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It’s Sure No Walk In The Park

, , , , , | Related | January 8, 2022

When my sister and I were still young — I think I was still in elementary school — my father had read something about part of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal being opened up as a hiking path. He thought it would be good exercise and history for us to walk from a starting point into town, pick up dinner, and walk back to our car. He estimated it would only take a few hours based on how long it usually took him to walk that long a path.

Unfortunately for all of us, my father is not the best planner. His first mistake was confusing the length of the path from our starting point to town as being the full round-trip length, thus underestimating the full length by half. He also failed to account for how much slower tired kids walked compared to trained military men.

Thus, we got to the city later than he had anticipated the entire trip would take. It was already starting to get a little dark by the time we had found someplace to get dinner and we still had a long walk back ahead of us. My father had the bright idea of cutting through the woods to the nearby road to find a quicker way back to his car. I’m honestly not sure what he planned to do even if he did beat us back since cars couldn’t go on the walking path. Meanwhile, my sister and I were sent along the path with our mother.

Us kids got slower and slower as we grew increasingly tired and it grew darker, further delaying the walk back. Eventually, it was nearly pitch dark out. Despite the path being more than large enough for the three of us to walk abreast as it grew dark, my sister started to get afraid that she would fall into either the river on one side of the path or the now drained canal on the other side, so I let her take the middle spot, leaving me, her two-years-younger brother on the side near the canal and my mother to brave falling into the river. My sister also demanded frequent rest breaks as time went on, not that I minded these, as I was also pretty exhausted.

During one of these rest breaks, we suddenly noticed some moving lights. We eventually realized they were flashlights and called out to find a small group of two or three folks who had been hunting for us. They encouraged us to manage the last tiny bit of the walk to a small off-road car — which looked more like a golf cart — with emergency markings on it. 

It took us to a nearby parking lot where we found both an ambulance and a fire truck parked and waiting, lights still flashing.

Apparently, once my father got lost trying to take the shortcut to the car, he knocked on a door to ask for directions, only to find that the house belonged to a volunteer firefighter. Upon hearing my father’s explanation, he had called in the cavalry, despite my dad protesting that it would be overkill. We apparently had multiple search teams out looking for us across the canal.

We got to ride the ambulance back to our car, which little me found rather interesting, though hardly worth the torment of the evening for the experience. My legs and feet were sore for days after from the forced marching. From that day on, whenever my dad tried to plan anything at all, the family would remind him of the Canal and insist that my mother do the actual planning.