Pay it Forward

If you follow me on Instagram and Facebook, you know that one of my favorite local haunts are the trails in the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area because I post pictures from there… often. One of the reasons I like this park is that the trails are a web of small segments so you can mix-and-match to make your hike or run as long or short as you like, even changing your plan in the midst of it if necessary.

Just before I left on the Pacific Northwest Tour, I was out on those trails and came across a lost and frustrated family… mom, dad, two young boys, and a dog or two. They had been going in circles on this web of trails, apparently for quite some time. After I showed them a copy of the trail map I keep on my phone, they seemed to regain their orientation. I thought about giving them my number so they could call me if they had anymore trouble but they seemed like they were on track so I went on my way.

It was at least an hour later that I came across them again in the parking lot. Unfortunately, it was not the parking lot they were trying to find. They were still lost and now the dad was a complete mess and so overwhelmed by having gotten his family into this situation that he couldn’t get focused on getting out of it.

Fortunately, the mom was still level-headed. She just asked for more directions and she seemed to finally be grasping the trail map and where they needed to go. But I looked at this poor family and I realized they weren’t asking for the help they really needed. I don’t know if it was out of embarrassment, not wanting to inconvenience me, fear of a stranger, or what, but they clearly didn’t have any more hiking in them that day and they were still a good ways from their car. They were in over their heads. Their little hike had turned into an all-day ordeal and they weren’t prepared for it.

So I reassured them they were fine and that I’d help them out. I started by offering water. I carry extra in my car… part of my whole post-Snowpocalypse preparedness strategy. Next I offered them a ride to their car. Without car seats for the little ones, I couldn’t take all of them. The dad decided he wouldn’t be able to find his way back to this parking lot from where they were parked so the he opted to stay with the kids and dogs while I shuttled the mom to the other parking lot to retrieve their car.

And in only a matter of minutes, their very hard day was resolved because they accepted help from a stranger. She was very grateful and relieved. It took trust on both our parts to get in the car together but in sizing up the situation and each other, we were both able to get past the automatic, culturally-ingrained red flags that pop up and recognize that there were more pressing issues here. Not only was I happy to help but it felt good to pay forward the help I’ve received in the past.

My take-aways from this little encounter are these:

  • Folks, maps are your friend. Know how to use them and make sure you keep them on-hand, even on “little” local adventures. It can be as simple as taking a picture of the trail map with your phone. Printed is better.
  • Keep your wits about you. Even if you need to stop and take 10 (or however long you need) to collect yourself, do it so you don’t dig yourself deeper into the hole.
  • Pay it forward. We all need help from time-to-time and it all comes around. And remember sometimes someone who needs help may be reluctant to ask for it.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you really need it. We all make misjudgments and mistakes in our outdoor adventures. It’s cool. Let’s just have each other’s backs when we do.
  • Don’t assume the worst about strangers offering help. Certainly size up the situation carefully but keep in mind the bad one you’re already in and weigh that into your calculation.

Cheers friends. Pay it forward.

Need help on the trail? Just let me know. Happy to help.


  1. Love it, Val. Which park segment did this happen at? I find the Palisades mountain trail quite confusing, even after a few times!

    1. Yes, all the units can be confusing. This is definitely not the first time I’ve helped folks navigate at Vickery Creek. 🙂

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