Technology is a lovely thing; until it isn’t. Here is the story of how I almost died on my first day in the forest.
It has been a month since we moved from the woods to the forest. I documented my moving adventure on social media, so I won’t rehash that here. If you are interested in seeing those details, you can click through the Instagram posts linked on this page.
As I am typing this the power is flickering on and off like the house is possessed by a poltergeist, so if I actually do die, that will be incredibly ironic.
(There was a 2 hour break between the above and the below writings – power in the forest can be a bit fickle – we lose power about once a week for what are hereto unknown reasons. It is a beautifully sunny day, so I have no explanation for the power outage, but it is back now so we shall press on!)
Back to the story – on the day we finally loaded up the moving van and left for the Tree House (the nickname of our new place) we had a caravan of vehicles. My sister and her husband graciously came to our aid and helped us move, so they were in their car; T was driving the moving truck with all our stuff and the two girls (Arden and Grace, my niece); and I was bringing up the rear in our car with Sophie the Mouse Killer riding shotgun.
There are two routes to get from the House in the Woods to the Tree House. The quickest route consists mostly of 2-lane highways that travel through numerous small towns and is incredibly scenic. The alternative route is a bit of a longer trip, but predominately on the interstate – less scenic but deemed to be easier to travel with a moving van as long as the one we rented. All started out well. We all made it to the first location (McDonald’s) without incident, however, Sophie the Mouse Killer does not enjoy a car ride. She enjoys a cat carrier even less. She meowed and hissed throughout the entire trip. It was a blessing. I tell you this to say that when we got to McDonald’s I chose to get my food to go and continue on the drive because I hoped to complete the trip as quickly as humanly possible.
I had never traveled to the Tree House via the interstate route, so I pulled up my cell phone’s map service, typed in Big River State Forest (Illinois Department of Natural Resources site where my husband is now superintendent and the location of the Tree House) and proceeded to head to my final destination. I’d like to report that there is no level one can turn up a car stereo that will drown out the sound of a ticked off cat in a pet carrier. To say this trip was wearing on my nerves is to understate the situation. I blame what happened next on my bleeding ears and frayed nerves.
I followed the instructions of the map app through what seemed to be a bit of an odd turn off, but the route assured me it was the fastest option and I’m a rule follower! At what should have been about the 20 miles from my destination mark, I noticed that my gas tank was getting low. The indicator said I had about 60 miles to empty and while I’m not great at math, I did calculate that 20 miles was fewer than 60 and decided to keep going. This was my first mistake. Actually, riding in that car with that dag gum cat was my first mistake, but it wasn’t really an option so I’m not owning that one.
Big River State Forest is located in a very rural area of western Illinois. There are many small towns and even more stretches of road with nothing, so as I continued to follow the map, I wasn’t concerned that I was venturing deeper and deeper into what seemed to be a very isolated area. My level of nervousness began to kick up a notch when I noticed that 20 minutes had turned into 30 minutes and 20 miles was now closer to 30; and I was not recognizing anything around me (I had driven to the Tree House a few times before and by my calculations I should have been noticing things I had seen before). Also at this point it seemed that my gas gauge was moving in the direction of empty much more quickly than I believed it should be – this was confirmed further when the LOW FUEL light came on. This is also the point of the journey where my cell phone ceased to have service. In my defense, I knew that was going to occur. Our former cell phone carrier does not cover this area so I had downloaded the directions when I had service so I wouldn’t be flying blind (though in hindsight flying blind might have been a better plan).
About this time, the map tells me to turn right and being the obedient person I am, I turn right. I turn right onto a gravel road which after 10 minutes of driving down it with almost no gas, very spotty cell phone service and a still loudly screeching cat – I discover I have ended up in the MIDDLE OF THE ACTUAL FOREST!
When I had typed in Big River State Forest the map app thought I meant the actual FOREST – not the public entrance for the forest or the site office, but the ACTUAL FOREST!
Please try to paint this picture in your head. Three hours of me in a car with a constantly meowing (and now foaming at the mouth from lack of water and constant screaming) cat, driving on fumes, in the middle of the forest, with no way to contact anyone. As my gas supply was dwindling, I decided to turn off the a/c because I think it drains more fuel, but I’m not totally sure if that is true or a wives tale. However, I was afraid to leave the windows down in the midst of the now VERY dense forest, because God only knows what could get in the car! So it was hot. And I don’t do hot calmly. And, like I mentioned – THE CAT! And the FOREST!
Trying to remain as calm as possible, and at this point calm is a very misty dream of yesteryear, I decided to turn around and try to go back the way I came. If you think there is a good way to turn around in the middle of a forest, you are wrong. Somehow I found a way to get the car turned back around and began to try to remember how to get out of the forest, all the while sobbing, praying and trying desperately to get JUST ONE CELL BAR so I could call for help. Every scary movie I ever watched was running through my head. I did, in one part of my hysterical mind figure I could feed the cat to any predators that might try to eat me, because the thing NEVER STOPPED MEOWING and I seemed to recall that being a plot device in something I had read or seen in the past…
I finally made it back to the main road – and to call the thing a main road is being generous but there was pavement, so main road it is! I also miraculously had one bar of cell service, so I called Terry. I knew that he had Arden in the moving truck with him and that my voice would be on speaker phone, so when he answered I tried very hard to keep my emotions and tone of voice in check as to not send the child into hysterics. I was successful through maybe “Hello”. And then the conversations devolved into a lot of
“I AM LOST IN THE FOREST WITH NO GAS AND I’M GOING TO DIE! I DON’T KNOW WHICH DIRECTION IS NORTH! I’M GOING TO KILL THIS CAT!” Sob, sob, sob.
I’m a pillar of calm and strength in any storm. Call me for all your crisis management needs!
Somehow, through many dropped calls, turn arounds, and shear strength of will, T got me talked in the right direction and I did not run out of gas – though I think the car was running on my adrenaline for the last few miles. I made it to the Tree House, peeled my fingers off the steering wheel, threw the cat in the house and then sat down on the front step and cried my eyes out until the rest of the caravan arrived.
Poor Arden was, in fact, traumatized by my wailing and distress, but has since recovered. However, we have gotten lost or turned around using that stupid map app several times since this fiasco and this has not increased her faith in the ability of that woman in the phone to get us where we are going. For some reason she still has faith in MY ability to get us where we are going, bless her trusting heart!
And that is my near death story. I have learned many things from this experience that I will carry throughout my life:
I sure do wish I would have learned how to read real maps. I sure do wish I had listen to my grandpa when he told me never to let your car run down to less than 1/3 of a tank. I sure do wish I had a better sense of direction. And I sure am happy I didn’t die in the forest.