Six years ago I spent a few weeks of my summer in Costa Rica with my dad and a team of about 15 people. Half of our trip was spent in San Jose and surrounding areas with Young Life, and the other half was spent at a camp in the mountains of San Gerardo de Dota, way up in the cloud forest (like the rainforest, but at higher altitude).
We spent our days there helping get camp cleaned up after what had been a rough rainy season, and our nights learning how to salsa and playing “Ticos vs. Gringos” soccer games. It was one of my favorite trips I’ve ever been on.
I had just graduated high school, was getting ready to go to college on a soccer scholarship where I didn’t know a single person, and my parents were moving back to Texas. Everything was changing, and that two weeks in Costa Rica with my dad and our friends was this sweet, time-stopping breath of fresh air.
It was filled with great adventure and great God encounters, and I even met a friend there who is still dear to me today. It was one of those trips where all sorts of unexpected things happen that leave a mark on you forever — things I never could have seen coming, like what happened on our last morning there.
On our last night, my dad got up at dinner and made an announcement that there was a really great hike up to the top of the mountain from camp. He was getting up to hike and watch the sunrise from the peak, and he said if anyone wanted to join, we’d meet and head out at about 5:30 am.
Out of our entire group, the only people that got up to go hiking with my dad were me, one of our girl leaders, and about 6 other girls on the trip. (High school boys aren’t the earliest risers, I suppose.) So we bundled up and with romantic expectations of sunrise chasing in our hearts, we began our climb.
When we first got to the top, it was fantastic. Nothing but mountains of green rainforest everywhere you looked. Truthfully one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
We spent a few minutes taking it all in… and then we heard some rustling behind us. There was what looked like it used to be a fence, and right in front of said “fence” there was a bull. We were a little bit startled, but my dad assured us if we just kept our distance (all 15 yards of it), the bull wouldn’t be bothered or bother us.
Well, a few minutes later, he is literally sharpening his horns on a tree trunk. This was a little bit alarming, so at my dad’s command, we started walking slowly back down the path. The bull, having sharpened his horns to his liking, then hops off the side of the mountain and down onto the path. He was facing us, doing that thing bulls do with their feet when they look like they’re about to take off in a wild rage.
I’ll never forget my dad saying, “OK girls. Keep walking slowly back down the path. When I say go, you need to move as quickly as you can down the path and then get off the path and up onto the side of the mountain.”
At this point I’m thinking, all summer I thought I was training for my first college soccer preseason, but really I was preparing my self for THIS. MOMENT. Life or death. This is what all those sprints and power cleans were for.
Dad gives the signal and we all take off running. Hearts racing, adrenaline pumping, some girls squealing. So I’m running for my life, and as soon as I saw a good spot, I jumped up off the path and held onto a tree branch to keep myself as far out of the bull’s reach as possible.
We’re talking like Simba in the stampede style, hanging from a tree and looking back praying I wasn’t going to have a Simba-esque ending as I watched my dad hang back to protect the rest of us. It sounds morbid now, but these were legitimate thoughts in my head at the time.
Well the bull kind of half chased my dad about 30-40 yards down the path, and once he realized he’d successfully scared the living daylights out of all of us enough to get out of his territory, he stopped. We all pulled ourselves together and then started our descent back down the mountain, but about 200 yards down the path, one of the girls says, “Oh my gosh! I left my camera up there!”
Feeling confident after his first escape, my dad goes back up to the top with our angry bull friend to fetch her camera. I did what every good daughter would do — I got on my face and prayed until he returned. Just kidding. I got out my camera and video’d the whole thing. If nothing else, we were going to go viral on YouTube after dad got bucked. (I’ve always been a journalist, I guess.)
Thankfully, nothing happened. Dad got the camera and returned, and we went back to camp, packed our bags and headed for the airport. The real irony of this story is that when we got to the airport, the Running of the Bulls in Spain was all over the TVs. We resolved that our bull was displaced and jealous of all his pals in Spain, and we were glad we could help make his Running of the Bulls dreams come true in some small way.
I was thinking about this story the other day, about how sometimes life goes a lot like that morning did. People just don’t climb mountains expecting to be charged by a bull at the top. Sometimes crazy, unexpected things just happen, and you roll with it and keep going, and you don’t let it define all the rest of the days that follow it.
I’ve climbed several other mountains since that one, and never have I started one of those journeys thinking, “Man I better prepare myself for the bull at the top.”
I don’t know what the crazy, unexpected curve ball that turned what was supposed to be a beautiful experience into a near-disaster in your life was recently, but I’m sure you’ve had one. And I challenge you to choose to believe that there are still sunrises to be seen on mountaintops, even though one of them got ruined once.
I was on the phone with my dad last night, and he said, “You know, we only get to be on this earth once. Might as well wear ourselves out saying yes to all the crazy things we get invited into.”
I love that about my dad. I hope I always think that way, too. Every day a new opportunity for adventure. Rain or shine; sunrise or bull fight.