Lost!

I originally published the story below in serial-fashion because of it's size; I figured more people would be able to enjoy it if I broke it up. I am publishing it now in it's entirety on this page. I hope you enjoy it, and, as always, tell someone about it. 


We had been driving on a “gnarly” Forest Service access road for nearly thirty miles when we finally found Alamar campsite. Our trip had already been unusually eventful. Driving the access road was tough on the carpet beneath my feet; with each close corner, steep drop, and section of loose rock, I “braked” hard into the dirty carpet pad. On one side of us was overgrowth on top of rock walls. On the other, nearly unencumbered drops of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of feet.  Porter, our fearless friend behind the wheel, was an injured wilderness firefighter we had become good pals with. He was reliving the gravel-road-glory-days he had described to us many times before. Growing up near the Los Padres National Forest, the very same one we were in, he had spent countless nights getting rowdy on the backroads carved into chaparral and sandstone. Now twenty-nine and recently married, he was enjoying some hair-raising nostalgia. 


As usual, I was ensconced in my thoughts and struggling to embrace the “thrills” and beauty of the hills surrounding me. To my West, the Pacific Ocean. Everywhere else, for as far as the eye could see, were hills of faded green, some splashed with yellow-golden grass. The road was carved into a hillside which meant I could often look across open expanses to the approaching track. 

“Bear!!” I shouted. “Where?” said three voices at once. “Just ahead on the road!” I proudly informed the group.

Porter needed no further direction. He demanded full power from the Ford Escape Hybrid, tore the steering wheel left, throwing us against the wall of the car. Sure as shootin’, there she was: galloping, tossing rocks that flew behind her in a rollercoaster arc. Her massive pads turned back to face us with each step. They were shale-colored and framed by hair that, if she were truly a SoCal bear, would be trimmed a bit more fashionably. She glanced back at us over her left shoulder, fear in her eyes. 

“It’s running like twenty-five miles per hour!” marveled Porter, estimating her speed based on our accelerating speed. 

Our plan was relatively simple: we would walk south on the Alamar Trail (spending one night on it) to an old Jeep road on which we would hike southwest to meet the Poplar Trail. From the Poplar, we would drop into the Indian Creek valley and follow the trail to Bluff Camp, an old Forest Service guard cabin below a saddle and just off of the Buckhorn Road, which we had driven to get to the Alamar Trail. We would spend one rollicking night at Bluff Camp with Porter before rising the next morning to return to Ojai, roughly a two hour drive. 

Alamar was perched on a promontorious circular arete above a burnt section of pine forest. We ate a brief lunch. The trip there had taken much longer than expected and we were anxious to make ground. Porter called us in to service with Los Padres Dispatch (“Resource Crew 61in service at Alamar Trailhead in the Dick Smith Wilderness” “Copy that, Resource Crew 61”) and we put on our packs. 

“Do you guys need this?” Porter asked, brandishing a manila folder he had found in the back seat of the car. 

“No”, I responded, hubris cascading from every molecule of my body.

I had just turned down a trip report of the trail we were embarking upon. 

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Lara swears she said it. Eddie says he remembers it, too. I never heard it. 

“Do you think we should turn around?”

The trail had proved to be quite hairy. In the wake of the Zaca Fire in 2007, there was little pine forest left standing. Instead, it had draped itself over the trail dozens of times within the first half mile in a sadistic macro game of pickup-sticks. Our progress was slow. Unfortunately, the first things to come back from fires are bushy things with thorns, in several varieties just to keep things interesting. 

Finally, we slid into a morsel of shade under an unburned section of pine. Out came the remainder of our lunches. Nothing was said as we ate. I can only speculate as to what was on the minds of the others. I know I was singularly focused on making it to camp on time. I was not flustered, merely unenthused, by what I now see as a predicament. 

We continued down the trail which looked like a camel path in an African desert dune. After clambering through a thick nest of bush, I brushed myself off and assessed a section of blown-out trail, about twenty feet long. Below where the trail should have been was forty feet of the same dirt, quickly turning into downed trees and chaparral. My brain whirred to motion: “This is dangerous. A fall could mean anything from minor scrapes to serious puncture wounds, perhaps even broken bones.” 

“Well...what do y’all think?” I asked my two colleagues. 

“I don’t like it.”

“It looks like it’s doable...but risky.”

A pause. Silent evaluation from mildly qualified individuals. 

