Ok. So here’s the thing. When this first happened, I completely downplayed the seriousness of the situation. I did this for two reasons. The first is that I didn’t want people at home to worry needlessly about us after the fact. The second is that I was deeply shell shocked and it took us a number of days to emotionally and physically assess the damage done. The truth is that we have never been in a situation more dangerous to our physical safety. Let me repeat that. We have never been in a situation more dangerous to our physical safety.
So here’s how this all unfolded – still a little tongue in cheek, but a little more honest.
We had left our lovely Mediterranean cruise and been driven to the small town of Adrasan. We were staying in a hostel owned by a man named Ardem. (He was a friend of a friend through Osman from the gulet cruise). He was a lovely man and a great cook. It seems like all businesses in Turkey are run by a man and some combination of his son/brother/uncle/father/grandfather. (In truth they often run several businesses. In Selcuk, our hostel owners also ran a restaurant and a rug shop. They told us that you have to run several businesses in order to support your family).
Besides Ardem, there was an older gentleman at the hostel who didn’t speak much English, but loved to visit with us. We took to calling him Grandpa and we were very fond of him. On our first afternoon, we told Ardem we wanted to hike part of the Lycian Way (I will write more about this ancient trail in the next post). He told us that we could drive to the next town, walk to a lighthouse and then hike back to Adrasan. I asked him about length of time and difficulty and he told us that old people walk this route. We were young. We would be fine. It should only take us 3-4 hours. We could go in the morning and be back for dinner by 6.
So, the next morning, Grandpa drove us to the next town, pointed out the trail markers to us and dropped us off. We had packed four bottles of water and a small picnic lunch.
The path was lovely. It was a well-traveled wide road to start and then it veered off into the forest where the ground was cushioned with pine needles and everything smelled rich and earthy. We followed the trail markers and the path started to incline. And then incline a little more. I needed to sit down and rest a bit at this point as the climb was getting a little rough. Eventually we came upon this rocky incline leading to the lighthouse. No dirt path, no soft pine needles. Just a swath of vicious rocks jutting out of the ground.
Ok. Fine. Let’s do this.
We got to the top and I was sore and tired and sweaty. And we were only an hour in. At this point we saw a sign pointing up another incline of rocks that said Adrasan. So we followed it. I can’t say for sure, but we think this was where we went wrong.
You know when you’ve just been through a terrible situation and you go back through every small detail to determine the choices you could have made differently that would have spared you the hurt?
This was that moment.
I don’t know why we didn’t turn around. It was clear that this was not a trail that “old people” regularly walked. Except that we just got passed by a couple in their 60’s who looked like day hikers. There was a storm rolling in. Except that is was way out to sea. I was struggling up the mountain, stopping every 50 steps to rest. Except that I am stubborn as hell and insisted that I was able to keep going.
We climbed for another hour thinking that the crest had to be right past the next rock, and once we reached the top, we went around a curve and started to descend. We were pretty happy, thinking the worst was behind us. And then it started to rain, making the rocks extremely slick and the ground covered in red sticky clay that hung to our shoes in clumps.
When we finally saw a sign saying 8km to Adrasan, we knew we were screwed. It was just as far back as forward and we realized we wouldn’t make it back before dark. Lily and I were done and, most dangerous of all, we were out of water. This is where the first break down occurred. Lily and I lost it. We begged the boys to let us stop. Assured them that someone would find us, but they told us that we needed to keep moving. And so we did.
We stumbled up and down rocky inclines, along sheer drops off the side of the mountain. We picked our way across rockslides following trail markers. Night fell. The storm had moved back out to sea and although we could still see the lightning and hear the thunder, we were directly under a full moon. This was a blessing as we could make out the path in front of us.
Lily and I again begged to stop – just for an hour – to build a fire and rest. Ian was starting to get panicked. All of his Scout training told him not to hike after dark due to the risk of predatory animals. But Mason kept us moving. He told us that even with a fire, we would be at risk of exposure on the side of a mountain, especially if it rained again and that we were not at risk from animals in these mountains. At this point, we were only making it about 20 steps before stopping to rest. Our legs and knees weren’t holding up well and Lily’s feet were getting beat up from her toes being shoved into the tips of her shoes from all of the walking downhill.
