When I was young, DJ (spouse) and I went to Letchworth State Park together with some friends. We took some water in canteens and went for a hike on one of the trails. The four of us were having a good time talking, laughing, taking in nature around us. The deeper we went in the more we saw. I think we became distracted. Walking on the path, we kept going until we realized we were lost. All the woods laid ahead.
We tried to find our way back but we couldn’t so we decided to push onward. None of us had anything but water. No survival items. No protection. Never realizing that we could encounter any danger of being in a wooded area. None the less, we were about to find out what nature was like in this area. So… here we are in the middle of some unknown woods in upstate New York. Thank God, the weather was warm. A bright sunny day with high heat that made your clothes stick to your body. It was mid-July.
Of course, I had to go to the bathroom. I decided to walk off a bit to be away from the others. Unaware of what was lurking around me. I dropped my pants to go but I heard a noise. A loud, deep growling that I’ve never heard before. So I pulled my pants back up quickly and didn’t urinate. Feeling terrified and wondering what was hiding in the bushes. I could see them moving around and hear them wrestling with whatever was coming. I began staring and walking back to the others keeping my focus on what was there. I thought, “If I run whatever it is might pounce at any second.” Stepping backward, so I could see what was tracking me.
Finally, a large cougar appeared out of the brush with its eyes fixed on me. It was much bigger than I imagined and weighed around 100 lbs. My heart started beating out of my chest. I took a deep swallow. Adrenaline rushing through my veins. My eyes became fixated on this powerful beast that God created. Deep inside, I knew even though I was afraid, I’d better not turn around and run. It walked towards me and from time to time would go back and forth. It too was fixated on me and most likely was contemplating whether or not I was a good dinner item. As though it was weighing its options and the best way to succeed. Every so often it would look into my eyes and stare. I believe it was looking for signs of fear. I stayed focused and kept looking it in the eyes. I wanted this animal to know I was watching it. In my head, I said, “Lord, please keep your creation at bay.” I now felt like Daniel in the lion’s den. I couldn’t imagine facing more than one but God can. God gave me the strength to stay calm and perhaps He was the voice in my subconscious telling me how to react.
I made it back to the group. The three of them just standing there talking to each other and not paying attention to anything. Unaware of me coming towards them and what was now coming their way. I said quietly, “Guys, look at what is behind me!” My voice was stern and warning them to cautiously take a look around.
The cougar starring upon all of us. Still pacing every little bit back and forth as it carefully proceeded forward. Watching and taking in our every move as any cat big or small would do. But let me tell you, this was one heck of a big kitty. Not the kind you would say, “Hey kitty, kitty, kitty” too. I can promise you that. I didn’t want to get up close and personal with it. You could see the mighty power it had. The size of those muscles in its legs and the broadness of its chest. I could only imagine the strength it held. The terrain of rocks and slopes it could climb with ease. Jumping around the rocks like it was no effort at all. Giving it the respect it deserved. Knowing it was much stronger than any of us since I’m sure it was well in practice with hunting. When it growled, it was deep and had authority. The glimpses of its teeth would easily make us into hamburger meat. Having the ability to shred our skins and break our bones. Enough to bring shivers down the spine of any person.
For a moment, we all stood there staring. I think we all were appreciating this creature before us. The same thoughts I was thinking we’re passing through every one of our minds. We all began to talk to each others to discuss what to do as we watched this beast watching over us. Wondering if one of us would become its next prey.
None of us had any weapons, not even a pocket knife. We decided the two guys would grab some big walking sticks to use for protection in case one of us was attacked. If this cougar decided to single one of us out, the sticks could be used to strike it, in hopes of getting it off. Knowing it could only take one of us at a time. We stayed very close together. Safer as a pack. None of us went off or away from each other. There was no going to the bathroom. We held it in fear.
I remember praying to God. I said, “Lord, please protect all of us. Please keep this cougar from attacking. None of us wants to become minced meat today. We are lost. Help us find away and make it back safely.”
Staying close together we continued through the woods. No idea where we were going. Knowing that it was getting later in the day. We didn’t want to be stuck in the woods in the dark with no light. Especially since we were being intimately followed by a cougar. Who kept assessing our every move. It seemed to be getting more comfortable and would come even closer to us. No choice but to keep moving onward and hope we could make it out before dark. Once darkness hit who knows what else we could encounter. I knew there were black bears in the area, packs of coyotes, and other cougars I’m sure.
After about 2 hours of walking, we finally came to some railroad tracks. It was a welcome sigh of relief. The railroad tracks would lead us somewhere. They also ran through Letchworth. The biggest decision was left or right. The four of us decided to go left hoping it would take us into a town or something. The heat of the day was starting to cool off some. We were all full of sweat. Each of us becoming tired but had to keep pushing on. The cougar continued following behind.
The sun would soon be going down within a few hours and we wouldn’t be able to see as well. Down the middle of the tracks, we all went. I wondered if a train might come by. The tracks were used well and you could see the shine from wear and tear. The cougar was not afraid and followed on the tracks as well. I can tell you one thing, it was relentless. Almost as though it was waiting for one of us to mess up or fall.
