Sweating profusely from what had to be every single pore, I squinted against the thick soup-like darkness trying to pick out Sierra’s neon bikini bottoms. I was relieved to find that if I strained my eyes hard enough I could faintly track the thin piece of material’s somewhat shadowed silhouette bobbing up and down rhythmically as my friend slowly crawled several feet in front of me.
Worst case scenario we stop, find level ground, press together and all hold hands till morning comes. You aren’t going to die. I reminded myself for the hundredth time that night. Unless a rather hungry boar decides to pay a visit to the three half naked girls dragging themselves blindly through the jungle, you crawl off of a cliff, step on a poisonous centipede, or oh I don’t know, piss off a particularly violent Hawaiian spirit. With that cheerful thought I started laughing frantically, but then promptly shut up as I realized laughter might attract said ravenous pig, or if only I were to be so lucky-- enrage any near by spirits. So instead I focused on digging one palm and knee after the other into the thick substance which I hoped to be mud, and as I did this I thought back on how I had gone from what I liked to imagine lithe wiry jungle princess to an actual guttural sewer rat all in the span of three hours.
It had all started earlier that week during my spontaneous trip to Hawaii when I befriended two other girls dangerously alike to myself: stubborn, adventurous, fiercely optimistic--it was a risky combination.
But what separated today from earlier that week was our more sensible friends had opted out for the day. That, and it was raining. Hard. Like we’re talking cutting, nearly blowing horizontally, completely unpredictable in all aspects--except for being unbearably sticky--Oahu rain.
Despite the conditions everything had gone uncharacteristically well that morning. Perhaps that was why we were riding a false sense of confidence as dusk began to descend around the rolling green mountains. It was the false high and surge of confidence inspired from the day’s accomplishments that sparked our downfall. Icarus fell by flying too high, the great Achilles crumbled because he failed to protect his one weak spot, and Sahalie Donaldson? Doomed by her own pride. Hubris would be proud.
It was McKenna, the boldest, and not coincidently the only one of us who actually lived in Hawaii, who suggested we get in one more hike before driving back to the North Shore. Not wanting to disappoint our fearless friend Sierra and I hastily agreed.
Pulling up at the thickly jungled trailhead my friends and I shrugged off our clothes so we were standing barefoot in nothing but our swimsuits. It was somewhat dark, but naively I assumed this was because of the rain clouds, not because of the impending night.
It was a thin, twisted path that snaked narrowly through the jungle. Most notable was the sinking mud that disguised the many sharp rocks that juxtaposed in various directions throughout the trail. Roots jutted out onto the path and the ground would randomly slope upwards or suddenly drop several feet without warning. Initially I was able to avoid these obstacles thanks to the feeble light heroically pressing through the clouds and furrowed branches above me, but after about an hour of this that I began to get nervous.
Okay, there’s no way this is going to end well. There’s no way I’m the only one getting worried. As if she heard my thoughts McKenna slowly turned back to us, her smile barely masking the concern written across her face, “so if I’m being completely honest I don’t recognize anything yet.”
“What. The entire time we’ve been walking, or only just barely??” I balked. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I cursed silently, but I couldn’t be mad at her, I cursed myself for not voicing my concerns say 55 minutes earlier. You have no one to blame, but yourself. And I was right. I had no one to blame but my own pride.
“The entire time,” she admitted reluctantly.
Sierra and I exchanged a meaningful glance.
“Well. I say we keep going a couple more minutes and if we don’t start hearing the waterfall, we turn back.” I spoke hesitantly. I wasn’t particularly keen on the idea of retracing our steps and I could tell no one else loved the idea either, but at this point it was getting increasingly difficult to see the ground and if we had wandered off the right path, as was likely, there was no way we would be able to find our way back in complete darkness.
They nodded and we kept walking, only this time we were silent, straining for any sound that resembled the rushing of water, but a couple of minutes rolled tortuously into fifteen.
“Okay, guys stop. I think we need to turn back.” We had wandered out of the thickest part of trees into a clearing, but this only made me more disturbed by the lack of light.
