Getting Off Track

City of Rocks National Reserve

(Ed. Note – this isn’t just about what I did last weekend.  There’s a point here, I promise)

My family and I went camping this past weekend.  We drove to a place that we’d never been to before, about three and a half hours away from where we live, called The City of Rocks National Reserve.  It was beautiful!  It was our second time taking our two year old son camping; the first attempt hadn’t gone so well.  So, we were really hopeful that this time it would work out, because both my wife and I love being outdoors.

The first night went okay, and he went to sleep in the tent pretty well.  He slept all night and didn’t wake up until it started getting light in the morning.  Unfortunately for us, that was around 5:45 or 6.  However, we were fine with that, because the second morning was when our problems had occurred the first time we went camping last year.  My son just couldn’t understand why he had gone to sleep and woken up outside, and it had put him in a foul mood.  Nothing like that this time.  He was fine and happy, eating eggs and throwing rocks around the campsite.

We wanted to do a little bit of hiking before we were going to come home, so we found a trailhead close to our campsite and set off.  Before we set off, we took a look at the map close by to see how long of a trail this was.  The map said 5 miles.  A little bit long, but not too bad.  I figured if we started going too slow with my son, I’d just put him in our child-carrier backpack and hike with him the rest of the way.

After an hour or so of hiking, we were loving the scenery, but a little thought in the back of my mind told me that things weren’t quite the way they were supposed to be.  Averaging about three miles an hour, I knew we should have been over halfway finished with the trail.  I could tell from the way we’d been hiking, however, that we hadn’t even begun to loop back around toward the trailhead that we’d started on.  I wasn’t too concerned, though.  We were on an obvious trail, so I knew we just needed to follow it out to wherever it ended up, and find our way back from there.

Three hours later, we finally reached the main road back to the campsite where our car was parked.  Unfortunately, where we hit the road was about 3 miles north of where our car was parked.  Judging by our average footspeed of around three miles an hour, we had already hiked around nine or 10 miles that morning, with another three to go.  I hadn’t planned on carrying my 30 pound son in a five pound pack for three plus hours, and I was getting tired.   And, quite honestly, I wasn’t even 100% sure that the road we had hit was the road to our campground.  I had forgotten my GPS unit at home, so I was counting on the trail to get us back to where we started.  We’d gotten so off-course that I didn’t even really know how to get back.

Isn’t life just like that sometimes?  As we were walking (and walking, and walking…), I realized that the hike I was on was a perfect metaphor for life.  Let me list the things that went wrong:

1.  I wasn’t careful to take stock before I set out. I left my GPS at home, which prevented me from understanding how far we’d come, and being able to see the route we had taken to get there.  I had a niggling little feeling in the back of my mind that things weren’t quite right, but I really had nothing to base that on, because I couldn’t see how far off-course we were.  Additionally, had I read the map at the trailhead more closely, I would have seen that the trail was called the North Fork Circle Creek Trail, not the North Fork Creek Circle Trail.  I could have seen that the trail wasn’t a loop, and that it wasn’t going to bring me back to where it started, if I’d just read a little more carefully.

I know that I’ve done this before in life, too.  I’ll be in such a hurry to start on a committment without considering all the things it will require of me, and all the needs I’ll have while I’m trying to complete the task.  I’ll end up frustrated and tired, not sure how I got myself into the mess that I’m in.

2.  I had no way to know how to get back to where I started. By the time things got bad, and I knew that we were in over our heads, I had nothing in my arsenal to tell me how to get back to where we started.  I could guess at the distance we’d come, knowing how fast we usually hiked, but I didn’t know  for sure.  I also didn’t know if it would have been more expedient to turn around, or to continue on.  Had I had my GPS unit, I would have known how far we’d come, and I could have guessed at how far we had to go to at least get to a familiar location.  I had no frame of reference, because I’d never hiked that trail before, and I didn’t have anyone with me who had, either.

