Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Adventure of faith and doubt.

Doubt - It clouds our faith. It pulls a mist in front of our eyes. It keeps us on edge.

Faith - It brings realization. It breaks fear. It fuels a fire to live.

Lastnight, a constant inner struggle between doubt and faith raged inside of my soul.

After climbing, Eric and I went out to a natural area near Jackson Falls. We had never been there before and wanted to see what it was all about. I have interviewed quite a few people who would always speak about how great it was, but I had never actually been there.

It is a place filled with a crystal clear stream, plenty of rocks and 60 to 80-foot clifflines. A pretty beautiful area.

It started out ordinary enough. We crossed the shallow part of this stream to get to an area where two rocks fell into a little pool. It was a pretty good place to chill. While sitting there a guy told us of another area on that side of the stream with a big pool and a rope to swing into it. So we checked it out.

After we left the big pool, we kept heading down the path until it ended hoping to find a place to cross the now deep, ice-cold stream without taking off our shoes and wading through the water. But the path ended, and we made the conscious choice to keep moving. We decided to be "adventurous" and cross later on.

But by the time we crossed the stream and started to head back, it seemed we were walking much further to get back to the path. But it was warm, and we thought we had a lot daylight and kept walking. Soon we saw what appeared to be a walkup near a cliffline. So we walked up, thinking we were right near the car and could just find and follow a path back to the car. If we were oriented right, we might have known we were not walking back to the car, but in a viscious circle that lead us back down the cliffline and back to the bottoms.

After reaching the bottoms again. We started to deliberate.

"Maybe when we crossed the stream the first time, we didn't cross the stream at all, but just thought we did," I said.

This idea kind of shocked us. It meant we had become very disoriented and could have been walking in the wrong direction the entire time, further and further away from where we were headed.

The idea hit Eric that maybe the stream we were heading down was a tributary, and we need to find a fork in the stream. We headed back. It started to get dark. The clouds in the sky assured us that it would be a dark night. We could not stay out here.

Then we caught a break, a yellow trail marker. Phew. It was a definite good sign. We started to joke about how we thought we were lost and how it looked a little bleak there for a moment. We laughed to think about this old iron ladder we had found going up the rock face and natural beautiful arch we had walked across when we got to the top.

It was getting even darker now, but we had found the yellow path. We were going to be just fine. We walked for a good while, following the markers. Following the path, coming around the corner, I said to Eric, "You're not going to believe this. Come here and look at this."

It was the steel ladder up the side of the rock. We had been walking in circles. The path did not lead to the trail head. But there was still hope. The night was getting darker, but using the light from my cell phone we were able to find a blue trail marker. We started to follow that path. I had remembered from the trailhead board that the blue path ran in a loop. So again, we said it might look bad, but we're still good. We had some sort of light (the dim blue light from a cell phone) and we had our composure. Composure was helped by the tranquility of the place. The wind blew through the trees with a reassuring hum that nothing could happen to us. We said only encouraging words in dialogue.

Sometimes losing the trail, we went trail marker to trail marker. The path was sometimes slippery rock. At one point we had to cross a part very close to the cliffline with only the light of a cell phone. The darkness had not totally set in yet, so we could still make out the shadow of the cliffline. It would not be the scariest point.

Suddenly the arrows started pointing down. We had lost the trail, but followed the trail markers. We both slipped multiple times going down the rock. But eventually got down. It had now started to rain. It was a light rain, but it grew steadily stronger. Both somewhat dry though, we still had some time before we worried about getting too cold. Worst case scenario, we still planned to sleep outside and hike out in the morning if we had to.

When we reached the bottom of the cliff, the trail markers were suddenly on the other side of the stream. The streams depth was unkown. But we were hell bent on getting back to the car. We were not going to spend the night out there. We rolled up our pant legs and started to wade across what happened to be water higher than our knees with slippery rock at the bottom.

Halfway across Eric Fell. He was soaked in ice cold water. It was my worst fear that one of us would get wet. Also, it was starting to get cooler out and the rain was slowly getting harder.