Sierra looked at me in relief, “I agree. If we go back now we’ll be fine.”
Probably true, but this wasn’t going to be enjoyable in the slightest and we all know it.
At this point I noticed guiltily that McKenna’s lip twisted downwards, but she still nodded. “Okay.”
“It’ll be fun.” I forced the corners of my mouth upwards.
We all laughed darkly and pivoted heading the opposite direction back into the darkened trees. And that is how I had come to find myself in this uncompromising situation. It hadn’t taken longer then five minutes for our surroundings to blacken into utter oblivion. It was so shadowed I couldn’t even see my own feet, and after slipping blindly and bashing my knees against rocks several times, I promptly stopped trusting my legs to carry me out.
So there I was crawlingly blindly through shrubbery, over boulders and branches, slipping and sliding in slick mud. Every once in a while my snarled hair would get snagged on something as it dragged across the ground, and each time I reached out to yank it free my fingers closed around the strands dreaded together with what I assumed to be caked mud. Like a particularly shaggy sheepdog. I almost smiled at the image. “You know guys I think this actually has to be a low point for me.”
“I think the feeling is mutual.” Sierra’s voice groaned from somewhere in the oblivion. McKenna just laughed loudly again, and I flinched at the sound mentally preparing for a wild boar to come barreling into me as smoke billowed from its nostrils.
“So what’s the worst case scenario?” Sierra asked quietly. We all stopped to think about that for a moment.
“Well.” I finally said. “Worst case scenario we don’t find our way out, so we have to spend the night.”
“It’ll be really cold and miserable, but at the end of the day it’ll be a pretty good story.” I nodded in agreement then stopped, feeling foolish when I realized no one could see.
“Oh.” Sierra said. “So I guess nothing too bad.”
“Nothing too bad at all...”
And off we went again. Crawling and face planting and snagging and unsnagging and praying all the while. Every time we came to a turn off in the path McKenna would unwaveringly shine her small watch light an inch from the forest floor to find our footprints from earlier glistening glassy in the murky sky. After a span of time that felt like forever we emerged out of the mud into a thicker clearing. Based on the slight light that managed to bleed through the branches and clouds above I noticed there were narrow outcroppings spiking out all around the clearing.
But they only lead to other trails like the one we just escaped. I wanted to cry. There was no more mud to track our footprints. By all accounts we were completely, utterly, lost.
It was at that moment that McKenna reached out for my shoulder (accidently grabbing my neck instead, thanks darkness) and gave me a small push. “Look.”
My heart started beating quickly. A slanted beam of light, so small I might have missed it, was pushing bleakly through the trees. If I adjusted my head even slightly to the right it would disappear completely blocked out by a knarled branch.
“Civilization?” I croaked. What have I become? I thought annoyed, a freaking Bear Grylls survivor?
Wordlessly I lurched towards the thick uncompromising wall of trees. I shut my eyes tightly not wanting to be blinded in the process and began bush walking. There was no telling if the light was 100 feet away or several miles, but I wasn’t about to let that dissuade me. My eyes were on the mirage in the desert, and I was following that light straight back home.
McKenna pushed past me and took the lead while Sierra clenched my hand tightly from behind. I could feel my skin punctured and torn in several hundred different places, but I didn’t care.
I kept pushing right into the looming backyard that suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Crying and laughing I dragged myself out of the trees on all fours. The branches and roots tried to claw me back, but I pushed past them face planting into the grass. I breathed in the crisp air and sheer elation coursed through my body like electricity setting every nerve on fire. We must have been quite the sight. Three girls in partially shredded bathing suits practically unrecognizable from all of the mud. But I don’t even care about that. A wry smile twisted across my lips. I had left my pride somewhere back in the jungle. I wasn’t a lithe jungle princess at all—I was a regular old human girl, and that meant I had a responsibility to think things through before acting. Even if you pride has other ideas. I tucked a dreadlock behind my ear, carefully scanned for a way out of the backyard, and began surging towards it with purpose.