My extended family were vacationing together on a small island in Lake Huron. It was the last day of the trip for my particular branch of the family, Mom and Dad had already made reservations for an afternoon ferry ride back to the mainland for us and our 15 passenger van. We were actually moving to Malaysia a few days after this vacation, but that's another story.
This is the cabin where we were staying when this adventure took place, but this photo is much more recent, from a 2011 trip.
The way out to the lighthouse was uneventful. The lighthouse hasn't changed all that much over the years. We took pictures, scrambled around on the beach for a bit, and decided to head home.
But there was a slight problem.
You see, 2004 was the year of the Summer Olympics, and that's what caused this whole fiasco.
My aunt and I decided that we were going to be "Olympic hikers", and complete the return trip from the lighthouse to where the car was parked in a record time that would astound all of our friends and family. We set off on our speed-hiking adventure, and very quickly lost Mom and Dad and the kids in the woods far behind us.
However. We came to a fork in the path, and that stopped us in our tracks. We didn't remember a fork in the path. We didn't know which way to go, and we didn't want to wait for the slow hikers to catch up and tell us where to go, because it was the Olympics. In the hiking Olympics, you don't just wait around to make sure you are going in the right direction, you simply hike as fast as possible. After carefully studying the trail, we decided we ought to take the fork on the right. We kept hiking at a remarkable speed.
Lake Huron is big enough that it really should not be mistaken for a small inland lake.
Because we were in the Olympics, and we were going to win.
At this point, we definitely knew we were going the wrong direction, but for some reason we had decided not to turn around and go back. The thing about islands is, if you keep walking around them, you'll eventually get back to where you started, and that's the reasoning we used to keep heading in our current direction.
But unless the island you're on is really tiny, you will walk forever before you actually get back to where you're supposed to be. We got ourselves onto the main road that goes around the island and realized that it was getting rather late in the afternoon. Not many cars go by, but we determined to hitch a ride from the first one going in our direction.
This was my first ever hitchhiking experience. I was 13.
Eventually, a man in a pick-up truck came by, called out the window, "You two don't really look happy to be where you're at!" and took us back to the place where our families were staying.
We were unaccounted for for a solid 5 hours. This was not before cell phones, but it was before people like me and my aunt had cellphones, and no one knew what had happened to us. Upon our arrival at the cabin, we were greeted by a lot of upset relatives who we had apparently scared quite severely.
According to what I've heard, Mom and Dad arrived back at the car and were very shocked to find us not already there. They looked around the area, waited a while, and when we didn't show up, they drove off and contacted the rest of the family members to try to find out where we'd gone. They thought maybe another branch of the family had shown up and picked us up while they'd been finishing the trail. When that theory was confirmed to be false, they figured out that we probably took a wrong turn on the trail, so, logically, when we discovered we were going the wrong way, we'd turn around and go the right way, so Mom and Dad went back to the head of the trail and waited for us to show up.
Only, as you know, that's precisely what we didn't do.
Different family members in different vehicles were sent out in every direction on the island to look for us. The sheriff was alerted that 2 people had gone into the woods and hadn't come out when they were supposed to. Kidnapping theories were proposed. My Mom is quoted as saying, "I want helicopters, I want dogs, whatever it takes to find them, get it!"
Even our relatives who weren't currently staying on the island had been alerted to our disappearance. One of my uncles had already decided that if we hadn't been found by nightfall, he would drive up from another state to come and join the search party himself, because he knew every inch of the island we were staying on.
But we were never really lost. At least we never felt lost. Once we figured out we were in the wrong place, the main theme of our hiking conversation was, "Oh man, we are going to be in so much trouble when we get home!"
And we were. Because they love us so very much. The only one who was visibly happy to see us was my grandma, who asked if we wanted some supper. Everyone else scolded us quite harshly for going off and getting ourselves lost. My family missed the ferry ride that they'd already reserved because I was still lost at the time when the boat left. I secretly hoped that that meant we'd have to stay on the island another night...but no, we just took the night ferry instead.
The moral to this story is: ONLY initiate Olympic speed hiking competitions when you are very sure that you know which trail you are supposed to take. And don't hike for 6+ hours in swimming shoes because the blisters that result won't be fun.