In May 2012 I was hiking in Monongahella National Forest in West Virginia. The 12-mile circuit hike was crowned by a spectacular vista overlooking Long Run Canyon.
After eating lunch, hiking along the canyon rim, I came across a campsite. Rock cairns on the bare dirt drew an arrow towards a thicket, off the main trail. Bushwhacking through this thicket would shave 2 miles off the hike.
I followed the cairns and within a few minutes I picked up a faint hunter’s trail. From atop a boulder I spied a path. It was less a path than a swampy, foot-wide break in the thicket. I clung to the shrubs and straw so as not to fall into the stagnant, murky water. Despite my precaution, several times I sank up to my ankles. I stopped at a boggy clearing and consulted my GPS locator. Where was the main trail?
I picked my way around the bog and tried to beat through the thick brush. On my first attempt the thicket closed in, and I was forced to retreat. My second attempt ended in similar failure. This delay would have been tolerable if I had the canyon rim to look forward to. The emotional highpoint of the hike behind me, adrenaline waning, I found this obstacle more of a nuissance than a challenge. Also, I feared getting mired in the thicket. I was far, far off the beaten path. If I got lost or stuck, no one would find me.
Returning to the bog, I took a breather. I realized I had lost my camera lens cap. I wasn’t going to go looking for it, so I stowed my camera in my pack and resumed looking for a viable route. I followed another watery break in the thicket west. I knew the main trail couldn’t be far. A few hundred feet, perhaps? However, as before, there was no discernible route through the thicket. Just shrubs and straw.
Maybe I should turn around, I thought. But I would not. I knew I could do it. All I needed was willpower.
I found a spot where the thicket was thin and set off. I plowed my body through the straw. With each step I lifted my legs high out of the dense undergrowth, crunching reeds underfoot. I couldn’t see where I was going, but I maintained a steady course by heading in the opposite direction as the narrow burrow I was making. Not 5 minutes later the thicket parted, and I stood on the edge of a jeep trail.
I had done it. My earlier apprehensions seemed silly. Bushwhacking through the thicket wasn’t so bad after all.
I looked behind me into the thicket, at the subtle opening I had left in the straw. I wondered if anyone would visit this place, lose himself as I had lost myself, and find his way out using the path I had blazed. Inadvertently I had made his ordeal easier.
Often in life, there is no clear path to where we need to get to. If we waited for a clear path to open up, surely we would never get anywhere. Enemies, the elements, our own limitations, whatever, block our way. We have to force a path. We have to create for ourselves opportunities that were not there before. We stumble, we backtrack, but we move forward. As part of a team, we lead and create space for our teammates to gather around us, to prepare for the next push.
There are risks to take into account, but failure should not be one of them. For failure is a certainty if one doesn’t try, or try again.