With no decision made, I hesitantly faced into the hillside and fell forward, letting my hands splash the dust above the trail. I kick-stepped sideways in a mountaineer’s shuffle. Each step was a battle. I cringed at the uncomfortable feeling of dirt scraping beneath my finger nails. I swiped at tree roots, more capillary than root. Much to my chagrin, my kneecaps began shaking violently. I was supposed to be the fearless leader, the experienced one. 

Sweat slipped off my forehead and I watched a plume of dust fling itself skyward as my perspiration sank into the earth. I flailed my arms, the picture of determined panic. I inhaled dust and felt it crunch between my molars. 

And finally, I was at the other side, where I quickly discovered there was nothing in front of me, save more deserted hillside. The frustration welled-inside of me. I held on to that frustration a moment longer than I had wanted to and the message was conveyed to my  partners. Wordlessly, Lara began to ascend directly up the ridge. After a few feet of odious progress, she defiantly announces the obvious: “I’m looking up here.” 

We spent the next few hours trying to find our way to a trail we knew should exist somewhere in the canyon we were sinking into. While others may have felt differently, I was calm the entire afternoon, never fearing the possibilities of the wilderness. I was an old pro, a veteran of the whims of the forest. I trusted some benevolent ghost to guide us through. That ghost had a helluva lot more in store than I anticipated. 

Soon, we were walking down a dry river bed, a sort of median in the canyon. While the rest of the ecological thoroughfare was trafficked by plants, seeds, animals, and other beings, we took the path of least resistance, avoiding the thick wall of underbrush. The sun began to set and we resolved to take the next possible campsite. I still had faith in the ghosts of Ed Abbey, John Muir, Sigurd Olson, et al. It was this foolish, nay, human faith that helped me turn down two campsites in the next twenty minutes, one of which was marked with tall gateway cairns. 

They couldn’t be the best we would find, I scoffed. And they weren’t.

After another hour of bushwhacking (now in the dark), we were frustrated and scared. My bookshelf ghosts seemed to have misguided me and I did not know whether I could trust them anymore. I spotted a canyon wall in the murky early moonlight. 

“Let’s just head to that, alright? It’s gotta be the side of the riverbed; hopefully we can scurry to high ground and find a clear spot to sleep there.”

The plan was accepted and we set off. After fifteen minutes of literally crawling on all fours and avoiding an ominous swampy puddle, we found our wall. I scampered to the top and rejoiced. We could camp here. We could be safe here. We could rest here.

There is no greater relief than finding a place to spend the night. Whether adventuring in the wild or out on the town, the innate desire for rest is coupled with a sense of safety and relaxation. To truly rest, one must be able to release their guard of it’s duties and trust the place they have chosen. This campsite felt like one of those places. We made deconstructed pizzas and ate them (a hit). The dessert was a dry bag of Betty Crocker cookie mix. Just add water and cookie pudding is born. It was revoltingly rich but, as they had been my idea, I stuffed it into my mouth. 

We lay out our sleeping bags on top of the rainfly of my tent and went to sleep. 

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“Guys this trail keeps going...”, Eddie trailed off, hopeful words for a bunch of lost people. We charged off in that direction. We soon realized that we had camped on a trail. The canyon to our right and the steep slope of Madulce Peak above us and to the left; we moved slowly, wading through dense, waist-deep chaparral. Floating atop the green froth of thorns was a cairn, just at the perfect instant, the moment when the voice in my head had just about reached my lungs, ready to scream, “We’re so fucking lost it’s not even funny!” 

The floating cairns appeared over and over, at just the perfect time, the climax of frustration. Even when I was calm, I could sense the anguish of fear billowing from my two friends’ flesh. Someone was always tense as each set of senses took in the growing predicament. It’s funny; the more senses, it would seem the more data collected. The more data collected, when one is lost, the more likely to happen upon discomforting information. Yet, I would almost certainly choose to be lost in a small group than on my own. Perhaps my obsessive-compulsive brain is less an ally than a few good friends. Perhaps the energy floating between three potential corpses is enough to keep them animate just bit longer. 

And so we continued. We rounded a ridge, the long-awaited valley happily confluenced beneath us. We descended a dangerously exposed backbone. Charred bushes and small trees cast black lines across my vision. Soon, I realized I was at the washout of the ridge; in front of me, only flat for probably a good half-mile. In that flat was a large oak tree and a painfully dry river-bed. Overgrowth was everywhere; willows shrouded the creek bed, a sort of light green tunnel. 

