Off the Beaten Path


Recently while on vacation I decided to get some exercise by going on a hike at a nearby state park. I love to hike at home so I figured it would be a great way to get in some exercise while enjoying the local area. When I got to the park I asked the ranger if the trail was shaded. She confirmed that it was because the trail went straight into the forest and there were plenty of trees. She gave me a map and showed me exactly where the first trailhead began off the main bike and walking path. I headed out on the main trail after double checking the map. The trail I intended to take was a little over 2 miles. I knew I’d be done in about an hour so I left my water bottle in the car. And since the ranger told me the trail was shaded I didn’t bother with putting on sunscreen or my hat and left both in the car. I stopped at the big color-coded map at the beginning of the bike and walking trail to make sure one final time that I took a look at where the trail began. I took off thinking “this is gonna be great!” – you can see where this headed but keep reading, it gets better.

I came to the point where the trails began and they were marked just like the ranger had told me they would be. The problem was that they were marked by color, not name. I had memorized the name of the trail I was going to take. But it was ok, I was sure the color was green (wasn’t it?). Green was the first trail off the main path just like the one I wanted to take so it had to be right. So off I headed into the woods. About 10 minutes in it struck me that there was an awful lot of sun beaming down on me. I’m not quite sure what I was thinking but Florida doesn’t really have woods, at least not like woods we have in Tennessee. Their idea of woods is a gathering of tall, stick pine trees with little tuffs of greenery on top. Yes, there were various points of shade along the path where a really big pine tree offered a sprinkling of shade but for the most part my very pale, unsuncreened self was walking directly under the intense Florida sun. “That’s no big deal” I thought, it’s only going to take about an hour so I should be fine.

I started to notice some of the wildlife in the area as I passed a small pond filled with water lillies. There were many birds gathering there and it was a really beautiful spot. I kept walking on the my green path and felt confident it was the right one each time I came across a tree with a mark of green paint on it that assured me I was still on the green trail. I reached a point where I had to choose to go right or left. Both were marked with a sign showing a green arrow pointing in each direction. I was a little confused because I didn’t remember there being a fork in the path I had chosen. It was just a big circle that would have brought me right back where I started. Oh well, I was sure it was the right trail so I picked a direction and kept trekking along.

As I kept on walking…and walking…and walking I began to check my clock. I was 45 minutes into the hike and it was really, really hot. I thought “I sure could use some water about now” but figured that it was only about 15 minutes until I finished my hike and was safely back to the car so I would be fine. I kept on going still feeling confident by those trees marked with a green stripe. I continued on for what seemed quite awhile only now I wasn’t thinking about how lovely the sunny, Florida forest was. I began to think things like “wow, I haven’t seen another soul on this trail. Am I the only one out here?” and “I wonder if the ranger took mental note of me and knows that I haven’t returned yet” and “what did Bear Grylls say to eat if you ever get lost in the woods?” I stopped under a little piece of shade to check the time. I was now an hour and twenty minutes into the hike. “Ok, surely I’m almost to the end” I thought. I surmised that the information was wrong and the trail was longer than 2 miles. So I kept walking.

I looked ahead thinking that the parking lot would be in site as soon as I rounded the approaching corner. But suprisingly it was not the parking lot I came upon. It was a huge lake. I could see that the path went all the way around the lake, the really big lake. I felt a little twinge of panic come over me. I found a tiny piece of shade and sat down to take a look at the state park website from my phone. Surely they had a map on the website so I could see where I was and quickly get back on track. Nope, no map. So I searched other sites, blogs, topical maps, wikipedia, anything that might have a map. Nothing. I checked the time again. I was now 1 hour and 45 minutes into my hike. I started wondering “why in the world has my family not called, texted, sent out a rescue team or something?” Don’t they know I should’ve been back by now!?”

Finally I came across a blog from an avid hiker who described in detail each trail at this state park down to the most minute description like “the trail turns left by a bush that’s 2 feet tall next to 3 pine trees on your right”. I read the entire thing before it hit me – I took the wrong trail! I was supposed to follow the blue trail, not the green. I read in detail how to get out of the mess I was in until I noticed that she wrote the blog 4 years ago. Who knows that could’ve changed since then? I sat there completely miserable, hot, thirsty and wondering “do I go the entire way around this huge lake which will take me back to my car after a 9.8 mile trek or do I go back the way I came after I’ve already walked close to 4 miles?” I decided the only sure way to get back to where I started was to go back exactly the way I came. So, there I was. Lost, hot, thirsty, a little worried and a lot frustrated. I got up, made an about-face and headed back the way I had came. About an hour and 45 minutes later I arrived back at my car. I sat there for another 20 minutes drinking every drop from the now hot water bottle I had brought with me as I tried to cool down. I looked over at the map, sunscreen and hat sitting in the passenger seat and thought about the lessons I’ve learned, as a Christian, through my mistakes. Here’s a few I want to share:

  • In your walk with Christ be prepared for anything. You cannot assume that just because life has been good and you’ve never faced any major difficulties that it won’t happen to you. Take everything with you along the way – your bible, prayer and friends who will hold you accountable. You never know when you may need them.
  • Know what you’re getting into when you choose to follow Christ. Make sure you’re always headed in the right direction as you follow Him.
  • Stay on the path no matter what. And if for some reason you get off the path, figure out how you got to where you are, where you made a wrong turn and make sure you never do it again.
  • Even when things get challenging in your walk and you face difficult circumstances always take time to notice the good things along the way. There are always positive things to give thanks for even in the middle of the negatives.
  • Know that things are always what they seem. You may think you’re out of the woods but you may not be. Don’t get too self assured. About the time you start to think “I got this” is the time you realize you don’t.
  • No two situations are the same so what worked for someone else may not work for you.
  • You’re not helpless and neither is your situation so don’t even let those thoughts enter into your mind.
  • Don’t expect others to come to your rescue. It may be just you out there so don’t rely on others to save you. God is the only one you should be relying on.
  • Don’t go so far into it that you think it’s too late to turn around. It’s never, ever to late to go back to where you started.
  • When you do go back, go back EXACTLY the way you came. Don’t try to look for a short cut but follow the path you took as you return to what you know is assured.
  • Pay attention to the inner feeling that you may be headed in the wrong direction. Stop and evaluate the situation instead of just pridefully plowing ahead assuming that you cannot make a mistake.
  • When you get back on track stop and give thanks that you’re headed back in the right direction.
  • Search for the lesson in your mistakes, seek forgiveness for the choices you made that took you off the right path and then forge ahead toward the end goal with renewed strength.
  • And next time, stick to a nice walk on the beach.
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