If you follow me on Instagram and Facebook, you know that some of my favorite local haunts are the trails in the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. 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.
So as usual for me, I was out on those trails for routine local exercise and nature therapy when I came across a lost and frustrated family—a mom, dad, two young boys, and two small dogs. They had been going in circles on this web of trails. For hours.
When I showed them a copy of the trail map I keep on my phone, they seemed to regain their orientation. At least the mom did. The dad was beside himself. He was lost in the mistake and the inability to fix it. He felt responsible for getting his family into the mess and couldn’t get past that mental block to get them out of it.
In the moment, the mom really seemed to have a grasp of the terrain and map I’d shown her but I was still concerned. I thought about giving them my number so they could call me if they had any more trouble. They seemed like they were on track, though, so I went on my way.
The tale doesn’t end there
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. I saw the exhaustion on the parents’ faces. And I had to break the news to them. There was no easy way to get to the other parking lot, where their car was.
The mom was still levelheaded but I could see the dismay on her face when I told her. 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 whatever else, 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 day-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 as 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 deferred to the mom. He realized he wouldn’t be able to find his way back to this parking lot from where they were parked. I’m glad he had at least that much sense left in him. To know his limitations and not feel like less because he needed his wife to save the day. So he opted to stay with the kids and dogs while I shuttled the mom to the other parking lot to retrieve their car.
A helping hand
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. Yet it took trust on both our parts to get in the car together. In taking some energy to size up the situation and each other, we were both able to get past the automatic, culturally-ingrained red flags that pop up when entering potentially vulnerable scenarios with a stranger. We both recognized that there were more pressing issues here.
The reality is that this is an urban park. The Vickery Creek unit is bounded by major roads as well as homes on all sides. That means they were never actually all that far from help. They just didn’t know it. The mind games took over and they were doomed to fail.
I was more than happy to help them out. I’ve received help like that in the past and I’m sure I will need it again at some point. Helping others builds the we’re-all-in-this-together community we sorely need out in the world.
With this encounter in mind, here are some things to remember while out there exploring:
- Maps are your friends. 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 maps are a bonus because they don’t require battery life.
- Keep your wits about you. Even if you need to stop and take 10 minutes (or however long you need) to collect yourself, do it so you don’t dig yourself deeper into the hole in a frantic state of mind.
- Pay it forward. We all need help from time to time and it all comes around. If you see a bad situation brewing for someone else, make constructive, kind suggestions. They may not know what they need or be reluctant to ask. Offering help changes the dynamic.
- 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 others’ 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. We’re all in this together.div class=”alignleft”>