Or, in other words, how I got lost in the woods.
The wilderness…beautiful, but go prepared.
You could say I’m an adventurer of sorts. An explorer. Put my name next to Magellan and Lewis & Clark.
Or maybe not.
You see, I headed out with my faithful hiking companion (a black lab, not a human) and hit some of the familiar trails that we’ve gone on before. I followed a trail that I’d followed previously. Dog went for a swim in the creek. I meandered through a “fairy glen” and a place that – no joke – looked almost like it belong in Frozen. It was all moss-covered rocks, and I found myself hoping that I’d awaken some trolls.
No such luck.
As we made our way up a steep hill, I found a baby snake sunning itself on the rocky trail. That should have been my indication right then and there to turn around and go back the way I’d come, but no. Hindsight is 20/20, no matter what type of contacts or glasses you wear.
After moving Mr. Snakey off the path a ways (despite his lethargy, I didn’t feel like getting chomped on by a reptile), Dog and I continued upward. And upward.
And then I followed the trail I really thought I’d been on before.
Oh, and I forgot to mention the part where I left my cell phone behind. Along with all common sense.
Now, at first, this was still an adventure. I found a beautiful trail with the BEST rock for journaling upon that I’ve ever seen in my entire life. This thing could come with cupholders and it wouldn’t be any better. (Too bad I’ll probably never find that trail again.)
Nothing looked familiar after awhile, but I forged on, thinking “this trail should come up someplace familiar.”
And then I started to get worried. Now, I may not be the best at finding my way, but I really thought that it wouldn’t be that hard to find my way back to a trail I’d been on previously. And all the time I kept thinking “I know the way back, but I have to be almost there by now.”
So I wandered some more. I marked trails as they intersected with new ones.
And then I stopped doing that.
So that when I started to get scared.
Not just scared…Scared. With a capital S.
I got to the point where I had absolutely no clue where I was. There were signs about public access points, something I’d never seen before on any of my hikes in that area. It was not good.
Apparently, Dog has no sense of direction either, because according to the books I read as a child, dogs should be able to find their way home. He does not have that ability.
I finally turned around and tried to go back the way I came. At some point, no matter how far I’d wandered, I had to find something that would help me. A house. A road. A friendly – or not so friendly – person to ask directions from.
But at that point, I was alone with a dog, muddy shoes, and an overwhelming sense of helplessness.
“Not all those who wander are lost.”
But some of them are.
On my way back, I followed a trail that looked familiar. But then I must have missed the point where I had originally found the last trail, the one with all the public access signs, because I found a new “public access point” that was full of discarded trash.
I wandered some more.
And finally, I found a road.
It was marked as a state route, but I had no idea where exactly I was. So I started walking in the direction I thought was best. And let me tell you, my feet were sore, my legs were tired, and I was feeling even more hopeless. I’d been praying for a long time at that point, and I had no idea what the time was (apparently I need to learn how to judge time based off of the sun’s height above the horizon!). Now I prayed for a car to pass – for it to be someone that I knew or at least someone who was friendly.
No such luck. Not for a while anyway. For probably two miles I alternated between walking and jogging down hill on exhausted leg, feeling dehydrated, stupid, and desperate, and the entire time only one truck passed me. And they didn’t slow down.
So I kept going. At this point oit was a matter of pride…or survival. Maybe both.
I finally worked up the nerve to approach a house and ask for directions. The lady was kind enough to give me a general idea of where I was. She did not offer a cup of water. Or a ride.
So I turned back down her driveway and headed BACK THE WAY I CAME because I had gone the wrong way.
I came to an intersection and saw a house to my right that had about 8 or 9 cars parked on the front lawn. I could hear and see people outside, and this was a welcome sight (because my overactive imagination had taken over while I was wandering aimlessly in the woods and I’d begun to think I’d entered into some sort of alternate reality where I was the only person left alive…no, I wasn’t hallucinating).
I figured there was safety in numbers, hoped it wasn’t a fancy party or a wedding, and went to ask for more directions.T
Thank the Lord for kind strangers. Seriously, I have no idea how I’d get through life without the kindness of strangers.
I’d walked up to a man cleaning fish on a picnic table (not a fancy wedding, then) and said, “Hello, sorry to disturb you, but I’m a little lost and I could use some directions.”
The man was older, probably in his fifties or sixties, and he looked at me with wide eyes. “Well, we can definitely help you with that!” He immediately started calling out to his friends. As it turns out, it was his friend’s cabin, and they were there for a weekend of fishing, beer, and freedom from their wives.
They all complimented Dog on his gorgeous healthy coat, laughed concernedly over my predicament, and quickly gave me a water bottle and a hero to take me the rest of the way home.
I have no idea how far I’d wandered, but by my less than stellar google map skills, I’m thinking it was close to 7 miles. The ride from the cabin back to Dog’s house was about 3 miles by road.
My legs are scratched from thorns. My shoulder too. My feet are still hurting, and my legs feel tight. I haven’t done that much prolonged physical activity since my last half marathon. Last night I drank about 40 ounces of water, took a hot bath, and used the foam roller. Today I’ve sat on the couch so long that my butt is getting sore and I don’t think it’s helped the tight muscles at all.
In conclusion, I’d like to share some things I learned yesterday.
1.) Take a cell phone. Whether you’re by yourself or with friends (and you should go with friends anyway, don’t be dumb like me), you NEVER know what could happen. Dog’s owner told me later that there are bears and bobcats in those woods. All I saw was a wild turkey and some salamanders, thankfully. But if you do get lost, your battery dies, or something worse happens, they can always use your cell phone “pings” to find you.
2.) Tell people where you are going. Seriously, how else will they know where to start looking when you don’t come home?
3.) Not all dogs are Lassie. And not all humans know how to find their way either. Do not trust your hiking companion unless they have proven themselves in some previous manner – especially if they are four-legged.
4.) Carry water. If it does become more of a prolonged expedition, you might start to get desperate. Trust me, I considered eating grass at one point because my mouth was so dry.
5.) Be wary of strangers, but still be willing to ask for help. Not everyone is a crazy murderer, but you should still be very careful who you talk to and what information you give out. If you feel uncomfortable at all, trust your gut and get out of there. It’s better to look goofy than to become someone’s next victim.
6.) STRETCH. Because I definitely didn’t do enough of that.
7.) Don’t think you’re Katniss Everdeen. She’s a great character, I’ll give you that, but she, unlike most of the rest of us, actually possessed survival skills. I do not.
8.) Learn survival skills. You never know when you’ll be lost in the woods. Or when you’ll be running for your life from zombies. All that information about edible plants they try to teach you at summer camp might actually come in handy some day.
Someday, this story will be a little bit funnier to tell, but that probably won’t be until my leg stop aching and I do something else stupid.