I was returning to the trail after a successful pit stop in the tiny town of Suches, GA; I was fully resupplied, I had picked up a good paperback book to read and had even scored a ride back to the trail. A father and son let me throw my pack into the bed of their pick-up truck and helped me climb in the back seat. As they were asking me all the usual questions about long distance hiking, I was checking my phone to make sure of the location of the trail in relation to the road we were on. I was excited to be getting back to my hike and engaged in the conversation. I set my phone down on the seat next to me.
To the modern hiker, a smart phone is an essential tool. It's not only my way to communicate, it's a way to navigate, it's my camera, my journal, my compass... even a back-up flashlight. I realize that hikers got along without them for decades but I swear I don't know how they did it.
When we arrived at the trailhead, I hopped out of the truck, grabbed my pack and shook hands with the guys who so kindly gave me the ride. After they wished me well, I crossed a busy road and headed up the trail. Just about a quarter of a mile into it, that feeling washed over me. That dreadful realization that I had left my phone in the truck. I didn't even waste time checking my pockets because I already knew that I had screwed up. Badly.
I raced back to the road but the truck was long gone. I decided my only hope was to stay right there. Maybe they would see my phone in the back seat and come back. Or, maybe I could catch them on their way to work the next morning. I didn't even have any water with me but I dared not leave the side of the road to go get some for fear I would miss them driving by. I had a seat right there in the dirt and tried to prepare, mentally, for a long, cold night on the side of a busy Georgia highway. I felt helpless and angry with myself for making such a bonehead move. I tried to focus on the book but I kept turning over scenarios in my mind: What if they didn't see my phone in the truck? What if they never came back this way again? Should I try to hike on without the phone? Was this the end of my hike?
To make matters worse, the temperature was dropping and it was getting dark. I pulled out my sleeping bag and tried to read a book - right there on the side of the road. Cars would sometimes honk. A couple people pulled over and asked if they could help. One guy wanted to take a picture of me; it was rather humiliating.
Eventually, someone must have called 911 because a Fire and Rescue truck pulled up with lights flashing. Great. Just what I needed. I told the officer my sad tale and, while he had sympathy for me, there was nothing he could do. At least he hooked me up with a couple liters of water. He drove off and I went back to my book.
About a half hour later, he returned. This time, no flashing lights. He said he might have some good news for me: Apparently, as he was reporting my situation over the radio, the county sheriff chimed in to say that someone had just turned in a phone at the their office. They were going to bring it out to me and see if it was mine.
I paced back and forth with my headlamp on, eagerly awaiting the sheriff. I supposed that the chances of the phone being mine were slim as they probably had tons of phones, wallets and purses turned in to them every day. When the deputy pulled up and asked how I was doing, I replied, "Not so good but I'll be a lot better if you have an iPhone for me!" He asked me to describe it and to tell him what the background picture was. "My dog, Ruby!" I said excitedly.
He checked the phone and handed it over to me. I was so grateful I almost felt dizzy. I thanked the officer repeatedly and ran to pack up my gear and get off the side of that stupid road. I didn't get very far into the woods before I found a nice flat spot and set up my tent. After so much emotion and anxiety, I slept like a rock.
Early the next morning, I packed up and got busy doing what I do best. I felt great. The miles flew by as I thought about how lucky I was and how grateful I was to the guy who turned my phone over the sheriff's department. Then, from a hundred yards away, I saw a big green sign. Looked like some kind of warning or trail information.
Not only had that kind stranger given me a ride back to the trail and turned in my phone, but he posted this sign where he knew I'd see it. I especially loved this line:
"This way to maybe a fone". That cracked me up. I took down the sign (Leave No Trace!) and hiked down to the next major road.
When I finally got to a restaurant that had a wifi signal, I messaged my dear friend Pam and asked her to call the guy (as I have no cell service) to let him know that I did indeed get my phone back.
The lesson that I learned is a lesson I seem to keep learning over and over: Slow down. Pay attention. Do a 'gypsy check' before leaving a vehicle, a campsite or anywhere that I set my pack down.
Ever have that feeling of doom? Leave me a comment and let me know what happened and how it turned out.