Thursday, October 11, 2012

It happens to everyone

I think we're lost!
My daughter, Lyz, had been hiking with her boyfriend in Wekiva Springs State Park when a huge storm blew in.  They pulled on ponchos and debated their next move while the heavy rain fell and the lightning crashed around them.  The storm was so large and heavy, it was red on the radar from Daytona Beach on the east coast of Florida all the way across to Tampa on the west coast.  Rain was so heavy, they couldn't see more than a few feet in front of them and it would continue through the night.  Alone on the trail, they figured they could wait out the storm but it didn't let up for hours.  Darkness came and along with it the fears that they wouldn't get out of the park before closing time.  Lyz says she ran "crouched down" on the trail to avoid being hit by lightning.  And somewhere in the dark storm they took a wrong turn.  And they went on and on, lunging over huge puddles, running through knee deep water and stopping to drain the gallons of water from their galoshes. Wild eyes stared back at them from the trees in their flashlight beam.  At some point they came to a horse fence and crossed it, thinking they were on the backside of the actual Wekiva Springs.  But they were not.
Wekiva Springs, Kelly Park is top left
When Lyz called us for help, it was 7:30 at night with the storm still raging. They were very unsure of their location.  She said she thought they were at Kelly Park, a county park just west of Wekiva Springs,  due to some signs near her. Our last conversation with her before her phone died was to listen for the car horn and look for flashing headlights in about 5 minutes. We drove to the closed gate at Kelly Park and honked the horn. Since the exit gate was still open, I pulled on my raincoat and started to look for them right as a park ranger arrived to lock the gate.  When I told him I was looking for my daughter and her boyfriend who were lost, he immediately took charge and said "Follow me" and led the way back into the park in his cart.  We followed in our car.
We didn't go far before running into the pair of soaked hikers on the road.  With great thanks to the ranger, we drove back to the gate at Wekiva Springs, calling the park phone numbers over and over with no answer and no way to leave a message.  We were concerned they would have to initiate a search for the car's owners when it was left behind, who were now safe and warm and eating mom's cookies in the back seat of our car.
We stopped at a neighborhood Publix grocery store where a clerk helped us get the correct county sheriff's phone number.  My daughter left a message with a deputy about her car at the park. This was to notify the authorities that they were found and safe and would be back in the morning to get the car. Since they were safe, we hoped no one at the park would be searching for them.
At this point, we drove them home while listening to them talking about ways not to become lost. Experience is the best teacher. It was good to hear how many things they got right. Between them, they did have plenty of water, a flashlight, ponchos and boots, waterproof matches, emergency whistles, a compass and a knife (you brought a knife? Lyz's boyfriend asked).  As we laughed at that, I counted this event as great news and excellent training and experience for my future backpacking partner. Things to consider in future hikes are to turn off the cell phone data service or put the phone to sleep to conserve power.  Also having a compass was great, but without a map it was of little use to them. With a map, they could have also have followed a trail south to get back to their car.  Generally, in case you need to find your way back it is crucial to know long it took you to get somewhere. Food would also be good, even if it wasn't actually needed for the trip.
It was funny how my wife talked about never having to know where she was or what we brought with us because when we were outdoors, I assumed that responsibility.  I told her I had been lost many times and she said, "No, we were never lost."  (Really very funny!)  She was happy to hand that responsibility over to me.  Lyz's boyfriend shared that same level of confidence with her. When we got out to drop her off, Lyz gave me a second huge hug. I was happy also.

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