Over the last several months, I have been doing the thing in the nature. You know, the embracing my inner hippie, hiking, roughing it thing. The thing that I was kind of forced into because we moved into the middle of nowhere and I had to embrace and change and test myself, or ignore and slowly but surely die inside. Anyway, I have been growing as a human and doing my part to find a new, happy, adventurous me, and posting it all obnoxiously to my Facebook page. Say what you will, but I hike in makeup and earrings for a reason and my #humblebrags actually worked for good instead of evil.
A little over a month ago, a dear friend of mine messaged me in a panic. Her twenty-something year old daughter had gone hiking with her friend the day before and hadn’t returned. She had an idea of where they went but not an exact location. She was asking everyone that was willing to help, to go out to various trails, and search. Since I had been so showy and sharey of my recent adventures, she knew I would be willing to put some boots on the ground and do my part.
Except, it was a Sunday morning and I was happily drinking coffee in bed. The day was supposed to be completely wretched with rain and plummeting temperatures. Hiking sounded like a terrible idea. But how exactly do you say no to a mother with a missing child?
I am a complete garbage human, so I was wracking my brain for all the reasons to not have to go, but I made the mistake of telling my husband and he basically flew into action, ready to jump in the car, drive for two hours, and save the day.
As we were walking out the door with all of our hiking gear and our youngest child, the hubs grabbed the air horn, just in case. Thankfully he didn’t see me roll my eyes behind his back. Honestly all I could think was, “What is the point?”
Now in my defense, I wasn’t thinking, “What is the point, they are obviously going to die out there.” It was more along the lines of, “I am sure they are fine and will find their way back and how are we actually going to locate two lost girls somewhere in the vast nature of North Georgia?”
On our way out, we stopped to say hello to a neighbor that we had only met one time (and by we, I obviously mean I stopped the car and my husband went to talk to him because I hate extoverting) and in that 5 minutes somehow the neighbor offered his airhorn to help with the search, just in case. (Insert eye roll here)
We headed in the general direction of the particular trail she asked us to scour and because I didn’t Google map it from the beginning, it took us almost an hour longer than it should have. We also had to stop at McDonald’s because my son desperately needed a cheeseburger to survive the day.
When we were 7 miles from the trailhead, our arrival time was still saying that we were over 45 minutes away which made no sense whatsoever. Until of course we came upon a gravel and extremely bumpy road of continuous switchbacks. It was treacherous. I looked at my husband with that silent, “Are we seriously doing this,” stink-eye, and we carried on. The next road we turned onto had a sign that said “Road closed from January to March,” it was December 17th. We slowly crept along sliding on ice patches and snow and pulled over at a waterfall to reevaluate once again. I called my friend to see if anything had changed and she was crying and talking to the police and said she would have to talk to me later. So, not good news.
I was staring at the road ahead of us and seriously doubting whether we would make it to the trailhead alive when a very rugged off-road Jeep covered in mud pulled up beside us. My husband being the guy that will literally talk to anyone, approached the Jeep and talked to a handful of teenagers about the road conditions and why we happened to be there in the first place. The guys said that the road was awful and they weren’t sure if we would make it up, but offered to take him to the trailhead themselves.
I of course, was hesitant, because, you know, stranger danger, but then the guys said that they did see a red car at the top but no humans anywhere in sight. I pulled up a Facebook post of the car that the girls were driving and they all agreed that it could be the same one. That was enough for my husband to jump in the Jeep and take off while my son and I stayed behind to wait in the car. Yes I the hiker, stayed behind while my husband left to rescue my friends kid.
In my defense, we didn’t all fit in the Jeep and my son was definitely not dressed appropriately for the conditions, but still.
I was expecting to wait for about twenty minutes. They would get to the top of the mountain, take a good look around and return empty-handed. But over an hour passed without them returning and I was starting to panic a bit. I checked Facebook about every 43 seconds to see if there were any updates, and of course, nothing good was being reported, just desperation.
After a few unsuccessful attempts to reach my husband, I called him one last time to beg him to wrap it up so that we could get home and maybe feel our toes again sometime this century. This time he picked up. He was out of breath, so naturally I thought he was dying.
“I have them,” he said.
Disbelief flooded me. I thought for sure he was mistaken.
“You have the girls? The right girls?”
“Yes, positive ID. I have them.”
And then he hung up.
With no other information I was hesitant to call my friend in case somehow he was wrong, but I knew as a mother, every second for her was torture not knowing if her daughter was safe, so I made the call. I told her that the girls had been found and were safe but that I hadn’t personally seen them so not to call off the search just yet. It turned out that she was close by. She had headed to the same trail she told us to go to but turned around because of the road and was planning to hike up the mountain if she had to, to find the girls. I told her I thought she could make it to the waterfall and to turn back and come meet us there. Within minutes we were together waiting for the return of everyone.
About twenty minutes passed before we were all reunited. The girls were found wet, freezing and starving. They had wandered off the trail and hadn’t been able to find their way back. They had survived the night because they happened to have a lighter on them and were able to build a fire, and slept with their two dogs piled on top of them. They had no food or water.
If we hadn’t taken the long way to get there, or if my son didn’t so desperately need a cheeseburger, we wouldn’t have arrived when we did, at the same time those boys were passing by in the Jeep. If they hadn’t stopped and been willing to drive my husband back to the trail, we would never have made it to the top. And if my husband didn’t listen to that little voice inside him that said to grab the air horn, this story would have ended differently.
Because that’s what found them after all, that stupid air horn. The one that I rolled my eyes at. The one that the neighbor confirmed we should have. The one that my husband turned back for once he was in the Jeep. Three times, it came up three times.
When the Jeep full of friendly strangers and my persistent husband reached the abandoned car, it was unlocked and the girls stuff was inside. They found their IDs, they knew they were in the right spot. So they searched and searched and searched. They all split up in different directions yelling the girls names. And when they were defeated and giving up because it seemed hopeless and the weather was getting unbearable, my husband blew the air horn, and the girls finally heard them. They heard a distant yell and he blew it again and again and again until they finally found them.
None of us can take any credit for what happened, we couldn’t have manipulated the circumstances that brought those girls home that night. And when it seemed like God had turned His head and ignored everyone’s crying pleas, He was there all along.
In the details.