Our team was getting a bit desperate. We had been working in the rain forest deep in the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea for almost two weeks.
This part of PNG is rugged with steep mountains, plunging valleys, thick forested canopies and lush vegetation. The ground there is not solid. As the older trees die and fall they form a patch work of "pick-up sticks."
Constant rain erodes the earth below creating deep caverns under the jumbled tree trunks. Everything is slippery with moss and decaying wood.
The rain was our problem. A supply and transit helicopter scheduled to bring us back to camp had been grounded for days because of the rain and low clouds. As a pouring rain drenched our tiny mountain camp we decided to hike out to the town of Mount Hagen.
We stood on the makeshift helicopter landing pad loading our back packs with the few things we really needed and of course our valuable data. Looking around I realized I had no idea which direction to go to start our journey. There was no trail that I could see.
The natives knew the way out and we started walking, crawling really, over fallen trees across tiny streams and through massive fern beds. We were already soaked from days of rain so the additional wet from our stumbling hardly mattered. The barefoot natives moved quickly across the latticework forest floor while we struggled to keep up. It was exhausting.
By the end of the day we came to a small native marker and what appeared to be an overgrown foot path. We camped there over night - in the rain. I wondered if I had made the right decision for my team.
Early the next morning we slowly worked our way down the trail. Sometimes it disappeared only to resurface several kilometers further on. Late the second day the trail ended abruptly at a modest dirt road that had not been used for some time. We camped again.
Eventually the old road led to a wider rutted road called the Kum and for the first time in two weeks I saw a hut and signs of civilization. The next day the Kum became a lane and a half wide, then a graveled road. All along the way we encountered more people and signs of civilization.
Enthused and relieved we soon walked into Mount Hagen. A company truck drove us to the base camp along the paved Highlands Highway.
I was reflecting recently on that journey down from the rain forest mountains. At first we didn't even know the way. Then we found a small trail that was seldom travelled and that was followed by a slightly wider path, then a dirt road used by more people. Eventually we found ourselves on a road well taken which brought with it civilization and normal human contact.
Projects, goals and leadership are the same way. You may have a new idea but don't recognize any forward direction. Your goals may find you alone on a very narrow path that makes you question your logic. Heading down a seldom considered trail may even cause your team to wonder if you are on the right road at all. Still as everything advances the trail widens into a road. More people understand and join your journey. Soon you find yourself on a paved road surrounded by a populous.
Those first tentative steps are always the toughest, but with hard work and determination the road you take will always become wider.
Charlie Auvermann is the executive director of the Dawson County Development Authority.