“If you get angry, you can take a moment to think about why you’re upset, and how you’re contributing to the conflict. Then you can sleep on it before talking it out,” said our very wise son Forest after we promised no one would yell today.
“That’s not the way we roll,” Ken replied, making me laugh so hard I cried as I high-fived him.
Vacation fighting, one of my least-favorite things, has been too much a probability for us over the years, mostly due to confusion over directions and/or getting completely lost, and who said they would meet who at whatever time, only to discover timely misunderstandings on all sides.
Yesterday in Great Smoky Mountain National Park we had a doozy of both varieties, first a map-reading misadventure resulting in all four of us yelling, “Just stop it already.” Worse, though, was the getting seemingly lost in time and place fight.
Our sons, my sister-in-law, some of her kids and one of their boyfriends, Ken and I went on a hike, lovely and full of that early spring green light that illuminates the mossy curves as we went up the winding trail. After the usual peanut butter and jelly sandwich lunch at the side of a grassy field, most of us headed back to the trail head to go horseback riding at the nearby stable, leaving Ken and Daniel to do more hiking. “Turn around at 2:30 and come back to where the car is, and I’ll meet you there about 3:30,” I told Ken. Turns out he told me something vital I didn’t hear: that it might take longer. Turns out also that his and Daniel’s map was totally inaccurate when it comes to the distance involved.
On top of a slow, red-haired horse in a slow line of other horses with their riders, I experienced the kind of euphoria that would only matched by the opposite feeling in the hours to come. The light breeze refreshed me, the beautiful trees were just leafing out, the creek we crossed glistened in sunlight. After the ride, we took a lot of pictures of the horses, said goodbye, and I got into the rental car to move it to a shady place while I waited for Ken. He was late — it was near 4 p.m. — but I figured he and Daniel would show up soon. I also thought they might be coming out from the woods a little beyond the trail, where others exited, so I drove there, only to discover I was suddenly on a scenic 11-mile loop. A one-way loop.
No worries, I told myself, This might take 20 minutes or so, but I could circle around and meet the guys soon.
I was vastly mistaken. The cars ahead of me habitually went 5-10 mph, sometimes stopping entirely for a few minutes, making me increasingly anxious despite the scenic views of mountains, wide views leading up to mountains, or thick forest in mountains. I kept picturing Ken and Daniel sitting on the curb, wondering where I was for 20 minutes, 30 minutes, and by the time I actually finished the loop, close to an hour.
Since I was to meet them either at the information booth on the road or at the picnic area nearby, I spent the next hour driving back and forth between the rendez-vous spots, trying to see where they might emerge. They didn’t. Of course, cell phones didn’t work either. Close to 6 p.m., I found a pay phone at a closed camping store. By punching in 1 for English, 3 for use of a credit card — the only kind of currency I had on me — and then a long series of numbers, I could call my sister-in-law on the premise that perhaps the guys gout out early, didn’t see us, walked to this pay phone, called her, and she picked them up. No answer. I went through the long process of calling Forest, my nieces, even Ken and Daniel. Repeatedly. No response. So I drove the long way out of the park, and by 6:30, I was within cell phone range and could reach my sister-in-law, who hadn’t heard from them.
I breathed slowly, told myself all would be well, prayed fiercely, and tried to comfort myself with the bumper sticker of a car in front of me that said “Love > Fear.”
I raced back into the park to look for the guys, only to see a police car quickly turn around to follow me to the picnic site. I was driving twice the 25 mph speed limit, and by the time two police cars pulled me over, I could only jump out of the rental car, peaceful breathing be damned, and cry hysterically. “My husband and son are three hours late, and I’m really worried about them,” I managed to get out. “I don’t even have a license on me!” I added, remembering I didn’t take my purse this morning.
The police were wonderful, one of them even from Kansas, and although they were planning to give me a warning, not worry about the license, and then go with me to the trail head to enact a rescue plan, all quickly resolved itself. I looked toward the picnic area, and at the first table was Ken, quietly waiting. They had just turned up after discovering what they thought was the end of the trail was only the half-way point.
Let’s just say the ride home was the opposite of sitting atop a horse in early spring sunlight. There was no laughing until I cried, but simply a lot of crying. Nothing like finding people you love after a wide span of thinking they were lost.
How do we roll? Not the most elegant, graceful or polite way when the pressure is on, but at least, we roll back together again.