime we turned over rocks, a snake, scorpion, centipede, or family of yellow jackets came out, and trust me, none of them were happy.

Second, don’t eat berries unless you’re sure they’re blackberries or blueberries. We watched Twin Brother Mark break out in hives because he ate what he thought was a blueberry. Older Brother Richard ate a plum but turned out to be an unripe persimmon. When he couldn’t talk because his mouth stayed puckered for an hour, we all laughed. Dad was right again.

And third, Dad told us if we ever got lost in the woods, just follow a creek and you’ll find your way out. Our dad was wrong about this, and I should know. Following Cripple Creek, I almost got lost forever!

On the afternoon that I got lost, my three brothers and I were playing in the woods behind our house. The game was for each of us to choose a trail through the woods ending at Mr. Drake’s 7/11 store. The loser had to buy Cokes.

We had taken different trails snaking through the thick woods flanking either side of Cripple Creek. My brothers said it took about an hour for each of them to reach the store. When I didn’t show up for ten minutes after they had, they started to worry. After half an hour they called Mom and Dad who then called the police.

The search took almost an hour. Luckily, just before sunset, they finally found me two miles down an overgrown path far away from Cripple Creek. The police said that it was an old trail, and it went nowhere.

Dad was right when he said follow the creek if you got lost, and I had. But what he didn’t tell us was what to do if you got chased by a bunch of angry bees when you turned over a rock and then got lost in the woods, couldn’t find your way back to the creek you were following, and it started to get dark.

Not gonna say that I was on the ground curled up in a ball crying when they found me. My face was just really wet from sweating. At least that’s the story I’m sticking to.

Last week after an hour walking on the new trail in our neighborhood, my face was also wet. It wasn’t from crying because I was lost or from sweating in the cool spring morning. The wetness on my face came from a brief shower, but I didn’t care.

Continuing my walk along the raised boardwalks, I watched as the four small creeks merged into one: soon overflowing and spilling into the surrounding wetlands – wetlands very similar to a creek from my childhood.

Thinking back and remembering how completely lost I had felt, a cold shiver when through my body. After I was finally found, I’d promised myself to do anything and everything to keep from getting lost in the woods ever again. That was then; this is now.

How long I stood watching the water rising under the raised boardwalk and spreading out on top of the wetlands, I really don’t know. I had gotten lost in the woods and lost in my thoughts, and unlike when I was a child, I wanted to stay lost.

Unfortunately, pulling me out of the tranquility on that new multi-use walking trail was the hum of a passing golf cart. The rain intensified so I turned around and started the trip back home. Like that trail down by Cripple Creek that goes to nowhere, I don’t really know where our new multi-use trail ends. I’ll save that walk for another day … when I want to escape this world and get lost in the woods once again.

So, what happened when we set off on our trip to Chattanooga with the granddaughters? With all the technology at our disposal, did we get lost or worse? Well, Dear Reader, for that story you’ll just have to wait until next week. I would say it’s unbelievable, but it all happened. And, unfortunately, it all happened to us.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001.]