It started out as a typical midnight hike through the woods.
We had flashlights, jackets, and packs of Juicy Fruit. It’s important to have gum when you’re exploring tree-filled acres and planning a haunting. The moon barely cast any light at all and carefully, quietly, about 12 girls tiptoed over crunching leaves to make their way to the other troop’s tent in the dark.
It is somewhat customary to mess with girls while on a camping trip, though mine were definitely disappointed by the un-terrified reaction of the big city girls, a few years older than my Junior scouts.
They scratched their nails on fabric and shook the walls from each side, but only one peep of a shriek could be heard before the contemptuous complaining began.
“Knock it off.”
“Get a life.”
“We have a life.”
Just hours before we had a run-in with the wildlife. Our bagels had been ravaged by a pack of racoons. They also completely annihilated the insulated Pizza Hut bag that earlier contained the pepperoni, half cheese pan pizza. It took debating for 36 miles to decide on that because mushrooms or green peppers would be the death of certain 10 year-olds.
But we still needed more adventure. Or a Girl Scout showdown.
Erin had an older sister and was well versed in the art of verbal confrontation. She began chiding the older tent campers.
“Yeah! We have a life. We’re going to find the haunted cabin while you bunch of chickens stay snug in your sleeping bags.”
“Whatever. Get lost,” they responded.
Many wrong turns down darkened paths, that’s exactly what we did. Sometime after getting tangled in a sticky spider web and finding the BEWARE writing on the inside of the haunted cabin, we got lost.
“You go first.”
“I’m not going first, you go first.”
“Someone needs to go first,” I reminded them.
Two of the girls decided to go in together. It was creepy but not nearly as creepy as what we were about to encounter.
We had been walking for what seemed like miles. The girls, the other troop leader and I were starting to get tired. The fun of the adventure and the sugar buzz from the shared Starbursts was beginning to wear off.
“I think we should have taken that other turn back there,” she said.
“Maybe so. Let’s just keep walking for a little bit longer and see where this path takes us.”
And that’s when we heard it. The low roar of an engine. We watched as an old pick-up truck drove by. “Look, there’s a road!”
The girls screamed with delight and started walking quickly towards it. But then the truck turned around and started back towards where we were just about to come out from the woods.
It was going way too slow and we could only see the shadow of a driver.
“Miss Tina. Who is it?”
“I don’t know.”
“It might be a sexual predator,” one girl said in a hushed, suspecting voice.
“Yeah, it might be a sexual predator,” another agreed.
They loved to say those words as much as they loved to eat s’mores and it always made me laugh.
“It’s not a sexual predator,” I assured them. But then the truck crept closer, pulled in and stopped at the metal pipe gate directly in front of us and turned off the engine.
“Hit the deck!” I instructed the girls and they dropped their bellies in the dirt, attempting to hide.
The truck door made the eerie sound of metal rubbing against metal when the mysterious driver opened it to get out. The massive silhouette stood in front of the headlights.
Even my heart was pounding so hard in my chest I thought the predator surely could hear it as we layed on the ground, surrounded by brush.
With a strong southern twang, there was a shout into the dark night, “Whatcha all doing out here?”
I responded hesitantly, “P-p-park Ranger Judy. Is that you?”
“Of course it is.”
We let out a huge sigh of relief, began laughing our heads off and piled ourselves into the back bed of a crowded pick-up for a ride back to our cabin. It’s a story these girls, now in college, still tell and talk about.
Most times our bad experiences, missteps, and wrong turns can remind us of something important.
Something we’ve endured, something we’ve overcome.
Badges of bravery and honor we hold in our hearts.