Give me four hours of free time and I am going to make the most of it. I was in Sequim, Washington, for a pastors’ conference at a church at the end of Kitchen-Dick Road. We had free time from 1-4 p.m. and I had brought along my mountain bike for this very reason. Sequim is adjacent to the Olympic National Forest, with its rainforests, glaciated mountains, rivers, and a wild undeveloped beauty that is unmatched. Norm who was our church administrator and a Marine had brought his bike as well.
I had done some research on hiking and biking trails in the Olympic National Forest and was particularly interested in exploring the Gray Wolf Trail along the Gray Wolf River. If you have done a lot of hiking, you understand that most trail descriptions are incomplete. They frequently omit important details, including whether the milage is “point to point” or round trip.
It was October, and the leaves were magnificently colored in contrast to the slate-gray sky. Drizzle had been falling earlier during the day, leaving the landscape damp and glistening.
Norm and I took our lunches “to go” and made the 15-mile drive from the church into the vast wilderness, arriving at the empty trailhead parking lot at 2 p.m. The air was cold and crisp. Wispy clouds clung to the tree-line on the surrounding mountains. I brought along a headlamp and wore gloves to protect my hands from the frigid air.
The trail followed a waterway called Gray Wolf Creek. Norm and I nimbly rode the single track trail over the leaves, slippery rocks, and shallow mud. The grade was a gradual climb, upstream, further into the mountains. We were prepared for a six-mile ride, knowing that we had plenty of time to cover that distance while taking in the scenery before the early darkness came over the landscape.
We had been biking for miles and had not seen another human. Norm and I had become separated by a minute of distance as I pressed onward, hoping to discover a road back to the parking lot. Dusk was approaching and I knew that we had long ago passed our plan of a six-mile ride. I now understood that the six miles might have been a point to point measurement, not round trip.
Thinking about Norm, I glanced over my shoulder, and to my surprise, I saw a dark shadow in the middle of the trail. Doing a double-take, I realized it was the most majestic canine I had ever seen. It was as large as a Husky but slender, sleek, and long-legged. It had piercing blue eyes and was trotting down the trail 75 feet behind me. It was not acting aggressively, but I could not stare behind me while riding forwards over the rocky, narrow trail.
I turned my focus ahead and was thankful to enter into a smooth and straight section of trail. I accelerated subtly, trying not to show fear while distancing myself from the wolf.
I came to a downhill section that enabled me to pull away quickly. Looking back again, and the wolf was gone. I stopped, waited, and listened. I could hear the river, my breath, and my heart beating. It was getting dark while I waited for Norm.
To my relief, Norm appeared and skidded up to me.
“Did you see the wolf?!” I asked anxiously.
“No. You say you saw a wolf? Are you sure it wasn’t a coyote?” Norm asked reasonably.
“I have seen many coyotes, and I am 90% sure this was a wolf,” I answered, as doubt first entered my mind.
Seeing is believing, right? I had seen a wolf, and it wasn’t because I was riding on “Gray Wolf Trail.” Or was the power of suggestion playing tricks on my mind and vision?
Norm and I rode on in silence, finally reaching the intersection of a gravel Forest Service road. We made a right turn and pedaled hard on the road, trusting that it would take us back to our car.
We both had our headlamps on and were afraid we would not only miss dinner but maybe even the evening session at the conference. I looked at my cell phone and I had no service. I asked Norm to check his phone, and he also had no reception. We had no way to inform our wives that we were OK. We rode on, into the dark. Twenty minutes later we arrived at the parking lot where our car was parked. We had ridden 15 miles over rugged terrain.
We loaded our muddy bikes into Norm’s car and made the 15-mile drive back to Kitchen-Dick road. We arrived well past dinner and went directly into the church foyer to let people know that we were OK.
The first person that I saw was Heidi, and she was on her cell phone with her back towards me.
“Heidi! We’re back,” I announced loudly.
She slowly turned towards me with a look that was a mixture of anger, frustration, relief, and happiness.
“Excuse me,” she spoke into the phone. “They just made it back. Looks like they are OK. Thank you for your help.” She hung up the phone.
A big smile came across my face as I assured her that we had just enjoyed an amazing adventure and a ride that was way further than we had anticipated.
“They were about to deploy search and rescue to go and find you two!” Heidi informed me.
My smile disappeared. I was in trouble!
“I am so sorry. We tried to call but there was no cell phone service. And we made it back in time for the service!”
Heidi and Maren (Norm’s wife) both rolled their eyes and scowled at my excuses.
“I am so sorry,” I said, as the excitement of our adventure was replaced with feelings of guilt.
That night I kept dreaming about the wolf that I had seen. Of all the encounters I have had with wildlife, this one was truly special. I wondered how many wolves lived on the Olympic Peninsula. I assumed they were very rare and I planned to inform the Park Service once I got home.
I did an internet search for “gray wolves’ Olympic national forest” and was shocked by what I discovered. It turns out that the last time a wolf was documented on the Olympic Peninsula was in 1938. Since that time, they had been officially declared extinct. I called the Park Service to report what I had seen, and I shared my story with a Ranger. He listed patiently before responding, “Occasionally someone claims to see one, but the fact of the matter is that we have had absolutely no documented sightings or signs of wolves since the 1930’s.”
“OK. Well, thank you for listening.”
So what had I seen? By this time I had told my story to enough people that I was feeling a little embarrassed. Had I come across, the same way as a person who claims to have seen “bigfoot”? The Park Ranger probably had more Sasquatch sightings than wolf sightings.
Had I seen an extinct animal, or not?
Was my mind playing tricks on me? Did I just want to see one?
Was it the power of suggestion, based on the name of the trail and the nearby river?
Expectation often leads to experience. What we seek determines what we find. It is up to us to determine the direction of our quest. It has been said that seeing is believing but believing also leads to seeing.
Jeremiah 29:13 affirms this when it comes to God: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
Seeing and believing do not depend on each other. There are times when I think I see but remain unsure. There I times when I do not see, yet I still believe.
Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
Set your sight upon the Lord, with expectation and faith.
If we expect little, we are more likely to end up with little.
If we expect great things, great things tend to happen.
If we expect God to work in our lives, it creates an opportunity for Him to do something miraculous.
To this day, I do not know if I saw an extinct animal, defying logic, and scientific data. Perhaps it was an oversized coyote. Perhaps it was an illusion, induced by fatigue, fear, and confusion. Or perhaps, it was something rare, and special.
• When you have thought you saw something and later questioned yourself?
• Are you expecting great things from God, or are you expecting failure? Adjust your expectations.
• What are you seeking in life right now? How could God help you find those things?