We arrived at a ghost-campsite - lots of obvious former tent-pads, rock fire-rings with grass growing between them, a rusted out ice-box stove. It had not been inhabited in several years at least. The Zaca Fire of 2007 rusted any metal in the burn zone. All this was beneath a gargantuan oak tree, the only large green growing thing in the area. 

“Hey, why don’t we give the map a look, just make sure...ya know?” I said. 

“Yeah, sounds good dude.”

“Ok.”

“Lara, you have it, right?”

“...do I?”

“...you were keeping it.”

Lara searches her pockets. She forces her eyes into the recesses of her person; pockets, belt-line, it was all perused. She takes off her backpack to search it and my stomach drops: the map was gone. I knew the only place Lara had been housing it was in her right thigh pocket. Only an hour or so beforehand, I had seen the map protruding from her pocket like a bookmark. Because of the tension in the air, I had chosen not to ask her to put it in a safe place. 

Lara committed to backtracking to search for it, but the willows and other brush were thick like an organic wall. The distressed look on her face said it all as she appeared from the growth of greenery. Now, I was going to learn my lesson one compass heading after another. 

Eddie had other ideas: a fairly recognizable trail went east along the riverbed. 

“Dude, there’s a campsite right here, this has to be the trail”, he mandated.

“But how many trails like that have we followed in the last twenty-four hours, man? We know the fire access road is south of us, perpendicular to the river. If we take a heading and go south, we cannot miss it. That is a guarantee, and I’m sick of anything less than guaranteed.”

“But man, you see how thick that shit is? We’re going to be bushwhacking for hours! I’m not down for that.”

“Let’s just try it for ten minutes, ok? If we haven’t reached the hill on the other side of the river in ten minutes, we’ll turn back and try your trail. Cool?”

“Fine.”

I charged forward, convinced I was doing the right thing. The path of least resistance is rarely the best way, and, aside from any philosophical opinions, we knew, irrefutably, that the road was south of us. The wall of willows withstood my attack mightily and I could feel the doubt swelling behind me. It encroached upon my confidence, but I blew it away like a bead of sweat on my nose, motivated disdain in my marked exhalation. 

Any exposed skin was met with branches, leaves, and general discomfort. I gave it no thought, recognizing that, for the first time in my outdoors experiences, I had made a call with no safety net. We were lost, without a map, and low on water. I had taken the game into my hands and had decided I knew how to handle it. Luckily, none of this fazed me. I suddenly felt legitimate. No more guides or scout leaders. I was in the driver’s seat and I was entirely responsible for myself. 

This massive boost of ego and adrenaline fueled a gorilla charge through the undergrowth. I perched myself atop a rock and attempted to step up the river bank. The branches were collapsing around me, it seemed. My hubris knocked them away and promptly swept me off my feet. A branch cut an eight inch incision in my inner thigh of my left leg. I pretended not to notice the blood running down my leg and ascended through another layer of branches. 

After almost exactly ten minutes of bushwhacking, we reached the bottom of the hill. 

“Eddie, it’s been ten minutes. What do you say?”

“Let’s just keep going,” he sighed. The energy had evaporated into the dry California sky. We hugged the bottom of the hill and embraced our hope. We slid down a well-used but steep game trail into another grey cobblestone creek-bed. The canopy was intense and the shade even more so. I felt the cool air coming from the underside of the leaves, the rocks, and even a puddle with about four cups of water in it. I alerted the others and we dismounted our packs. 

I excavated my water filter from my pack and we began the slow process of water purification. We had agreed earlier to call Lloyd, our boss, on the satellite phone at some point that day. Eddie suggested we get a latitude and longitude for the campsite we were trying to reach (Bluff Camp). 

Lloyd, usually extremely concerned for our safety, seemed blasé and unconcerned when we explained our predicament. He asked us to call back in the thirty minutes and he would give us the lat-long. We gathered our disheveled confidence and sat in the shade, pumping water into our thirsty nalgenes and snacking on granola bars. 

After thirty more minutes and with a pair of coordinates to put into our GPS device, we felt much more confident. The GPS lacked the map overlay, but these coordinates would tell us which direction to head after we made it to the road. Now, we just had to continue south.

After another hour of walking, bushwhacking, and (finally!) a reliable, directionally appropriate trail, we stumbled onto the road. Eddie immediately started laughing: “I....cannot...believe that...this is.....the road!!” More of a jeep trail, true, but I did not care in the least. We knew, for the first time in about ten hours, where we were. From here, we had ten miles to go, three of that on this jeep trail. But we knew where we were going. 

