The Forging of Two Young Men
Kevin Felts 04.05.17
April is “Get (Back) Out There!” month on AllOutdoor.com. Winter’s over, spring has sprung, and it’s time to gear up and to back outside. All month long we’ll be sharing our outdoors adventures with you, so follow along on the #GetBackOutThere tag.
It was a sweltering hot day here in Southeast Texas. This was the kind of summer day that when you walked outside, it feels like you stepped into an oven. The sun was screaming, “Can you feel me now?” as if it took great pleasure in the torment being cast upon humanity.
One of the four horsemen had arrived, and his name was August.
In other words, it was perfect conditions to take my son and nephew on a hiking trip.
Boys are like iron ore. Their resolve has to be tested and their fortitude needs to be hammered, hardened, and tempered. Through this process, they build character and become strong, confident young men.
Just as a blacksmith uses heat to shape steel, the summer heat would be used to build the confidence of my son and nephew.
The area had not received any rain in two months. I knew from past experience certain creeks would be dry. We would have to take a break at the creeks that had water, rehydrate, and rest before moving on.
This would be a lesson in patience and resolve. Patience to rest when we needed to and the resolve that we were going to complete the journey.
The Drop Off
Before the trip started, we went to a local corner store and everyone was bought a 1 liter bottle of water and some snacks. We all had a backpack with basic gear. The plan was to refill the bottle using creeks and a water filter.
My brother dropped us off at the start point, which was close to five miles from my house. That five miles is in a straight line and did not take into account changes in elevation or detours to find water. With a TOPO map, compass and GPS, this was going to be a brush busting trip through the woods.
The journey started by going down a hill until we intersected a creek, then we followed the creek. I hoped the stream would have water in it, but the only thing we found was a dry sand bottom. In 20 years, I had never seen that creek go dry. Self-doubt set in as I started asking myself if I had made a mistake. My concerns were not shared with my son or nephew.
We followed the stream until it emptied into a nice pool of water. The boys were told to get to the pool, wash their heads and arms off and cool down. The water filter was taken out of my backpack, tossed to the boys and they were instructed to refill their bottles, drink, rehydrate and refill the bottles again.
While my son and nephew were getting some relief from the heat, I looked over the TOPO map with great detail. I kept asking myself, “Where is the next water source?”
I had made this trip several times. Along our path were going to be a number of small creeks that would probably be dry. Then there were a number of larger creeks that had a good chance of having water in them.
To keep their minds occupied, the boys were given a crash course in land navigation. If something were to happen to me, they should know how to follow a compass. The compass was set to 270 degrees. They were instructed to hold it level, turn the compass until the needle aligns, then follow where the compass is pointing.
We left the security of the water hole in hopes that the next creek would have water. I was wrong. The next creek was bone dry. This was a major disappointment. Regardless of what happened, I could not let my son and nephew see my concern.
I assured them the next creek would have water, and it did, but just barely. The stream was maybe a foot wide and an inch deep. It was so shallow the prefilter had to be removed from the water filter hose. The area had plenty of shade from old growth pine, oaks, and sweet gums.
We took another well deserved break, rested, and rehydrated. At this point we were close to the halfway point. My son and nephew kept asking when we were going to eat lunch. Not only was the heat hammering us, but we were also feeling fatigued from not eating since breakfast.
Just a little bit longer they were told, “I know a creek that will have water and y’all will probably be able to go swimming.” My son and nephew did not believe me. They said “Swimming, really?”
Rather than waiting for one of the boys to say they were too hot, I kept a watchful eye on their skin color and how much they were sweating. About mid-way from the shallow creek to the next water hole, all of us were showing signs of heat exhaustion. We were fatigued and our faces were flushed red.
I told the boys I have to take a break. We retreated under the shade of some young pine trees, took our packs off, and laid down for a little bit. It was there that we drank the last of our water. We were around a mile from the next creek, all we had to do was stick it out for a little longer.
The heat was unrelenting. Even in the shade it felt like we were in an oven. The look on the son and nephews face was that of despair and surrender. They knew the heat had beaten them.
This is when boys are made into young men. We had no choice but to keep going. We were out of water, temperatures were close to 100 degrees, and the nearest water was a mile away. They had no option but to find an inner strength they did not know even existed.
Upon reaching the water hole, the boys were in utter amazement. It was in fact big enough to swim in. The hole was close to 100 feet long and in a couple of places 40 and 50 feet wide. Depth was up to six feet.
The boys were told to strip to their underwear, get in the water and cool down. I was only a couple of minutes behind then. We needed to cool down and rehydrate, then we could eat lunch. I could feel the heat from my core clashing with the cool water. It was like a tug-of-war for my soul.
After everyone cooled down, we got dressed, refilled our water bottles, and got something to eat. We sat next to a small stream of slow moving water as it left the pool.
As fortune would have it, my core temperature was still too hot. All of the water and food came up in the form of projectile vomit. When I felt my body reject the food, I turned to the side and the projectiles went into the creek.
I felt utter disgust that my son and nephew had seen such an act.
A few minutes later, I looked over and minnows were picking through the pieces of food. At least nothing went to waste.
Eventually, my core temperature cooled down enough so that I could eat something.
The hammocks were set up and we took an extended break. I made sure that all three of us brought hammocks just in case we needed to spend the night in the woods. Everyone had an MRE, snack, bug spray, rain poncho, cook set, and a hammock.
The plan all along was to attempt to make the trip in one day. If that turned out to be impossible, we would make camp next to a stream, and finish the hike in the cool temperatures of the next morning.
With the hammocks setup, we all talked about what would happen next. Would we spend the night, or would we push on and make it home? We were only a mile and a half from home, but a large hill was in our direct path. Figuring the hill into the distance, we were probably a little over two miles from home.
There was something else that was working against us, and that was time ticking away. The heat of the day was over and it was a little past 5 pm. Time was our double edged sword. If we waited too much longer, there was no way we could make it home before dark. However, the longer we waited, the more heat of the day passed.
My son and nephew decided that they wanted to make it home before dark. I was so exhausted, I would have preferred to spend the night next to that beautiful creek. That hammock felt so good, the boys almost needed a pry bar to get me out of it.
I tried some subtle hints in an attempt to spend the night, “Are y’all sure you want to go home?” Their resolve was firm, they wanted to sleep in a real bed tonight. As if a hammock was not a real bed?
We packed our gear, refilled the water bottles, and off we went.
To add a finishing touch to the trip I took the boys directly over the top of the hill. The trees had been recently clear cut and we had a marvelous view.
Upon reaching the top and turning around, one of the boys commented, “Did we walk through all of that?” As I pointed towards a hill in the distance, I said “That is the hill we started on.” It was at this point all three of us had a visual idea of the land we had crossed. We took some pictures then proceeded on our way.
We arrived home as the belt of Venus became visible.
Though exhausted, we all had a great time.