I was on Facebook this morning, which is actually quite rare for me now-a-days, and I saw a good friend’s status update. It simply read, “Craving adventure.”
In my life, I have been the kind of person who would make this a permanent tattoo if given the choice. My whole life seems to be a kind of pushing the eternal limits of what I can and can’t do. I suppose that has to do with being an oldest child. Either that, or I just love getting into trouble.
1. I have jumped off a dangerous cliff into unknown waters.
2. I have pretended to be related to someone in order to get free wedding cake.
3. I have farted and blamed an old person and/or dog.
4. I have more than one psuedonym that I used in the mid-90s to get free CD’s with.
5. My driver’s license touts both a taller height and smaller weight than reality.
This is not an all-inclusive list, but it is a good taste of what I’m talking about.
So, I have problems with limits. So what, right? That’s what makes a good leader (or a good paraplegic). I truly believe that I can do anything, and that can’t hurt anyone.
I woke up on Sunday morning, so happy to be alive. For a moment, everything was perfect. Kyle, Abigail, Turk and I were snuggled together in the big mountain of white fluff that is our bed. The room was full of laughter, love and that horrible squeal/scream that Turk does when he’s excited. I opened the windows and looked at the sunshine streaming over the morning, a phoenix of light born from the grey remains of the weekend’s deathly rain showers. “Let’s go to the beach!” I said.
So we got ready to go. We packed the car up and then went to church. Although we tried to sneak out without being stopped, Abigail made it clear to EVERYONE that we passed that she was going to the beach. “Oh, that sounds fun!” all the nice church ladies and gentlemen in their stolid black suits and dresses said. “When are you doing that?”
“Right now,” Abigail beamed. I just gave an awkward laugh and waved goodbye.
We got into the car and changed clothes. I had hoped that the sunshine that had made the morning so perfect would follow us Westward like a loyal friend. Alas.
After two hours in the car, we arrived at Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast.
|What I thought it would look like…|
|What it actually looked like.|
It was 4pm by the time we got there, and the light was fading, but gently. We found a cozy shelter and set up to make dinner in the rainy wild. “I think we’re going to go down and look at the ocean,” I said. “When will the food be ready?”
“I gotta cook the chili and hot dogs…probably a half hour?” Kyle said.
“Okay.” These could have easily been the last words that I ever said to the husband I love so much. Isn’t that weird? When you’re up to your chest in ocean water and unsure of how to get back to land, you don’t think about that. Now, it is chilling to imagine that the last words I might have said were so…lame.
Abigail and I walked down towards the ocean. It was booming, the waves crushing against the rocks and sending spray up against the ledges by our shelter. A sign hung from a rusted chain, “Trail Impassable.”
You know how I am about limits.
Even though I didn’t take the “impassable trail,” I realized that the trail that Abigail and I were on did not lead to the water. Hmm, I thought. How can we get down to the beach if the trail won’t go there? Looking back, that sign might have been a good warning that there is no real beach access at Cannon Beach. At least not when it is raining and mud is sluicing down the craggy cliff of the beach head. But, I have this problem with limits.
I was CRAVING ADVENTURE!! So dumb.
Abigail and I found a side path that veered towards the water. At the edge was a cliff. From the top, it looked steep, but normal for a beach access point in Oregon. If you don’t want to climb or fall down sandy cliffs, Oregon beaches are not for you. This was the quintessential example – nothing but muddy, sandy muck with patches of depressed clumps of beach grass interspersed.
In order to avoid getting dirty (Ah, the plans of mice and men…) I put Abigail on my back and scooted down the slippery slope. After falling once, we both made it down, relatively unmucked and positive that we would not be able to get back up the way we came. The “path” we had taken was a wet mess and I couldn’t see how we would possibly get back. The light was dimming in the sky, and I kept reminding myself that somewhere it was shining, possibly above the darkening rim of storm clouds.
|Now, imagine it with no light and more rain.|
We walked a moment on the beach, but I was already concerned with how dark it was getting. I put Abigail on my back and started walking around the beach head. “I bet there’s another trail,” I said, mostly to myself. “We just need to keep walking and we’ll find an easier way up.”
The rocks we walked on were slippery and small. A small patch of sand made it look like the beach would open up as soon as we rounded the beach head. Unfortunately, around the tip of the beach, the rocks got bigger, the spaces in between them greater and the water around them deeper.
“We’re never going to get back up the hill,” Abigail said in her quivering little voice. “I don’t want to fall in the river.”
“I know. We’re gonna be okay. We just need to go a little further.”
I looked at the rocks, not giving way to beach like I’d hoped. Instead, they turned into boulders and sharp, mountainous outcroppings jutting up from the water. I stepped gingerly from rock to rock. “There must be another way up,” I whispered, to the heavens I assume. The dark was creeping in steadily, dangerously. The water rose up around my feet and I hitched Abigail up on my back, her weight beginning to fatigue me.
Suddenly, I was up to my chest in the water. Abigail and I both took audible gasps in as the water came up and around my midsection. I had fallen, and the incoming tide was fierce and pulled at us. I struggled to get up, tightening my grip on my precious cargo. She didn’t complain, she just said, “That water is cold!”
“It sure is, baby,” I said. My voice had steel in it. It was a voice I recognized. It was the scared, we gotta get this shit DONE, voice that I rarely use. It is the one version of me that comes out in survival-only situations. “Come on.”
