My dad gunned the engine and we held our breaths as the truck barely scraped through the aspen trees. We were “off the beaten path” yet again. We knew it was coming when we heard Dad say, “Hmm, wonder where this road goes?”
On this day, the road had narrowed and narrowed until we had a tree on either side of the truck with just a half inch to spare. We were high up in the Rocky Mountains of southwest Colorado, miles from civilization. No cell phones existed in 1978 and no one back home knew where we were to send help if needed. We were on our own. I wondered if we would have to abandon the truck and hike the 10 miles back. My mother is as steady as a rock so she sat calmly and let my dad, who’d gotten us into the mess, get us out. He did, as usual.
Our Colorado camping trips were never spent in the RV parks beside the road. In fact, we mocked them as we passed by, headed to regions hitherto unknown, at least to our family. We were adventurers. These expeditions were my father’s classroom, teaching me life lessons I’ve never forgotten and still try to live.
Lesson 1: Notice those less traveled trails and paths. They may lead you to the best fishing stream or view or they may end in a boring gully. What have you lost by checking it out? A little time. What do you lose by not trying? An unplanned, spontaneous joy. It’s about possibility.
Lesson 2: Remain calm in the face of calamity. On this same trip, later that day in fact, my sisters and I were walking through the forest and I let go of a tree branch too early. It flipped into my baby sister’s face, cutting her eye. Luckily she wasn’t blinded. My parents calmly checked her and we went on. One the same trip, my middle sister pushed on the glass of the camper shell window busting it out. I do remember some stern words because we’d been told to open it with the handle. The trip went on with the help of some duct tape.
Lesson 3: The littlest things can become the best memories that bond family. One day we’d hiked along a stream all day, come back in the late afternoon, packed up camp and moved to a new spot. Dusk was falling as Mom simmered canned beef stew in a frying pan over the camp fire. The smell wafted and in that moment we were ravenous. We grabbed spoons and began eating out of the pan still on the campfire. We still remember it as one of the best meals we ever had.
I recently took my children on a trip to Gulf Shores and all of the lessons came into play on our last day. We’d been inside all day waiting out a storm. The storm passed and it was cold on the beach. We were determined to get some beach time, so we bundled up, rolled up our pant legs and waded through the ice-cold water in the flooded parking lot. We were rewarded on the beach, not with sun and warmth but with a sky full of receding, breathtaking storm clouds and waves to make the heart pound. It was the best memory of the trip, a freezing cold, post-storm beach afternoon that we could have easily missed.