We were pretty darn tired already, to be honest. That may have made it easier for him to seduce us with his charms.
Tom, Ryan and I had hiked about six miles last Saturday, from Grayson Highlands State Park up to the peak of Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia, and back down a ways. Katherine, 7, was a trooper but was asking us to carry her on our backs more and more.
We were starting back down the Appalachian Trail on the way to the base when a man called out to us.
“Why are you going that way? This way is shorter! It’s downhill, and wide and easy, and it’ll save you a lot of time! I always tell people they should go this way instead.”
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He looked the part of an experienced hiker, with a bandana around his head, a pack on his back, water bottles, weathered hiking boots and a group of followers. And he just sounded so confident. There was no hesitation in his voice; he clearly knew a better way.
Tom and Ryan slowly started toward the man. I gave a last look at the known trail we were abandoning, then followed them and the leader in the completely opposite direction.
Things really started looking up. The trail was wide and downhill with beautiful views. Our leader was out front and we trailed behind, relieved to have found a shorter way down. Friendly strangers rode by on horses and took the weight of Katherine off my shoulders and on to the back of a horse.
We had been enjoying this stroll for 45 minutes when we caught up to the leader. He was standing in a field, staring at his map with a frown. He stared some more. The frown grew deeper.
“Sorry, guys. Wrong way. We have to go back.”
The late-afternoon sun was dropping. I looked at a map on my phone and could see that retracing our steps was the only real option. Katherine got off the horse and back on to Ryan’s shoulders. We began trudging back up the two-mile long hill we had just descended. “Really sorry, guys,” the hiker said.
An hour later we were back where we started. We got back on the Appalachian Trail and hiked up and down rugged terrain for a couple of hours before finally reaching the base, seven hours after we began.
How did three halfway smart guys abandon the tough-but-proven way they knew for the false promises of some charismatic, overconfident, so-called leader?
It happens all the time, doesn’t it? Iraq and the families of 4,400 American soldiers are still recovering from such a misstep. Every four years, a presidential candidate promises a shortcut to base camp. Right now, it’s Donald Trump. Legions of tired hikers are buying into his pitch.
’Tis the season for misdirection from those who want to sell you the illusion of an easy route. So stop and think. You might realize that you know better than they do.