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“AT LEAST BUY ME DINNER BEFORE YOU FUCK ME, GODDAMNIT!”

Eddie found our situation preposterously comical. After thirty minutes on the jeep road, we had ascended more than a thousand vertical feet. Now atop a ridge with views as far as fifteen miles in most directions, we were on an exhaustion high. The triumphant view of golden-grass topped mountains for miles served as an emphatic chaser to this delirium. We screamed with terrified joy, cursed the trail that continued up, up, up, and laughed at our “employment”. I live for these kinds of moments. Miserable in a beautiful place. Lost, tired, hungry, with fifteen hundred more feet to ascend and almost ten miles left to walk. 

The sun was beginning to flirt with distant mountain tops and we remembered we needed to call to Los Padres Dispatch to inform them that we were “out of service”, essentially signaling that we would not need assistance for the remainder of the night. More formality than actuality, we took a break, dropped our packs, and attempted to radio out. Not surprisingly, we were too far in the backcountry to transmit to Dispatch. Using a line of sight channel (R5), we radioed to an expectant Porter at Bluff Camp. 

Porter agreed to take us out of service from his position. 

“How are you guys doing?”

“Dude, we’re on this gnarly fire road...it’s super steep. If we make it to you tonight, it’s going to be in the dark.”

“Copy. Is there a time I should expect you guys at?”

“Standby.”

We conferred and agreed that it would probably close to eleven by the time we finished the road, descended into a canyon, and followed the trail to Bluff Camp.

“Uh, Resource Crew 61 to Porter on R5...we expect to arrive at Bluff Camp at 2300 hours.”

There was a long pause; I expected a frustrated or nervous response. Instead, a cool, collected affirmation came:

“Alright, guys. Good luck. Keep the radio on and keep me posted on your progress.”

“Copy.”

And so we carried on. I could hardly control my joy. The early evening winds chilled my sweat drenched shirt and I shivered the shiver of life, the kind of shiver that brings simultaneous happiness, exhilaration, and a weaseling fear in the back of my mind. The road relentlessly charged upward, but I did not care. The pain in my thighs did not match the wonder at the fields of tall yellow grasses and top-of-the-world views. It was a Tuesday. 

Finally, we began to dip downward. Eddie jogged down, laughing giddily. My prematurely geriatric knees permitted little of such activity; I tentatively skipped a jig down the hill. 

“There’s the sign!” I breathed. And so it was. A rusted metal stencil, the words “Poplar Trail” carved out. A trail descended merrily through the golden grass before dropping into a riverbed. 

“Well...here we go.” We knew that radioing after this point would be nearly impossible because of the deep canyon we were descending into. We knew that navigating in the dark would be nearly impossible. We knew we were without a dinner. Our only option was to hike in and hope for the best.

The trail bunny-hilled down for awhile, dropping off the ridgeline and into a sea of organic gold grasses, knee high and stoic. I was giddy, a ball of passion and nerves, quickly descending beyond the grass and into the chaparral, beyond the chaparral and into the riparian zone, slipping through narrow trail openings in the dark. We had been utilizing the frequent blaze tape to inform our navigational decisions. In a way that can only be done in the wilderness, we embraced our intuition and trusted that we would know when we had gone too far. When this time came, we simply retreated and investigated other directions. Time and again, a ribbon of pink, the shade of which is more unnatural than a dam in a roaring river or a windmill in a windswept Wyoming plain, hooked my eyes, swiveled my neck, and reassured my overactive brain. 

We followed this routine to a campsite under a large tree. Here, the trail branched in two directions. We dropped our packs and I investigated further; the spur of trail that continued along the river bed was beaten and easily navigable. However, our pink plastic angels were not tied to any of the overhanging branches. I decided that my willingness to take risks had been significantly frayed and I returned eagerly to camp to report my finding and provide my opinion. 

After some deliberation, we decided that there was no harm in staying here. It was about eight p.m. and we were hungry. I was feeling my body’s adrenal reaction to adversity begin to wane. I realized it was the only thing I had operated on all day. 