Then the unimaginable, I slipped. My cellphone fell into the water. It was our only source of light. I hurried to quickly dry it off. Eric asked if I was OK. All I could think was 'no, no, no' so I said "NO, NO, NO."

It started to vibrate uncontrollably and the light soon dimmed and went out. I thought the battery was gone at that point. We were out there with no light and on a part where we had no idea where the path was. My cell phone on the fritz, we start to deliberate spending the night. But the rain kept coming, and the temperature kept dropping. I knew in my mind we couldn't stay out there. I thought Eric did too. But what choices did we have?

Tinkering around with the cell phone, suddenly the screen lights up again. I have to hold certain buttons down, but the screen soon illuminates for brief periods of time before the vibrating starts again, and we have to resort to taking out the battery and hoping we find the next trail marker. The trail leads up the cliffline.

While on the cliffline, it was scary. Eric told me his night vision wasn't worth shit, and I could barely see where the path was sometimes in the pitch dark atmosphere. But we kept going, trail marker to trail marker.

Then my phone went out. The lighted screen would not light up at all. I only had the light from my keys. I could not make out the reflection of the next trail marker. I told Eric to stay at the last trail marker while I went ahead to find the next. When I got to the next, I put my cell phone in the air and hoped Eric could follow the trail to my voice. I told him to inch forward because we had no idea how close the cliff was, but the path always stayed very close to cliffline. We did this in order to not lose the trail. I did not want to lose the trail. It was the only thing that gave us some sense of orientation to where the trailhead might have been.

It was always a fear though we might overshoot the trailhead and keep going around on what I remembered seeing as a 4-mile trail. I thought we might just start going around in 4-mile loops, spending the night walking in circles.

We did this for a while. It felt like hours and we had no idea of time. We just had the overcoming feeling over relentless signs pointing forward. We kept hoping to see one point right and to the trail head.

Eric told me he was getting pretty cold. The rain was starting to pour. We would keep inching forward. Sometimes I would go for a little bit before seeing a trail marker with my now dimly lit phone. My phone beeped a familiar sound of the battery dying, and I knew we would soon be without a light source. We got up to another trail marker, and it died. No more light.

I told Eric to stay here and keep the path. I hated to leave him, but he had a headlamp in the car and maybe we were really close. I knew going off in the dark was a pretty bad thing, but it felt like our only hope.

I walked down what I felt was the path. Sometimes I could dimly make it out. Sometimes I saw where logs were cut right next to my feet. It gave me strength to keep moving. I called back to Eric that I was going to go for it, and try to make it back to the car.

Faith and doubt clouded my every thought. I kept saying prayers again and again. I prayed to Jesus, to Mary to any patron saint I could remember. I kept thinking how long it was since I left Eric. I pictured him sitting there hoping I'd come back. I felt as if his life was directly in my hands. At one point, I thought I had lost the path. I could see nothing and everything looked like the path. I reached over and grabbed the tree next to me and felt a trail marker with my hands. What luck.

I walked for what what seemed like an hour, and found the the gravel parking lot back to the car. I ran to the car, snatched the head lamp and ran as fast I could back to Eric. I could clearly see the path with the head lamp now. I was yelling the entire time, but he couldn't hear me yet. I kept thinking maybe he moved and fell off the cliff. I ran faster. I was just hoping he would respond to one of the yells, and in a few minutes he did.

I got back and celebrated for a split second and then started to walk back to the car. It took us nearly 20 minutes to reach the car, and with all the twists and turns in the trail, Eric kept asking me how I saw the trail with no light. I still have no idea. I told him it was faith and hope that kept me going. I just thought I should be walking in the right direction. I told him how I was thinking and that I had to make it to the car. It was where all the hope was. I couldn't turn back. That would have meant failure and maybe something worse.

We arrived at around 2:30, 3:00 p.m. and got back to the car at 9:11 p.m.

We couldn't have spent the night out there. It was about 40 F and pouring down rain when I woke up this morning. We would have never made the night.

Sometimes, it just feels good to wake up in the morning and just be able to breathe.

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