Iíd walked in the woods at night before. To call this night, though, wouldnít be accurate. Complete cloud cover means no ambient light. I canít make out where the tops of the trees meet the sky, let alone what is a meter in front of me. The only light I had was emanating from the glow in the dark lines on my compass, and so that was where I would focus. Head down, weapon in a death grip and my compass tucked and held lovingly to my chest, I stepped out. Immediately I slammed into a tree. Brush it off, roll around it and keep going. Not two steps later, another smash to the head, and now Iím laughing at the absurdity of it. ďJust keep goingĒ I tell myself. To occupy my mind I start to yell aloud my pace count, which is a reliable way of knowing how far you have traveled. I try not to think of how far I have yet to go, or that I would soon begin to walk the decline into the thickest, widest creek in the fieldís AO. This is the creek that beat a decorated officer a few field trips back, when he found himself fallen to the bottom of a ravine, unable to get up. This is the creek that beat a friend of mine who was coming to the field for a second time now, a guy who had gotten through years of special operations training before switching to this career. Iím not thinking about all that.

Stopping for short water breaks and re-orienting myself to my heading become a bad habbit. Iím stalling. The vines I am attempting to crash through and the trees that I run into become welcome hold-ups, keeping me in the light brush longer. I stop to piss. Standing there in the pitch black, with my favorite thing in my hand and absolutely no idea what is underneath me, behind me, or in front of me, I find myself unable too. A nervous laugh tells me that Iím becoming mentally weak. I start to sing old drinking songs out loud, pace count long forgotten, and redouble my efforts forward. This stuff isnít going to beat me. I notice that my strides are becoming longer and easier, a sign that I am now on a decline. The brush begins to thicken, as some paths become impassible, my efforts forward become a waste of energy pulling against hundreds of vines. Then the lightning begins. Subtle at first, flashing just long enough to burn an image in my eye. I speed up as I begin to go around the obstacles in my way. Down, down, still down. 400m of decline down into the creek. A worthy fear makes me slow down suddenly. My feet arenít just feeling a decline, but a sudden drop off. I find myself seated now, feeling ahead with my boots, trying to guess what is in front of me. The lightning flashes, but all I see is black. with some hesitation, I turn on my led red light, something strictly forbidden. There is a drop off in front of me that is so steep, I cannot see the bottom, even with the red light shining down it. Thatís one integrity violation I wonít be sweating, I laugh to myself. With a 100lbs of gear on, I know that sort of fall wouldnít have ended well. I skirt the drop off laterally until I feel a gradual decline continue, step forward, and tumble. All I am thinking about is clutching my weapon and compass. To loose one of them means failure. The fall doesnít last very long, but those few seconds were so full of fear it seemed longer. As I slid to a halt, the weight of my gear holds me to the ground and taunts me to anger. **** this. Pushing and pulling myself up by the butt-stock of my rifle, first to my belly, then my knees, at last I stand and check my gear. My eye protection is broken and useless. My compass is cracked and bent, but still seems to track. All in all, not so bad. Not even a sprain.

The pitch black has returned. The lightning doesnít even penetrate this bush. I see the flashes light the canopy, the wind picks up, a downdraft before the storm. An epic importance sweeps over me, and a rush forward. This is that part in the story where I overcome and succeed. Metallica starts blasting in my brain and I push. Fallen logs bash into my shins, vines grip my throat and legs, I fall often. Climbing over, crawling under, it doesnít matter, Iím pushing forward. Flashes overhead burn images of trees waving me on. My boots become caught in mud up to the knee, and for once the vines offer help as leverage out of the sink. through the water and mud and finally it becomes dry again. I start up an incline and smile. I beat it. I restart my pace count and know how far I have left to go. A few hundred meters walked with all the usual fun, and I recognize a terrain feature that strikes dread in me. The incline is at a slant. This means that Instead of getting out of the bush, Iím walking along a draw, a ravine of sorts. I check my heading and re-orient my feet. I am now facing back down into the creek. I let out a animal roar and start back down. The bush seems thicker than before, more fallen trees to vault and fall over, more mud to pull through. It becomes dry for a few steps and I let myself believe that I might make it. I glance at my watch and see how little time i have. The lightning is flashing quickly now, almost like a strobe. I wonder why all of a sudden it is so bright and look up from my watch. In front of me is a wide space of openness, which could only mean water. This is the real creek. Iíd just been walking along its tributaries. Taking a closer look, I orient my compass to its flow, and know where I am on the map. A full kilometer from the road and my finish point, with no time left. It starts to rain.

I break out my radio and call in the base camp. The wind is picking up more and more, and the thunder is almost constant. At the bottom of a deep terrain feature, It was difficult to hear base camp. Unable to make out much of anything, I simply transmit that Iím not going to make my time and that I am taking up my emergency heading, directly north towards the nearest major road. As I pack up, throw back some M&Ms and check all my gear. Everything set, I steel myself for the crossing and my own failure. I was so motivated to beat this thing, and I failed. I would have time to learn from my mistakes later, now I just need to get to the road. After wading through the water, the terrain inclines directly north and I know where I am. 600m or so from the road, and the bush is getting thinner. The lightning is truly lighting my environment now, so much so that it might be daytime. It starts to rain harder, the droplets getting bigger and more frequent so that everything becomes loud with the impact of water and thunder. I stop and gain some situational awareness, seeing that I am on a incline and that the rain will only get worse, I decide to stop. Resting my gear up against a tree, I cover it with one poncho and pull out another for myself, along with water and some food. about 15m away there is a heavily leaning tree that would make for a perfect tent post, so I set up a hastily built lean-to and waited it out. With the unnatural light and the water, It might have been beautiful if I wasnít so miserable.