When picking up my latest YA romance, STARRY EYES, readers may notice the dedication:
To my brother and sister-in-law, who married after getting lost in the wilderness on an overnight camping trip. Nothing like a little fear of dying to spark a great romance.
This is a True Story©. Years ago, my brother was an introverted archeology student who fell like a ton of bricks for a girl named Heidi when they were in college. She was gregarious art student who had a loud, infectious laugh. He was quiet and intelligent, and when she pursued him, he didn’t run. And after dating for a year or so, they discovered something they both enjoyed doing: camping.
At first, they stayed at local pay-to-stay camping sites with restrooms and running water. They bought a cheap tent and roasted marshmallows on the weekends, sleeping under the stars. Then they started doing a lot of hiking and moved up to off-trail camping: no running water, no other human beings. They loved it.
Until the day they got lost.
One late-autumn weekend, they camped on Mount Cheaha. It’s the highest point in Alabama, and among other things, it features a state park, waterfalls, and spectacular scenic views.
It’s a big mountain that attracts hikers, photographers, and mountain climbers, But like so many places, one minute you can be surrounded by fellow outdoor enthusiasts, and a half an hour later, you’re in the middle of nowhere.
My brother and Heidi set up camp that weekend. They went on a long hike. So long, that they realized they were losing daylight—and the trail. Before they could say, We’re not going to make it back, night fell. They didn’t have GPS. They didn’t have a flashlight. It got dark and cold—fast. They had no choice but to light a fire and sleep on the ground. No sleeping bags. No food. Just the two of them, trying to burrow into leaves in a desperate attempt to stay warm while coyotes howled, and dark shapes moved in the forest, just out of sight. Was it a bobcat or a wolf? Lots of animals that will kill you on that mountain.
So, yes. They were mildly terrified. And cold. And hungry. And I remember Heidi saying, “I’ve never been so cold in all my life.” When dawn came, it felt like waking from a bad dream. But they survived! And the worst part of it may have been when they later found their camp site again: it was less than a mile away. D’oh!
But it wasn’t all bad. They learned that they could depend on each other. In fact, they learned that didn’t want to depend on anyone else, and a few days later, they headed to the courthouse and got hitched.
Years later, they’re still happily together. Now they have a three-year-old boy who loves being outside. They’re taking him on his first camping trip this summer. Let’s hope this time, they don’t get lost.