*The photos were taken by my talented cousin, up on the same mountain!*
I had been camping up in West Virgina with my family and on that particular day, we sat under our canopy, playing cards while the rain poured down around us. It was chilly up on the mountain as the rain had cooled the air considerably. As our game of Rummy continued on, I heard a voice behind me.
"Excuse me! Excuse me, ma'am! Do you have a cell phone I could borrow?"
I turned my head to see the source of the sound. My eyes found a young male, probably around my age, at the end of our campsite who looked soaking wet, obviously from the rain. Before my brain can even think otherwise, I quickly reply. "Yes, but we don't get any signal up here."
The man looked at me with a face of worry and concern and walked on. The unusual thing was that instead of continuing on to the other campsites, he turned and walked back the direction he came.
This particular campsite was laid out in a circular shape. All of the campsites where on sort of a cup-de-sac and we were the first site on the route. It was odd that he didn't continue on to the next campsite, but instead went out towards the main road.
My aunt, cousins and I went back to our game. After playing for a few minutes, I just felt like something was off. I kept looking over my shoulder and I could have sworn I heard voices yelling in the distance. My aunt, who is hearing impaired, sensed that I was unsettled and grabbed an umbrella and began walking towards the direction he left. She didn't say a word to me but there was no way I was missing out on the action. I ran to catch up to her.
We walked the circular drive through all the camps, and finally came across the young man. He was talking with an elderly man, when my aunt yelled. "Hey, did you wanna try my phone to see if it'd work?"
"Well, I think this guy is going to help me, so let me try with him and then I'll come back to you" he replied.
So we went back to our camp and waited. Not long after, here comes the guy walking back up our campsite. We gave him our phone and for whatever reason, it didn't work. That's when I began asking him questions. For privacy's sake, let's call him Nick.
He briefly told us his story and I'll do my best to recite it to you:
He was hiking a trail with his buddy when his friend noticed that he had lost his hat. His friend decided to go back and look for it while Nic waited for him. Nic waited for hours and his friend never returned. He began walking to see if he could find his friend, but got lost on his way. He decided to get on a rock to get some height to see if he could spot his friend. But as he climbed, he fell off and into a river. He lost everything in the river and even cut himself up pretty badly. Disorientated, he somehow found his way back to the trail and stumbled into some other hikers who led him back to the main road. His friend was no where to be found. As he walked around, he stumbled across our campsite area and began asking people for their phone to call 911 and to get back into town.
He told us that each and every person he went to turned him away.
As I listened to him tell his story, I noticed that he was, at times, not making a lot of sense and the conversation generally seemed off. His one side of the face was swollen and inflamed. I asked him if he was hungry and thirsty, but he said no. I pretty much forced him to eat because he told us that his friend went missing around 11am and it was about 7pm by the time he found us. That was almost 8 hours ago.
My sweet aunt wrapped a blanket around him to help with the shivering and began uniting his hiking boots to get him a dry pair of socks. His foot was so swollen she could barely get the sock on.
While she was putting the new socks on, Nick began to get emotional. He was so strong and held everything together up until then. You know something's up when a grown man begins crying for his mom. We tried to soothe him telling him that's he's okay now and we are going to help him. He seemed so shocked and kept saying 'thank you' and 'no one else would help me.'
Meanwhile, I send my cousin off to go get my uncle who was sleeping nearby to see if he could drive Nick to the nearest hospital. A few moments later, we were loading Nick into the truck.
After they left, we tried our hardest to get back to our game, but we just couldn't. I don't think I really knew or understood what had just happened. As I was sitting there thinking about it, I suddenly got an idea.
"Aunt Necie, what if we try calling the number he dialed on Mimi's (our grandmother) cell phone. She's been getting better signal than we did."
As I was listening to the phone number ring into the cell phone, I was kicking myself for not thinking of this while Nick was here. But as fate would have it, someone answered the phone.
Let me tell you how awkward it was trying to explain to the woman on the phone who I was and why I was calling. I'm actually surprised that she didn't hang up on me! But I tried my best to explain that (who we believe to be) her son had gotten lost. I don't think I will ever get the sound of her voice out of my head...it was pure terror. She was horrified. I tried my best to calm her down and tell her that he was on his way to the nearest hospital, but it was still about a 50 minute drive.
After I hung up with his mom, I went to go sit in my grandpa's truck to charge the phone in case she was to call back. As we were sitting there, my grandmother just happened to glance at the right time at a passing car.
"Hey! Didn't that car just have a Maryland license plate? Wasn't that where the guy said he was from?"
Immediately, we drove to try to catch up with him. Turns out it was Nick's buddy who he lost on the hike. The friend had called the state troopers and they were on their way up the mountain to look for Nick, to which we told him that Nick is actually on his way down the mountain to the hospital. I was so relieved to know that his buddy was alive and not lost, as the darkness began to surround us.
Not too long later, my uncle pulls back into our campsite. He told us that on his way down the mountain, Nick was shivering and needed the heat on full blast. As he began to warm up, he began telling my uncle his story and how thankful he was for our family. Somewhere along the ride, my uncle saw two ambulances pass and said to Nick, "Hey I bet those are for you!" They pulled over and he flagged down a trooper that was following them.
My uncle said to the trooper, "Officer, what is the emergency!?"
"We have a report of a lost hiker up on the mountain."
My uncle points over to Nick "Found him!"
The next day, I decided to call his mother to check up on him. She told us that he was released from the hospital last night with a slight laceration to his head, but other than that he was fine. His friend and Nick decided to drive back to Maryland late the previous night and he was sleeping on the couch, exhausted from the precious day's event.
That's when the mom broke down into tears on the phone.
"You have no idea how grateful I am for you and your family. Please let me pay you or give you something for helping him"
I politely denied anything, telling her that that would go against everything I believe in. My family didn't help Nick to gain anything from it. We helped him because it was the right thing to do.
I told her that and she sobbed, "Thank you so much, I will never forget this. You see, my son is special needs. I have no doubt that this would've ended much worse than it did without you kind people. You've reassured my faith in this world that there are truly good people out there."
Of course, by now, I was wiping tears from my eyes as well. We exchanged information to keep in touch and even became friends on Facebook! How cool, huh!?
Now, looking back on the entire situation, I realize now that we didn't just help Nick, Nick helped us too. He taught me to not judge people based on appearance. Everyone is fighting their own battles and if we all just as human beings choose to uplift, support and help people more often, without judgement, I have no doubt that this world would be in a much better place.
I also learned another lesson from this experience. Listen to your 'gut' instinct. It scares me to think what would have happened if my aunt hadn't noticed my demeanor and we hadn't gone back after Nick. I have absolutely no doubt that that 'push' I kept feeling, that uneasy feeling that something wasn't right, was God nudging me. Nick and I's paths were meant to cross. There is no doubt in my mind that all it was all apart of His master plan and I am so thankful that He kept nudging me to take action. I am so thankful for my aunt for teaching me to trust my gut. So folks, when you feel those little nudges inside your head telling you to do something, I encourage you too to act on it.