An Unexpected Journey: New appreciation for the word ‘lost’ – Part One

Jonathan and me at the Indian cave in 2010.

By Gary D. Myers

Anyone who knows me well knows one thing: I don’t get lost. I don’t get lost in the car. I don’t get lost in the woods. I just don’t get lost.
I have one rule for not getting lost and one tool for not getting lost. My one rule is to never admit I’m lost and just keep on searching for the right way. I seem to think more clearly if I don’t utter that word.

My one tool for not getting lost is my natural sense of direction. No matter how far I out of the way I get, my sense of direction always seems to point me in the right direction. Sort of the way a falling cat always lands on its feet. I call this sixth sense my GPS – the Gary Positioning System. As for real GPS devices, well, I hate those. A few years back our GPS led me out onto a jetty near the Lakeview Harbor in New Orleans and instructed me to turn left. The only thing to the left was Lake Pontchartrain  I was already skeptical of the GPS’s condescending tone, but after “she” tried to kill me, well, she lost my trust.

In November, our family traveled to Oklahoma to visit my Mom during the week of Thanksgiving. Each time we go to Oklahoma in the fall or winter, I go explore the woods like I did as a kid.
Some of my fondest memories involve exploring the woods. When I was a young teenager I began taking longer hikes further from home. One day I discovered a creek and canyon just less than a mile south of my house. The canyon was deep, rocky and full of adventure. I spent hours down at the canyon. Eventually, I found a cave that had been inhabited my Native American several hundred years ago. At the cave, I found grindstones, broken flint arrowheads and flint pieces. I loved to spend time there. I’ve slept in that cave twice (so far). During my high school years two friends and I camped there one spring. Then when I was sophomore in college, I had a personal prayer retreat at the cave. It was a windy, chilly October night – perhaps the longest night of my life. I slept very little that night, but I did read my Bible and prayed quite a bit.
So, I decided to take a trip to the cave our second day at Mom’s. I could not convince Jonathan or Kimberly to come, so I went on my own. I took a walking stick, a headlamp, a Leatherman tool, and my camera. No water and no food. Sounds like trouble. Yes, but that all I ever take. In fact, I rarely take a light of any kind.
I had two objectives: visit the Indian cave and visit another small cave further down the canyon. I hadn’t visited the second cave since college. I got off to a late start, but I only expected to stay at the first cave for a short time and move on to the other cave that I hadn’t seen in years. I knew the second cave might be hard to find.
It was a beautiful day, warmish for a late November day in Oklahoma. I made very good time on my trek to the canyon. I approached from a little different direction to avoid some of the worst underbrush and therefore, it took a little longer than usual to make it to the Indian cave. I really love this spot and I couldn’t resist hanging out there for a while. Maybe I lingered too long.
When I started working my way in the other cave, the sun was still high. I hoped from rock to rock working my way down stream in the very bottom of the canyon. When I thought I was nearing the cave, I ascended the high, rocky canyon wall to locate the cave near the canyon’s “south” rim. At this point the canyon gets fairly wide and begins to have more “branches” or off-shoots” for lack of a better word.
I looked along the rim for the cave for at least an hour, fighting inch by inch through heavy underbrush. Before long I was exhausted and covered with scratches from thorny brush. In my singular focus on finding the cave, I lost track of time. Then, I noticed the sun was gently slipping behind the trees. It was time to go home. I needed to be out of the canyon before dark.
Tired from the struggle to find the second cave, I made a crucial mistake.  I simply turned around and stayed up near the rim and backtracked through the most difficult terrain I had experienced during the trip. As I slowly fought back through the thorns and rocks the clock was ticking and the sun was sinking fast. I should have gone to the bottom of the canyon and walked out the way I came in – up the stream bed. It’s easier down there and the water tells you which way to go. If I had used the available light to get back upstream to the Indian cave, I could have easily walked out of the canyon – even in the dark. But I stayed up top in hopes of stumbling upon the second cave.
Soon, I realized that my first decision was not a good one. However, even more tired, I followed up the first bad decision with an even worse decision. I decide to descend from the “south” rim and climb up and out the “north” rim. In theory this would put in on the “homeward” side of the canyon and I could walk to Mom’s on level ground. By this time it was nearly dark.
Unfortunately, while searching for the cave I had wondered into a large off-shoot of the canyon – one of the “branches.” When I crested the what I though was north rim the sun was setting to my right instead of my left where it should have been. I was completely turned around. Soon I discovered that I was on an island of high ground. The canyon surrounded me to the north, east and west. A very wide portion of the canyon was still between me and home and in the dim moonlight I could see several more canyon off-shoots.
As I switched on my tiny headlamp, I wondered …. “Am I lost?”
To Be Continued

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