Call me a desert rat. I’ve never truly lived in the desert, but I have spent a lot of time there during the past 40 years!

Mojave, Joshua Tree, Death Valley, Pear Blossom, Palm Springs (not the resort town), Arizona, New Mexico, Utah…

These places conjure up some of my best memories, and they shaped my consciousness.

If you can survive in the desert, you can survive anywhere. While Ol’ Blue Eyes (Frank Sinatra for you younger folks) thought that NYC was the place, I discovered this in the desert. Solo backpacking, miles from the road, with everything I needed to survive in my pack, I learned how little I truly needed to survive. And I learned to really appreciate water from the tap, air conditioning, and a really great steak paired with an old vine zinfandel when I would come back to civilization. 

Surviving in the world can be really challenging; surviving in the desert, even more so. On this last trip to Death Valley, I had the scariest experience that I’ve ever had while out on walkabout. 

Stacy and I headed out for what seemed like an easy hike. In fact, I’d hiked this very canyon before and nailed it. So, I assumed it would be a no-brainer this time. That was mistake #1 (In fact, no-brainer is pretty accurate).

Earlier that morning the weather felt almost cool, and as I packed our day pack I removed the extra water bottle. That was mistake #2. 

By the time we got out of the car and geared up ready to head out, the temperature had reached 100 degrees. Did I put that extra water back in the pack? Nope. Mistake #3.

Merrily we trudged along the trail. Four miles of alluvial fan, all gravel, all up hill, full sun exposure. I didn’t really notice what was happening to my body until we were deep in the canyon. I became dehydrated and my body temperature was soaring. 

“Holy shit” I  thought. This must be what heat stroke feels like. Yep, mistake #4. Stacy wasn’t looking to great either. I could tell she was experiencing heat exhaustion as well.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m kinda competitive and pretty goal oriented, so the thought of turning back before reaching my destination was not sitting well with me. 

Grrrrr!!! I was super disappointed at the idea of turning around. Stacy and I were discussing our options. We’re both fit, we’re both finishers. It was only another mile or so….

Well, remember mistakes 2 and 3? You know where I took that extra water bottle our of the pack?

Well that was the tipping point. You see, I’ve spent enough time in the wilderness to know that you turn around when half of your water supply is gone. No matter what! And we actually had a little less than half. 

Disappointed to be turning back, we began packing up after resting and allowing our body temperatures return to normal. When I looked down and right there below our feet on the ground were tons of ladybugs! 

Ladybugs in the desert! Now that was remarkable.

I looked at Stacy and said, “Hey, I guess we made it to Ladybug Flats!” 

We had reached our destination after all. We just hadn’t known that this was it. We hoisted our packs onto our backs, high-five each other and headed back to the car. 

As we were hiking back, I began thinking about other times in my life when I had been heading for one thing and ended up someplace completely unexpected.

Fatherhood has been like that for me. You know, before I had kids I thought the idea of parenting seemed pretty basic: nurture them, feed them, love them. And then the reality hits. 

It ain’t easy being a parent, but I have never done anything more rewarding, and I have learned so much from my two sons. They have been my greatest teachers. I am the man I am today because of what they have taught me. This has been the unexpected gift of being a Dad. 

And, there have been countless times in my career where one job led to something completely unexpected. Or where a relationship led to a deeper understanding of who I am.

So, if we hadn’t been heading for the end of that canyon, and if I hadn’t been stupid by taking out that water bottle, we never would have discovered Ladybug Flats!

Just another gentle reminder that life truly is about the journey and not the destination.

I’m curious, have you ever found yourself in an unexpected place as the result of heading towards a destination or goal?

I’d love to hear your experience. Scroll down and leave a comment and let me know if anything like this has happened to you.

To YOUR freedom!

-Michael

P.S. — That picture above is me learning to drive my uncle Ken’s ’74 VW Thing when I was about 10 years old. We were on one of our many trips to the Mojave desert. And that’s his dog “Pup” in the back. I inherited that car when my uncle passed away 14 years ago. Every time I drive it, I remember our trips and thank him for the gift of the desert. 

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