I pulled out a granola bar and some trail mix. Eddie joined me in this meager supper; Lara was physically and emotionally beat and had retreated to the tent. Eddie and I unwound our nerves. We discussed miscues and strokes of luck and the sweet and sour combination that had catapulted us to our present situation. My belly was momentarily sedated and I took this chance to attempt to fall asleep before it began to bemoan my predicament again. I brushed my teeth, flossed, and crawled into our tent. Tonight, it was occupied by three rather than two. 
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As was typical on our trips, Eddie was the first out of the tent. His mood in the mornings was an interesting kind of begrudging joy. Although he never failed to point out a poor night’s rest or a hangover or a bad dream, he seemed to take these in stride and greet the new day with a kind of pissed off vigor. I moaned as he clambered out the other side of my cramped two person tent. With all three of us in it, I felt as though I was a fat roll on someone wearing jeans about three sizes too small. I was pressed flush with the tent wall. Had someone looked from the outside, I am sure the impression of my body could have been seen in the blue sidewall. 

Lara was next out. This particular morning, she was emotionally flat-lining and I could sense the exhaustion of her soul, partially because I felt it in my own. As usual, I was last out. I packed my sleeping bag into my black gray and yellow waterproof stuff-sack along with my sleeping pad and camping pillow. Upon exiting the tent, my mood brightened: the day was comfortably sunny, still chilly, and had a promising tint to it’s complexion. 

I shivered while I made my breakfast of rice and raisins. Soon we were continuing our march. The trail I had investigated the previous night was heading west; the trail with the blaze tape was headed north. As the tape had yet to mislead us, we carried on to the north. Easy walking above a slough ensued and we felt comfortable with our decision. Eventually, upon hearing running water, we descended to the lovely wetness on our left and pumped water into our Nalgenes and water bladders. 

After twenty more minutes of hiking, the trail faded into brush, heat, and fatigue. We had crossed the aforementioned creek and found a clearing with no sign of blaze tape. The most recent tape was at a small campsite tucked into a patch of willows. We wandered purposefully about for a brief period before agreeing to ascend a creek bed in a west-northwest direction. The creek bed was exhausting, full-body hiking. I thought back upon those inflatable obstacle courses that I used to race through with friends at festivals and birthday parties. The rude slap of sweat stained plastic was a far preferable option when compared to the incessant and unflinching razors of chaparral country. 

This continued for an hour. My anticipation built: as soon as we gained the saddle, the road, and perhaps even Bluff Camp, would be visible, and we could navigate easily from there. This whole terrifying adventure would be over. My anticipation propelled me in front of Eddie and Lara. I stood on top of the saddle and saw what I had feared: more brush, no trail, no camp, large peaks, sunburnt ridge-lines, and the road three to four miles across an interminable valley. In the bottom of that valley was the confluence of four drainages, meaning that the vegetation would only get worse. 

Eddie and Lara joined me on the ridge. I surveyed the situation with Eddie while Lara waited for our analysis. We were tired and angry at our luck, but far from broken.

“Porter to Resource Crew Sixty-One on R5.” 

“Eddie...didyouhearthat....??”

“Yeah man!”

My hands scrambled over Eddie’s black forty-five liter pack like a pair of albino tarantulas making their way to the side pocket where they retrieved the radio. 

“Resource Crew Sixty-One to Porter on R5.”

“Oh my god, you guys were in some kind of hole last night, what’s going on guys?”

We relayed our situation to Porter and explained that we were going to ascend a ridge to our left (south) to get a better view. We dropped our packs, grabbed the radio and med kit, and charged upward through thinning chaparral. Five minutes later, we were on top. 

Rejuvenated by hearing Porter’s voice, I arrived up top first. This view gave us more of the same topography with no familiar landmarks to employ in our quest for Bluff Camp. We relayed our situation to Porter. 

“Alright guys, standby. I’m going to get in the vehicle and drive up the road to try to get a visual on you.”

We stood waiting for a few minutes. I felt like a fish lost in an abyss. No landmarks to go by, no other fish to ask for guidance. But I’d just spotted a morsel of bait...all I had to do now was take it and get reeled in. 

“Ok guys, I’m on the road here, can you see the vehicle?”

“No, we can’t.”

“Alright, I’m driving south...”

Eddie jumped up and down and exploded with energy: “There he is there he is yahahaha we’re saved!!”

I relayed a slightly more composed version of that to Porter: 

“Uh, yes, Porter, we can see you.”

“Alright, copy that guys.”

The car halted. It was absolutely miniscule. I had not realized how far away the road truly was until a could barely make out the bright white SUV against the dry orange of Southern California. 
“Do you guys have a signal mirror?”

