This past summer, I had myself an adventure. It’s the first part of a two-parter, mostly because when you’re a grownup, you can get started on an adventure but not have time to finish it.
There’s an 80-foot waterfall in my hometown. It’s on private land, but the owners have never cared much about people hiking up to it. I hadn’t been there in about 10 years, and I decided it was time for a hike. My usual walk involves a well-worn path through woods up to a set of railroad tracks. From there, it’s a steep scramble down to the top of the falls. I learned recently, however, that you can get to the bottom of the falls by walking the creek. So I decided to start there.
A few minutes into my walk, I had a memory that there have been bears in my hometown before, and maybe I shouldn’t walk alone. I, of course, proceeded alone. The area is completely wild, untouched by any attempt to make it a tourist trap. So there is no path; you just walk through the creek. I got to the bottom of the falls, spent some time there just admiring them and taking pictures, and then the adventure began. I decided it would be more fun to try to climb the 120 foot gorge than to double back and take the safer, higher trail. About 80 feet up, it got really steep. I paused, observed, mapped out a climbing route, and went to take my first step. Which happened to be directly into a long piece of metal that someone had tied between the two trees I was about to climb through. There was a rope as well. This piece of metal and the rope were either saying, “Don’t keep climbing up” (to me) or “Don’t keep climbing down” (to someone coming from the top). I wasn’t sure if I had already accomplished the dangerous part of the climb (let’s pretend I had, k?) or if it was still in front of me. My sense of daring took over for about 5 more seconds, but as I lifted my foot to push ahead, my kids’ faces floated through my mind, and I decided maybe it would be best if they still had a daddy at the end of the day.
After a rather slidey climb downward, I ran into three boys, probably 12, 10, and 8, off on their own adventure. They were headed toward the falls as I was headed away. I took the creek back and then made the usual trek through the woods to the top of the falls. But as I got to the top of the falls, I heard shouting and laughing. And there were those same three boys, completing the climb that I had abandoned. Feeling a little embarrassed but also excited at these brave boys, we talked for a while, and then they informed me that they were going through the railroad tunnel and up the creek. I’d never gone through the railroad tunnel. But these boys weren’t going to out-brave me a second time. So after my usual time admiring the top of the falls, through the tunnel I went.
I found them playing at a smaller waterfall higher up the valley. I stayed there as long as I could with them, but my time was running short. The boys said they were moving on. “There’s another waterfall, and then another tunnel ahead! But we don’t go through that tunnel. It’s creepy.”
I looked at the time. I was out of it. I had to turn around. But something very important happened in the moment that I turned around and I can only attribute it to the grace of God. My usual inclination at this point would be to feel sorry for myself, sorry that my life has become so full of obligations that I’m no longer free to keep walking up the creek. I would feel sad that my adventures are on a clock, that because people expect things from me and need things from me, I can’t just wander wherever I please. But my kids’s faces floated into my head again. So did my wife’s. And this thought went through my mind: Being a husband and a dad is a better adventure than this. And so I went home, not depressed that I’d missed out on an adventure, but happy to have had this little journey and excited to return to my life’s real adventure.
It wouldn’t be completely honest to end this story there. Those boys still have one up on me. They made that climb, and I didn’t. But they wouldn’t go through the creepy tunnel. When the snow melts, you can be sure I’ll take this trip again. And I’m going into the creepy tunnel. And when I come out, I will write Part 2.