Sometimes in life, it pays to know when to quit.  Just because you’ve committed to something previously is no reason to keep plugging along when you know it’s not going to work out.  If you’ve made a commitment to someone else, then you need to keep up until you finish the task.  However, if you’re doing what you’re doing just because you don’t want to admit it was a bad choice, stop it.  Turn around and head back to where you came from by the way that got you there.  Don’t hope for the best.

In a caveWe got back to the road, and were hiking back to what we hoped was our campsite.  It was pretty hot, my son was grouchy because he was hungry and we didn’t have any sunscreen for him.  He’s pasty-white, like me, so I was worried he was going to get a good burn going on.  We rounded a bend in the road, and noticed a dilapidated building along the road in the distance.  I groaned.  The good news was I recognized it from the previous evening’s drive in, so I knew we were on the right road.  The bad news was I knew it was a good three miles from the campground, and it was all uphill.  Just then, we saw a truck coming from the direction of the campground, so I flagged them down and asked how far it was back to the campground, just so I could prepare myself mentally for how much further we had to go.  I think the man driving felt bad for my wife and son, having this dumb guy hike them out to the middle of nowhere, so he offered to take us back to our car.  We happily jumped in and rode back up a hill that would have easily taken us an hour and a half to climb.  This leads me to my third lesson learned:

3.  When life presents you with challenges, don’t be afraid to stick your hand out and ask for help.  If I had just put my head down and let that truck drive past, who knows when another would have come along?  I might have made my wife and dog walk another three miles, and gotten my son a sunburn in the process.  I just wanted to know how long of a hike we were in for, and this wonderful man offered to go out of his way to help us get back to where we needed to be.  If I hadn’t stuck out my hand and flagged down the truck, I would have missed out on that opportunity.

So, the moral of the story (other than I need to be more careful when I pack next time) is that it’s never too late to turn around, but if you insist on keeping going, be sure you ask for help.

8 thoughts on “Getting Off Track”

  1. It takes a lot of courage to ask for help. Too often we feel that doing so is a sign of lack or failure on our part, but really it is a hallmark of learning and growing.

    Kudos to you for finding the life lesson in this situation!

    1. Thanks, Stacy. I know you recently mentioned this on your blog, too. It is a tough thing to do, but, as you said, asking for help allows you to help more people yourself (or something to that effect; sorry if I butchered your quote).

  2. On your list #2…my question is how do you know when it is time to quit or when you may be on the cusp of success and just need to work a little harder? I think it can look, or at least feel, the same (don't feel like it's working, feel like maybe it's time to give up). How may people have given up on the heels of success, just because they didn't persist a little bit longer or try a bit harder? And how many people have made the mistake of not 'quitting while they were ahead'? I'd love to know the answer! 🙂

    1. At the risk of giving away something I was going to blog about in the near future (and I still will), I think that your attitude is an important factor in why you quit. Also, you might want to check out The Dip, by Seth Godin. It's about doing what's the best thing you could be doing, not just a "good thing". By the way, I don't have all the answers, so if you disagree, feel free to do so!

  3. okay Jason, do you have someone following my life? (joke) I recently discovered that I had jumped head first into a business arrangement with Amazon to find that after 5 weeks, the costs of working with them was closer to 22.5% of my gross than the 13 to 15% I had calculated. Today I canceled 87 listings I had with Amazon. I'm not giving up on Amazon because I have come to the conclusion that the fault is mutual. I'm just going to start over, only this time I AM going to have one of their reps on the phone for as long as it takes to make sure I'm doing business in the way that is best for me. Your hike, and my foray into the world of buying and resale, have much in common.
    Three months ago I found myself faced with a massive reduction in annual income. I decided to leverage the credit I have worked so hard to build over the last 3 years. I probably owe close to double what my current inventory will yield after fees etc. But I have learned so much about the current consumer market that I believe I can turn that around. Mostly because I have not been afraid to ask many people for help and received lots of it.

    1. Yep, Steve, a lot of the time the only way we learn is by having not-so-great things happen. I know it's not fun at the time, but I'm glad you're able to learn from it. Thanks for stopping by!

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