“Yes we do...ah but it’s down at our packs. We’ll be right back.”

“I’ll get it”, said Lara. 

“Alright Porter, we’re getting it, standby.”

It took us about ten minutes to figure out how to flash the sunlight across the valley. Instructions from Porter came, but we were beginning to lose hope when the radio crackled to life:

“Alright, I see you guys.”

We all breathed a sigh of relief.

“Wow, you guys really got committed...”

“Ah...yes. What do you mean?” 

“You’re going to need to retreat to the saddle where your packs are, that’s to your north, and then ascend the other side of the saddle, still going north. Give me a mirror flash from the saddle and we’ll go from there.”

“Copy.”

We hurried down the slope, and retrieved our packs. I gave Porter the flash he requested:

“Alright guys, just head up that ridge to your north and flash me from the top of that.”

“Copy. Talk to you soon.”

“Hey-uh...how are you doing on water?”

I could sense the severity of the question and was thankful that I could honestly tell Porter we were doing well; I had at least three liters left, Lara and Eddie both had about one and a half. 

I charged up the ridge well ahead of the others, my temerity growing with each step. I wanted to prove to myself and to Porter that I was not just the kid in this group, I was the most experienced in the wilderness. I was the Eagle Scout. I was a leader. The radio in my hand, I felt as though I was on a search and rescue mission. Then I remembered with both pride and shame that I was.

The final five feet of the ridge were a scramble on chossy sandstone; I huffed and puffed and finally stood on top. It had taken me probably fifteen minutes and I had used more energy than was wise. Nevertheless, I could still radio to Porter that I was up top.

“Alright, give me a mirror flash.”

“Copy.”

“Alright, great guys. You’re right on target. Now continue down the ridgeline.”

“That’ll be to my west...?”

“Copy.”

I charged down the ridge, legitimately jogging. Reaching the end of the ridge, I stood on this promontory, give the mirror a few shakes and radioed to Porter. 

“Alright, I can’t see you...”, he said. 

“I’m trying...”, I said helplessly. I wanted to make up for being so hopelessly lost by getting us out. 

The seconds turned to minutes and my shoulder began to ache. I was doing just as Porter recommended. I held the mirror straight out “like a gun but with your fingers in a ‘peace sign’. Just move the mirror up and down.”

Time continued to go on and on and on...

“Okay I got you.” 

“Now from here you’re going to drop to the Northeast...go down that ridge. You’ll end up on a saddle and then continue on that Northeast course ascending the ridge. I’m up on the last hill-top.”

I took in a huge breath. Since regaining radio contact with Porter, I’d had a near-certain feeling that all would be well. I had trusted myself to get out, but now I had someone who grew up running wild in these same hills. He knew what he was asking us to do and never got frustrated with us when we were slow or struggled to use skills like mirror-flashing. Instead of being a group with the skills necessary to survive, we suddenly had direct contact with a professional to coach us step by step the rest of the way. 

The hardest part of the fiasco was yet to come. The final ridge was a series of stairsteps. Each step was a hilltop; each step had to be the last! Even prior to descending to the bottom of the staircase, I had only counted four steps. Now, I was cresting the seventh hill. 

I had become increasingly mired in my own thoughts as we ascended the hilltops. The fear of another night out even began to creep into my obsessive brain. My pace was waning and I found myself next to Eddie, who was finding his groove as I lost mine. 

“Dude...if we have to...spend another...night...out...”, I heaved my fears to my friend.

“Dude...not gonna happen.” It was clear that this thought had not even entered his mind. He was confident and energized. 

And we trudged upward until, finally, thankfully, I heard an exclamation in the distance: “Hey!!”

My head swiveled. The voice had sounded so far away to my fatigued and dehydrated brain but then, suddenly, there was Porter, thirty feet to my left. Without changing my pace or expression, I lowered my left shoulder, spun my pelvis, and rounded out my turn by swinging my right foot around to the left, toward Porter and toward civilization. For the first time in my life, I was more than happy to exit the woods and head toward a car. 

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Porter, Eddie, Lara, and I walked about another mile and a half back to the car. Porter regaled us with his side of the story the whole way. We compared notes and laughed those relieved-joyful chuckles that come after trying episodes. There was a pause in the conversation. I had not forgotten the exhaustion I felt. The joy and relief washed over me and I quickly became numb to the sensation. 

It wasn’t long before Porter broke the silence: “I’ve got whiskey...”

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