As I tumbled violently down the trail I was both frightened and relieved. The relief came from the brief rest my legs were getting because they were no longer holding my body up. I was frightened because I was tumbling so violently that I was sure that I was going to be hurt quite bad. My body stopped in a heap of bushes to the side of the trail some fifteen or so feet from where I took flight. I could feel the tell tale sting of scrapes on my legs, arms, back, and face, but other than the stinging I knew that I hadn't broken anything and that I was still conscious. It was now almost completely dark. I had been a fool for running in those conditions and now had no choice but to walk the rest of the way.
I had no idea how far I had left to go. I could see only the faint outline of the trees in front of me and could hear only the sound of my heavy, lumbering footsteps. I was struggling with my mind more than ever now. Not only was I in a dark forest with no provisions for the night, but I was completely exhausted, mind and body.
I just wanted to be home. I wondered what Karen was going through right at that moment. I was so worried that she would be overcome with fear and wouldn't put it past her to be calling for a search party. It wouldn't have been as big of a deal back home, but these mountains and this country weren't nearly as familiar to us. This, in and of itself, would definitely intensify any fear. It was intensifying mine.
As I walked carefully through the forest that had been such a lovely place early that day, I was struck by how menacing it had become. Every cracking branch or rustling leaf I heard in the distance sent a shot of adrenaline through my veins. I must have been five or so kilometers from the temple by now which meant I had a long way to go. I started talking out loud again. This would hopefully keep any animals away, or at least warn them that I was coming. Once again my conversation with myself was that of someone confronting the devil himself.
"Who cares if I reached the top? What does that prove?" I knew part of the reason was to fulfill other peoples' expectations of me. "I will never again let pride control me." I repeated this over and over again. "I will never again let pride control me." I couldn't help thinking about the old adage "you don't know what you've got until it's gone". This was one of those times. I felt as if I had taken things for granted and now was being overwhelmed with guilt about it. I don't just mean the obvious things like my safety or Karen's happiness, I mean the little things too, like sitting in a warm chair reading a book, or laughing with friends. It's not that I thought I was about to die, it's more that for the first time in my life I realized that I was not in full control of my fate and that one day this lack of control could cause me to lose some or all of the things that mean the most to me in life.
I was genuinely afraid of the situation I had gotten myself into. I begged to be let out of it and promised that I would not let it happen again and that I would appreciate all of the things I had taken for granted all this time. I meant it. There was nothing I had ever wanted more than to be delivered from this situation safely and with as little grief to the people who cared about me as possible. I wanted a sign. I needed to know that my pleas were being heard. I needed to know that I wasn't really alone, perhaps that none of us really were. "Just give me a sign, please, anything." I didn't know who I was talking to because I wasn't a religious man, but that night, I knew there had to be something or someone bigger than all of us. There had to be someone listening, I had to believe it.
I kept rambling on and on reiterating my promise and my calls for help. The words that were coming out of my mouth would probably have made very little sense to anyone listening, and I knew this at the time, but I had attained a certain ability or right perhaps, to say exactly what was on my mind even if it made no sense at all. I sang crazy made-up songs and recited a type of cathartic, primal poetry, my voice getting hoarse. I began to think that it would soon be time to find a spot to stay for the night. I figured I could just cover myself up with my jacket and hopefully I would be left alone until daybreak when I could find my way home. I couldn't do it though. If I had to walk one inch at a time, I was going to go home.
After walking for over an hour in the dark, occasionally wandering off the trail and having to retrace my steps, I got my wish - a sign.
(to be continued)