Tuesday, January 29, 2019


Some adventures become a quest of ongoing challenges and the human will to persevere.

This past weekend's annual swamp hike started off with great promise. We debuted our new high quality Osprey backpacks & top notch gear. We had 5 returning Swamp Thing participants and 4 newbies all eager for our most UNpopular event. And we had our youngest swamp hiker ever at 12 years old along with her Mom.

We spent an hour and a half packing our backpacks and preparing for the 100% chance of rain forecasted for our entire 2 day trip. We prayed and committed the entire adventure into God's hands rain or shine, the good, the bad, the ugly. And we set out for an underwater trail marked only by orange paint marks on trees in the swamps of the Everglades.

Our upbeat hikers were on a fast record setting pace. It looked like we would complete our hard sloshy 3 mile trudge to camp in 3 hours. One mile in it began to rain. We dawned our ponchos, ate some snacks, and drank some water. We continued on.

At the 2 mile mark the wheels fell off during our next break. As we were finishing up our 10 minute break for water & snacks one of our hikers was sawing some wood with the sawtooth backside of his machete. The machete stuck fast into the wood but the momentum of hiker's hand continued down the slick wet handle and onto the razor sharp edge of the machete. The result was a deep laceration into their index finger. It could have happened to any of us. The blade was so sharp and the cut so deep that he didn't even notice how bad it was. Until blood started rushing out. Thankfully it wasn't spurting, but the cut was severe. In the blink of an eye the entire trip changed.

As we assessed the severity and began treating the cut our injured hiker said he was losing his vision... then immediately said he was losing his hearing... then just as quickly turned pale white. It looked like he was going into shock. But could it be something worse? Something internal that we couldn't see? The potential consequences were too high to take any chances. We needed to get him to medical care. Thankfully there was a new fire station 2 miles back at the start of the hike. But that was 2 hours away by foot for a healthy hiker and maybe 5 hours away if we had to carry him out. I had the GPS Spot Device that can send out an emergency call from anywhere we have GPS coverage. But I still had strong cell phone coverage. The only good option was to call 911 and see if they could contact that fire department and have them on standby. Our injured hiker was now sitting in the cold swampy water leaning against a tree pale white, disoriented, with his bandaged finger and hand elevated above his heart.

The simple 911 call turned into a 2 hour ordeal where the emergency personnel wanted us to stay put and they would try to come to us. But the area is so remote and the cypress trees so densely populated and the surrounding swamp buggy roads so deep that even a heavy duty vehicle couldn't get to us. Only a swamp buggy could make it nearby without difficulties, but to the credit of the paramedics they were trying as hard as they could on the swamp buggy roads to drive a dually truck as close as they could to us. But they weren't familiar with the hiking trail so when I told them we were between mile marker 34 & 33 that meant nothing to them. They tried to find us by sounding their siren and getting our feedback, but they kept getting further away. I text them a Google maps satellite screenshot of our current location and sent 2 hikers to the last swamp buggy roads we crossed about a half mile back. I hiked to the next swamp buggy roads crossing about a half mile ahead. But they couldn't find us. Then the GTD curse hit the paramedics... they got a flat tire on the swamp buggy road!! After 2 hours of trying to navigate to each other we had to move on to making up plan D.

By this time our injured hiker was past the shock and feeling able to hike with his backpack. All the sitting for most of the hikers was trending us towards hypothermia. It was cold and rainy. We had about 2 hours of daylight left. I decided we were going back to the parking lot. The trip was going to be cut short. But then I received a call from the National Park Service who encouraged me to go the remaining mile to our campsite instead of the 2 miles back to the parking lot. They said they could get some help out to our hiker. They kept mentioning possibly sending out a helicopter, but things had stabilized and that wasn't necessary. All I originally wanted was for the nearby fire department to be on standby. But it kept escalating into a rescue party and now they were talking about a helicopter. I kept telling them it wasn't to that degree. And thankfully they literally "called off air support". Over the next hour we hiked towards our campsite. By the time we were about 10 minutes from camp the paramedics had enlisted the sheriff's office to bring out their truck and continue on the swamp buggy road towards our campsite. We resumed navigating towards each other over the phone. Finally 3 1/2 hours after the intial 911 call we were able to send our hiker out with the police officer & paramedic and onto the hospital where he received several stitches to his sliced finger. He is doing well.

I can't thank our First Responders enough for their perseverance in finding us and caring for our injured hiker. It became much more than I intended, but I greatly appreciate the priority they put on us to make sure our hiker was thoroughly cared for.

As for the remaining 8 swamp hikers, we all made it to camp. We had a short break in the rain that allowed us to set up our tents and hammocks as well as cook dinner. Then the rain started back up and continued for the next 13+ hours. Sometimes the weather becomes the defining aspect of an adventure and all you can do is bunker down. We all crawled into our shelters at 7:30pm and didn't have to get up till 8:30am. That was 13 of the best and most comfortable hours of rest and sleep. Listening to the rain while laying in a warm sleeping bag high & dry in an extremely comfortable hammock was so enjoyable. I rarely get that much sleep so it was a savored night =).

Throughout the night the rain drenched everything at camp. But it didn't dampen the spirit of our hikers. Everyone rolled with the punches. We cooked breakfast, broke camp, and spent time doing a group devotion about choosing joy in the midst of the trial and choosing to persevere during tough times (all from James 1:2-4). We went around the circle and shared something that we are thankful for as well as a story about a time we didn't give up even though we were tempted to and look back at it now with great joy that we stuck it out. One of the greatest regrets in life is to look back at times when you should have kept going, but instead you chose to give up. Rarely does someone ever regret going the distance.

We hiked back as the next cold front and band of rain was on its way. We bonded. We didn't quit. We didn't give up. This was a hard trip that was defined by an injury and poor weather. But the satisfaction that we all experienced by rising to the challenge and finishing what we set out to do is absolutely priceless. In fact, we are better because of it.

Thank you Jesus that we don't have to be rescued from the storms of life. It can become a great journey with our Creator that builds character, closeness, experience, and memories. The storms test us. They can build us. They can take us to greater heights than we could ever experience from constant calmness. The secret is to be in the storm without letting the storm be inside of you. Just like Jesus sleeping in the back of the boat in the middle of the storm. He's our great example =)

Click here to see all the 2019 Swamp Thing pics: https://goingthedistance.smugmug.com/2019/2019-Adv-Trip---SWAMP-THING-Public