Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Art of Getting Lost

I may have admitted this once before, but I have a knack for getting lost. Not the horrible, irreparable kind of lost that requires a team of skilled trackers to extract me from the wild, but the kind of lost that is enough that I can easily add an additional 30 to 45 minutes to any drive or hike I happen to be on. (Okay, there may have been one or two times professional help would have been much appreciated, but at least then I was with a is always easier to endure these kinds of things with someone else by your side.)

Anyway, today was one of those days to get lost. At the very least, it was a beautiful day to do so. The sun blazed down and the skies were a resplendent blue. If it weren't for the chill in the air, it would have been a perfect day to sprawl out. I had a need to get a little ways away from the city, away from the urban scene and reconnect with nature. I hopped in my car and headed west, looking for a trail that sounded like it would be a serve my needs--long enough to be worth a good drive, but not so challenging it took all the fun out of it.

I had the directions. I was even sure to write out every single step, mileage and all. And, you are probably wondering why 1) I wrote it out instead of printing it and 2) why I have not invested in GPS.  My home printer is old and decrepit. It takes less time to transcribe seemingly simple things like directions. I have not purchased a GPS because...I have no real reason except that I figure that my handwritten directions will suffice, despite having proven wrong far more often than not. Like I was today. In all fairness, though, if I had GPS, I would not have passed the wild turkeys or the soaring hawks. I would have missed the simple beauty of sunlight over a rolling prairie. I would not have been reminded what 'fun' it is to drive on unpaved roads. And, I may have ended up at my destination a few minutes earlier. Still, I found where I needed to be, and really that is all that matters, right?

If my navigation skills while driving are bad, they are even worse when hiking. I had read about the hike I was about to do (a simple 4.25 mile loop), and I felt confident that all I had to do was follow the blue blazes, and I would be okay. And for the first half, it worked. While a few times it seemed like I had lost the path (and there were no blazes until a good third of the way), I always managed to pick it up again, following it through grasslands to the trees and down to the lake. The path along the lake was by far the best part of the hike, and the few moments I spent listening to the water lap the shoreline provided some calm to my otherwise busy mind. (Perhaps this distracted mental state is related to my ability to get lost.) And really, the first part of the hike wasn't where I got really lost. I quickly found myself at the other side of the trailhead, the loop completed in far less time than I had anticipated. (I figured about 50 minutes...I walk fast, but not that fast, especially on uneven ground.) So, being the intrepid adventurer I am (read idiot), I decided to retrace my steps and see if I had missed part of the trail somehow.

I am still not sure if I missed part of the trail. I have no clue, really, if I was ever on it after the first fifteen minutes back in. I thought I did a good job retracing my steps until I reached a fork in the road I didn't remember. Of course, I chose the wrong path. I think no matter what I had decided, it would have still have been the wrong path. But, because this was an adventure, or at least an attempt to recapture the spirit of past adventures, I kept on. My mind occasionally drifted to the most negative outcome possible, but thank goodness my rational self is good at curbing my imagination. What I couldn't quell, though, was my growing frustration. How many times would I allow myself to get into this kind of mess? While this situation was not at all dangerous (I had a ton of energy still, and I knew I could backtrack yet again if I had to), there is no guarantee that the next time I do something like this, it would be safe. At least when I was with friends, there was the comfort of their presence and I knew if I were hurt, someone else would be right there to help. As it turned out, I was able to find the right path, a fact confirmed by locating my own footprints. One benefit of a muddy path, I guess. As I got into my car (after having knocked off as much mud from my car and taking off my sodden shoes), I realized that yet again I was lucky. That what makes my getting lost such an art is my ability to finally get unlost. I have always found my way back, from bogs and fields, mountains and forests. But for how long? Perhaps it is time to be a bit more careful...

This isn't to say that I will give up solo hikes altogether. I will, however, be far more mindful of the paths I choose--those that are well-defined and well-traveled. I am getting to that stage in my life where it is finally sinking in that I am not invincible. Took me long enough to realize this, yes? Yet, a part of me finds it hard to let go because while hindsight reveals to me how every situation could have gone horribly wrong, the experiences remain some of the most memorable, the ones I think back on and smile. I don't want to give up any of those yet to happen...I guess it is finding that balance of spontaneity and planning to allow for chance to guide the path, but not to be caught of guard? Who knows. All I know is that I made it out yet again unscathed, and I drove off with a smile on my face.

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