I hiked her up higher, and turned back the way we had come. This was the defining moment, of course. Had I not lowered my pride, my blind faith that there was something better around the corner, I’m pretty sure that Abigail and I wouldn’t be here.
We trudged back the way we had come. It was getting quite dark, and I had a hard time keeping my legs balanced on the slippery rocks. My legs had started to go numb from the cold, and I tripped, slamming my knee against the stones. I put Abigail down for a second, but then realized that, if we went at an almost-5-year-old pace, we wouldn’t make it to the foot of the hill until after dark. We would be blind going up the slippery hill that was our only ticket out. The imaginary sun was clearly setting, and the only place that I was sure it was shining was somewhere over the South Pacific.
By the time we made it back to the hill, I realized I was panic-running, and could feel my heart slamming into my throat. “Gotta relax,” I said. “Abigail, what do we do when we are freaking out? Take a deep breath and relax…”
|“‘…and I…I will survive. As long as I know how to….’ This is not working.”|
She took a cute little gulp of breath. I smiled.
“We can do this,” I said. “We have to be positive.”
I put her in front of me, her wet little pants covered in mud. We began slowly up the hill, stepping from mud clump to mud clump. One slipped out from under me, and I struggled to hold Abigail up while I repositioned my legs in a stabilizing triangle. “We’re gonna be okay,” I was repeating myself, hypnotizing the fear away. “We’re gonna find a way up.”
I looked up and only saw the rapidly approaching darkness swallowing my vision. If we don’t get up this before night, we are going to be stuck here, I thought. An image of the roiling incoming tide washed over me. Even if I couldn’t make it up the cliff, I would push Abigail up the hill until she was safe.
Her little voice said, “Heavenly Father, we need to get up the hill. I know we can do it.” She was emphatic. I thought, if God is going to listen to someone, he’s going to listen to that child. It gave me hope, and logic streamed through the grey clouds of panic.
Like a revelation, I saw a crop of beach grass clinging up on my left.
I led Abigail to it.
She saw another patch of grass to hold on to, and I followed her.
Then I led her up, then she led me. Each handful of grass one step closer to safety.
Step by step, we helped each other to get up the slippery cliff and to the bed of grass at the top. Every step she took was followed by my words, “You’re doing great, baby. We’re almost there. Great job.” On the final step, I could tell that she was tired, but I forced my strained muscles to push her up and over the cliff lip.
There was a true relief at the top of the cliff, but it was now so dark that I couldn’t see how to get back to the trail. There was no time to rest, only to move on and try to find a place where Kyle would be able to see us.
“I can’t see anything,” I said to Abigail. “Can you see anything?”
There was nothing but undergrowth and dark trees. When we had come down the path, the footprints had been clear, the trail obvious. Now, it was just a blanket of black. I put her on my back. “Well, the trail must be up there somewhere,” I said.
|This is a literal image of what it looked like.|
I started to walk forward, groping in the darkness. I clambored over trees, bushes, blindly crawling through the wet grass and tree roots to find a way towards the only patch of sunlight that I could still see through my fogged glasses. I thought wildly, If I lose them we’re never going to get out of here.
“There has to be a way out of here,” I could hear my voice whimpering.
At that moment, I pulled us up and onto a bank of sickly short grass, a picnic table in the center like a religious icon.
My heart exulted, and I let Abigail off my back for enough time to stand, quietly. My legs quavered, barely holding my weight, my throat was raw and cracked, but we were back on the trail. A light flashed in the darkness.
“Willow! God-dammit! Willow, where are you?!”
“I’m here,” my voice rasped. “We’re over here, on the trail.”
I walked with Abigail back up to the camp, where Kyle was staring at us, livid.
“Where did you guys go? I thought you were going to be gone for an hour!”
“We…tried to get to the beach..but we slipped and couldn’t get back up…”
I tried to tell him the story, but the words wouldn’t make sense. He pushed an overcooked chili dog into my hands. I looked at it, my stomach quavering with fear, buckets of adrenaline pouring through my body. “I can’t eat this,” I said.
“I have been waiting here for an hour and a half. Someone is going to eat a friggin chili dog!”
|The Chili Dog. The ultimate reward for bravery.|
We ate our hot dogs quietly, Abigail bundled up in a blanket, Kyle loudly scraping the bottom of the burned chili pan, and me trying to remember how to breathe normally. The hand that held the hot dog shook. I gave it to a very pleased Turk.
Back in the car, the “beach adventure” washed away as the miles gathered up beneath the tires. Abigail quickly became engaged in her books in the back seat. I curled up to the car heater and tried not to think about how stupid I had been. We could have drowned, I thought. We could have gotten stranded. Kyle would never have known where to look for us.
I sat, thinking these dark thoughts for a long while. A quiet came over the car.
Abigail’s voice piped up, clear and true in the shadows of the back seat.
“Mom. I didn’t like that adventure. I never want to do that adventure again.”
“Yes,” I said, smiling. “Let’s never do that adventure again.”
So, I say to my “craving adventure” friend: Go ahead. Have adventures. But, remember, the reason they are called adventures is because they are not safe. Choose your adventures well, because you never know when an adventure will take that dark turn into the realm of real danger.
I appreciate those who crave adventure, and I want you to know that, deep down, I am still one of your ilk. A despiser of limitations.
But, for the time being, I think I do not crave adventure. Not even a little.