There was a lot of crying. A lot of stopping. A lot of “I am proud of you” and “Just a few steps more and we can rest again” and taking care of each other physically and emotionally. Ian would step down and then turn to give Lily or me a hand of support. Each step. Every stone. One step at a time. When one of us grew frantic or couldn’t find the strength, another would step up and offer encouragement. Lily, as much pain as she was in, would offer “good job, mama” when we made it to the next resting point.
Each time we would stop I would yell out HELLO. I don’t know why. It was off season. We had only seen 5 other people the entire day. I had hoped someone camping along the trail would hear us. It was futile, but it made me feel better and I kept doing it.
6 more km. HELLO!
We missed the marker for 5km and were ecstatic to see the sign marking 4km. HELLO!
3 km. The storm is rolling back in. HELLO!
Wait, is that a light? HELLO!!
And then we hear it – a HELLO back.
We shone our flashlight towards the light and walked toward it as quickly as we dared. A man we didn’t recognize approached us and asked if we were ok.
Yes, just thirsty.
And then his friend shone his flashlight onto his own face and said “You know me. You know this face.”
Yes. Yes, Ardem. We know your lovely face and you just saved our lives.
He told us that when we didn’t come home for supper, they got worried and started looking for us. After a couple of hours, they called the Police and the Army. (The Army oversees emergencies on the trail). He told us that Grandpa had been in the car on an old motorbike trail along the mountain when he heard me yelling hello and called the rest of the search team to our location.
As they walked us out and led us to a well fed by the mountain streams to refill our water bottles, I saw Grandpa pull up along the side road. He got out of the car, shook his head at us and wrapped me in a big hug. And I wept like a child. As we piled into his car to go back to the hostel, he called the Army and Police to tell them we had been found.
When we entered the hostel restaurant, a cheer went up from the men waiting there for us. We were embarrassed to have caused so much trouble, but also proud that we had come through it having taken such good care of one another.
It turns out that we should have stayed on the flat road. Instead, we followed the signs through the mountains. It is a path that hikers train to walk. It is dangerous and intense. There were so many things that could have gone wrong – especially in the dark. A twisted ankle in the rockslides. A misstep on the side of a drop. But we were alive and we were safe.
It was 11 at night. We had left at 11 that morning. Ardem made us dinner. Grandpa bought Mason a drink. And 10 minutes after we arrived, the sky opened up into a torrential downpour. As we tried to stumble to bed, Ardem gave us a plate filled with the seeds of no less than 6 pomegranates. We politely declined. He say “No, you must eat them. Eat them all. They will help your pain.” The next morning we found out that pomegranates have more potassium than bananas and eating them would help repair our wounded muscles.
Over the next week, we all suffered from the aftermath of dehydration and a little PTSD. Ian was withdrawn. Lily and I would cry for no reason. Mason woke in the middle of the night from nightmares and stepped outside the cabin to have a good cathartic cry. He told us repeatedly how proud of us he was. We were especially proud of the kids. We have never been through anything that tested us like this ordeal did and the bond that it formed was powerful and profound.
The next day, Osman’s friend came to take us to his pension in Cirali – beautiful cabins set in the middle of orange and pomegranate groves – and it was here that we healed our bodies and spirits. We walked along the beach at Olympus and ate pide and cried. Osman called to check in on us after hearing about our misadventure. Our new pension owner was sweet and gentle and drove us around so we wouldn’t have to walk too much and collected seashells and stones on the beach with us. These men, these Turks, are our heroes. Their kindness, concern and hospitality saved us on a mountain and saved us over and over again throughout the following days. Writing about it now is still very emotional for me and causes tears to sting my eyes, both to relive the harrowing mountain experience and the wonder of being taken such good care of by perfect strangers in a foreign country.
Yes. It was a brutal experience. But what I remember most is how very very blessed we were.