This morning I woke up at the crack of dawn, brushed my teeth until the cottonmouth feeling subsided, poured a cup of dark, strong coffee, and drove to a lonely parking lot an hour outside of town.
There I exchanged "good mornings" with a handful of strangers.
I got into a pickup truck with two of them.
The bed of the truck bristled with power tools and razor sharp shears.
We drove farther off into the wilderness, headed toward Alabama - so far from civilization that my cell phone would not take or make calls, would not send or receive text messages. Google maps were useless.
I usually have an excellent sense of direction, but overcast skies made it difficult to figure out east from west.
I had no idea where the #$@% we were.
We rumbled down red dirt roads, rutted from recent rains.
I realized that for the first time in months... (years?) I couldn't find my way home if I needed to. Roads had no names. There were no homes. No businesses. And... no cell service. It would be a long and lonely walk to something approximating civilization, and if I walked in the wrong direction, I certainly wouldn't find my way out before dark. If a got lost and a truck did happen to pass, I'd have to think twice before flagging it down. This, after all, is Deliverance country. (Ok, Deliverance was filmed in Rabun County, Georgia, but you get my point.)
When our truck stopped, and we tumbled out of the cab, I realized driving into the woods with strangers might not have been the most prudent decision I'd ever made.
But I made a commitment, and I would stick with it.
For the next four hours we hiked our way along a narrow ribbon of trail, pausing to chop away overgrown vines and re-paint orange blazes (the primary trail marker on the Florida Trail ). A couple of volunteers pushed heavy-duty lawnmowers over the trail to beat back the undergrowth.
We paused at noon to have a bite to eat, but otherwise we worked non-stop until mid-afternoon. All total, we tidied up several miles of trail and filled two extra large trash bags with discarded beer cans, boots, baby diapers, and assorted other litter. (People really are disgusting. But that's another rant for another time...)
Blackwater River at Peaden Bridge Road
Violet blooming trail-side on the Florida Trail
Each week volunteers from the Florida Trail Association dedicate time and effort to maintaining the 1,400 miles of trial that stretch from the Panhandle to the Everglades. They make sure the trail is navigable, that signs, bridges, and other infrastructure are in good repair. Without their tireless work, the jungle would retake the trail in a matter of months.
This week I was fortunate to be part of the effort. I am bone-tired now. And hungry. And late - I had to re-schedule a sports massage...
But I suspect I'll sleep better tonight than I have in weeks.
I'm glad I trusted strangers.*
Sometimes the things that are uncomfortable (waking up too early after a too late night), that are outside my comfort zone (being a passenger in a stranger's car), that are exhausting (hiking and bushwhacking and picking up garbage for 4 hours)... sometimes those things are more rewarding than everything else we do.
How have you stepped outside of your comfort zone lately?
*Because it's an important safety detail: Hubby had the appropriate contact information for my little volunteer adventure in the wilderness. I'm brave, but not stupid. PS - I still generally don't advocate getting into cars with strangers.