After another hour and a half, we came into a field and we could see the railroad tracks turned up ahead. Through the field, the cougar seemed to get further behind us and didn’t keep up so close. There were woods up ahead and the sound of rushing water. As we became closer we realized where we were, at the top of Letchworth Park. The very top! It was the Letchworth Train Trestle bridge. I looked it up online to give you some details. Here are some of the logistics: 820 feet long x 240 feet high across the Genessee River. Just perfect when you are terrified of heights. We stood there at the end of the bridge looking across and looking down. It was very high above the river. If any of us fell you would be dead upon impact. There were no sides or places to walk. It was railroad ties and metal that went across. You could see the gorge below in between each railroad tie.
I said, “I’m not crossing that. I’m afraid of heights.” The four of us began talking and contemplating. The cougar was sitting in the back of us on the tracks waiting. The bridge was ahead of us. Darkness was coming. DJ and my friends said, “You have to cross if you want to live. Will help you.” I felt powerless. I was filled with fear. I kept saying to myself, “I can’t do this.” I hated heights. DJ grabbed my hand and started to pull me. I began to cry out of fear and prayed, “Lord, please help me.” My girlfriend walked over and grabbed my other hand. Her boyfriend grabbed hers. They said, “We’re going to cross this together.” I felt paralyzed. DJ said, “Close your eyes and will guide you.”
I had to put my hope and trust in the Lord to guide me. I had to trust my teammates that we could do this. Terrified, I closed my eyes and took the first step. It became a pace to walk across. I cried the whole way and kept asking how much longer. I said, “I can’t believe I let you guys talk me into this. I cried out to God for help. “ The tears kept coming. I could not stop them. The one good thing is the cougar decided it wasn’t going any further and went back to where it came from. It finally lost interest.
Halfway across the trestle guess what happened? It was inevitable. Yup, you guessed it… the train was coming!! The Engineer must have been able to see us. He started blowing and blowing the train horn and trying to slow down. My eyes were open now! Even more, fear began to settle in. DJ and my friends yelled, “Run, run, run!” There was no choice. I ran with my eyes open. I was screaming and crying at the same time. Adrenaline pumping through every part of my body. Out of fear I couldn’t run as fast as the others. I didn’t want my foot to get caught in between the ties. I cried out, “Lord, save me. Save me.” I tried to look ahead and focus on DJ. They jumped off the bridge and were yelling, “Hurry, it’s coming. Hurry up!” The tracks were starting to vibrate as the train became closer and closer. I knew I had to give it my all. So I looked ahead and began to run even faster as tears continued to roll down my cheeks. Finally, I made it to the end of the bridge and jumped off down the side of the tracks and rolled. I made it. We all made it. The train went flying by us. I just made it. I said, “Thank you, God!”
Once I said that they all began laughing at me. I didn’t find it funny. They said, “You should have seen yourself and how fast you picked up the pace.” I wasn’t amused at all. I wasn’t there to entertain them. I punched them in the shoulder and said, “Knock it off. That was high and scary.” They laughed a little more and then smiled with a smirk. I was extremely happy that I hadn’t pied my pants since I was so scared.
We made it back into the park where it was paved. About an hour later, we made it to our cars. There were hardly any people since the sun was starting to set. The park would be closing soon. The sunset was stunning. The sky filled with warm pinks, oranges, and reds with some white fluffy clouds going by. I found joy in seeing our car. I was exhausted and I’m sure they were. We said our goodbyes and jumped in the car to drive home. What an experience. I will never forget.
All I can say is, “God got me through.” He protected all of us. Not one of us were hurt and we didn’t have to spend the night. My prayers were answered and I felt full of gratitude. That night I prayed and thanked God over and over again.
I decided it was time to face my fear of heights. Pushing myself to the edge. Working up my strength to overcome it. Maybe because of the others laughing at me but also because I wanted to overcome my fears. I began doing more and more things that involved heights. Other walks and trips around. Some in Niagara Falls, NY. I worked on it until I had no fear at all. With this has come new experiences including parasailing in Ocean City, MD. I was 600 ft above the ocean being pulled by a boat with my parachute. I loved it. Being up so high, the amusement park looked like a child’s playground. I could see groups of Manta Rays swimming below me in the ocean waves. The Earth looked very round. The sky as blue as can be.
My experiences continue to open my eyes as I gain a new perspective and outlook. What could lie ahead in my future? It has certainly strengthened my faith, hope, and trust in God. I’ve created a bucket list of things I would like to do before I die. Some include a hot air balloon ride, zip line across Niagara Falls, helicopter or small airplane ride and possibly even parachute jumping. Who knows… the possibilities are endless. When you remove your fears you open yourself up to a whole new world. Experiences you never thought possible which you might find invigorating. Even new opportunities with God and ways for your relationship to grow with Him. Each lesson giving you new insight and what you could learn out of that season.
I hope you found this inspiring. May God bless you in your journey as I have been blessed along with mine. Don’t be afraid to experience and enjoy that journey as you go along the train tracks of life. So many wonderful experiences that you might be missing out on. Life is short. Remember to stop and smell the flowers and take it all in. It’s the little moments in life that makes it all worthwhile. Take heart and live life intentionally.