Submitted January 15, 2013

Cross-country skiing decision

My story is a different kind of survival story -- one that involves a key decision that likely helped avoid disastrous consequences.

My wife and I and another couple were in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan during mid-winter, doing some cross country skiing. We had been up for days already, heading out from our rental cabin each day to ski a different trail system, with no problems. On the day in question, however, we wanted to check out a new trail, one that none of us had been on before. It wasn't far from our rental, but you don't have to go far in the U.P. to be in the middle of nowhere. But we found the trail-head, parked, and headed out with one fairly good map showing the trail. Conditions were typical -- 15 degrees or so, plenty of snow, and the trail was fairly well marked with blazes on the trees. It was an okay trail for hiking, but it was not great as a ski trail - lots of little twists and turns, lots of short hills and valleys, combined with great long sections of trail that would slowly curve to the East or West. We skied for 2 1/2 hours, hoping to find a lake and look-out spot as shown on the map. The going was slower than we figured, though, and by 3pm or so I figured we'd just about reached our point of no return. It gets dark around 5-5:30 that time of year, and it was unfamiliar territory. The last thing we needed was to wind up miles from the vehicle in the pitch dark, with no supplies other than our day packs and light gear.

So at the next rest break I suggested that we call it a day and head on back. Now, the other couple had been struggling more than my wife and I all day. They were pretty decent skiers on normal trails, but this had taken a lot out of them. They quickly agreed that we should head back, but then they said something that surprised me. They thought it would be better and faster if we cut cross country back to the vehicle, in a straight line, rather than backtracking on the more indirect trail we had come in on. As I looked back towards the South, where we were parked, all I could see was the jumble of hills and valleys, filled with scrub brush, grasses and pockets of trees. It was overcast, so there was no hint of the sun. We were without even a compass, so there would be no way to navigate. And I thought to myself, what are the chances of bushwhacking 6 or 7 miles back through that, and somehow magically coming out right at the vehicle? About zero, for sure.

But rather than calling it a stupid idea, I gently suggested that we might as well go with a sure thing and take the trail. And then they surprised me again by getting really vocal and insistent -- they really wanted to head straight back to the car by what they thought was the shortest path. Things were getting awkward now, cause I could tell they were tired, and sore, and just about fed up. They kept insisting that we'd be fine and it was stupid not to do it. Finally I had enough and said that we were not going to head back through the bush; we were taking the trail back, we were going to be at the vehicle by dark and we would be in the showers and having some drinks shortly after that. Now, I am not usually a take charge kind of guy when it comes to group decisions, but I just had a really bad feeling when I contemplated doing what they suggested. So in the end we took the trail back. It was no better on the way back -- twisting and turning and full of little dips and rises but just like always, the return trip went by a lot faster than the trip out, and we made it back just before dark. But during those two hours of skiing back, I would think about the "What Ifs." What if we were two miles to the East of this trail right now, out in the bush, turned around in some dim little valley and heading in the wrong direction? What if kept trying to guesstimate our way toward the vehicle, getting further and further off line and running out of energy to the point where we couldn't go on. What if we had to spend the night outside?

To this day I think about that decision point on the trail, when we were all standing around arguing, and I was wavering and thinking of giving in and saying, "Okay, we'll try winging it cross country." But then, when I looked south and imagined the miles and miles between us and the road, I got that weird sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, the one that the ancient part of your brain recognizes and listens to. I'm glad I listened to it that day, for sure.

< Prev Prepared Survival Story 

Have a Survival Story?

Help others learn from your experience. If you’ve been in a survival situation that would fit in with our site, please contact us. In appreciation, if we include your survival story, we’ll send you a FREE t-shirt!