“I have never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for several weeks.” – Daniel Boone
Before taking off on my “big adventure,” I planned to take several 3-to 4-day shake down hikes. The purpose is to test equipment, get organized, gain experience, and generally work out the kinks before my thru hike. The first of these hikes was last weekend. I was joined by four of my fabulous cousins (Jeff, Mark, Maryellen and Max), who are outdoor enthusiasts and adventurers extraordinaire! We choose to hike Cheaha Mountain, and though it wasn’t THE big adventure, it certainly turned out to be quite a memorable one…
We arrived at the trail head late in the day, so we planned a short 3-mile hike into our first camp site. The trail was a rocky, steep ascent that was perfect for our fresh legs. This was my first hike with my full weight in my pack. It weighed in at 28 pounds before the two extra bottles of water that I snagged at our last stop.
We pitched our tents near the top of the mountain, enjoyed our first campfire and snuggled in early as the mercury dropped. Rain began to fall, but it was a comforting sound and helped lull me to sleep…that is until I realized I really needed to make a trip into the brush to take care of business.
The cold and the rain made my down sleeping bag feel quite comfortable, so I kept telling myself to go back to sleep and wait until morning. Needless to say, I tossed and turned until about 5:15, when I finally crept out of my tent and tip-toed into the woods.
This would be a quick trip. I planned to walk to a place I had scouted out earlier, just down the hill. The woods were deep and black with only a small beam of light from my headlamp to guide me. I paid close attention to landmarks: small dry creek bed, patch of green thistle and big rocks. I finished my business quickly and turned to go back to camp. WOW, it really was dark.
I turned my head right to left, casting my small beam of light. Green thistle, big rocks…OK, this is the way. Just a bit further. Yep, dry creek bed. I am on the right track. I squinted and peered ahead trying to make out the tents. Just a bit further…more rocks, more trees, more green thistle…no tents. Just a bit further. I crested the hill, still no tents. But, honestly, they could be 3 feet in front of me, and I would not see them. Just pure darkness.
So I walked—that’s right—just a bit further, and further and further. OK. Now, I am in the middle of the woods. I have on long underwear, camp crocs, a headlamp, and am carrying a roll of toilet paper. If this was not so funny, it might have been a little scary. But I could not stop laughing.
Here I am, Miss “I am going to walk the Appalachian Trail” and I am lost on my first night in the woods…in my skivvies no less!
Don’t panic! I walked slowly, jumping at a few shadows, and finally, I stumbled out onto a trail. Thank Goodness. The trail. We were camped near the trail, so I obviously just overshot a bit. I would just need to follow the trail back to the campsite. Off I went down the trail. Alas, back and forth I went, and neither direction produced our camp.
I sat down on a rock to ponder the situation. Perhaps I should turn off my light to conserve the battery. I clicked it off and darkness engulfed me. OK, light on. I started to laugh, really laugh, this could not be happening.
But it was, and I could either panic or relax. It would be light soon, and I would just find my way back then. Earlier in the day, my cousin Jeff had asked me if I planned to meditate while on the trail. I had said that I felt I would do a lot of soul searching but doubted I would truly meditate. Suddenly, this did not seem like such a bad idea. What does one do alone, in the middle of the woods—in the pitch black? Well, I took the opportunity to meditate, cross legged, sitting on a rock, toilet paper in my lap and head lamp glowing, I put my fingers together and try to think calming, zen like thoughts.
I tried not to imagine how worried my cousins would be in the morning when they found my empty tent. I tried not to imagine how I would be ribbed about this for the rest of my life, (if I survived). I tried not to imagine how amused the rescue team would be when they found me with only TP as my emergency provision.
I decided to start looking again once I noticed a streak of first light, but promised myself I would not leave this trail. Worst case scenario I would hike out. I marched up and down the path and soon realized that this was not the trail we had hiked. I had stumbled upon another path, and I truly had no clue where I was. Time for action—I began yelling!! Normally, one should have an emergency whistle—and I did have one…back in the tent. So, I simply began shouting for my cousins. Thirty minutes later, no answers. I am now nearly two hours into my jaunt and the sun is filtering through the woods, no darkness left at all.
Finally, I heard a hello faintly off in the distance. That’s all I needed! I trotted off in that direction. I continued to yell but did not hear anything else. Just when I began to wonder if it could have been an echo, I saw a flicker of red in the distance. I did not know if this was our camp but it was a camp so it was good enough for me. As I neared the camp, I saw my cousins calmly drinking coffee and eating their morning oatmeal.
When I was close enough that they could hear the rustle of the brush over the hiss of their camp stoves, they all turned toward the woods. The look on their faces was priceless as I stepped out of brush. They looked at me, and then looked at my tent. They had all thought I was fast asleep the entire time! The shock on their faces was evident. They never knew I was missing!
I learned a lot on this little nocturnal journey. In no specific order here are the lessons learned:
- Pee close to your tent at night
- Leave a small flashlight on in the tent, it can light your way back.
- The emergency whistle belongs around your neck, not in the tent.
- Remain calm.
- I am going to be okay.