Thursday, July 3, 2008

Just Like the TV Show…Lost

I had been a little down on myself as the pain in my leg was steadily increasing. As it was getting late in the day though, I ran into a guy by the name “Paddy O” who was dishing out some trail magic. I mentioned before that trail magic is generally some type of goody that a hiker might enjoy but not have access to in the woods. This trail magic though was everything a hiker might enjoy and not have access to in the woods. Paddy O had the back of a pick up truck filled with all kinds of food and drink, including a fully stocked bar. While the food and drink hit the spot, it was in our conversation that I found the motivation to make a hard push that night on the trail. I had initially planned on hiking about another half dozen miles that night but I was inspired to hike further still. That was the plan anyway.

I hiked on into the dark and was fired up as I was initially making good time. The problem soon became that the trail signs were far and few in between; or at least out of the range of the beam of my headlamp. The trail was obviously not walked at night by the folks that signed it or there would have been more guidance. The poor signage began slowing me down significantly. On the trail in other states trail signage wasn’t much of a factor when night hiking as there was a very definitive trail. In New York though, the trail crosses bare rock and patches of leaves at times, none of which lend themselves to suggesting a hiking path.

I had found the shelter in which I was going to originally stay, but I pressed on. It was July 3rd and there were several townships celebrating July 4th a day early as I could see a number of fireworks shows from my perch up in the mountains. It was pretty cool being up and away from the fireworks displays. While they were entertaining, they looked so small and insignificant.

As the night wore on rain began to fall and that did little to add to the enjoyment of the hike or to my ability to find the route, but I was still fired up. As I hiked across a wet, slippery, rock section of trail I had a little trouble finding my way. As I looked to my side I saw the unmistakable eyes of a bear shimmering in the light of my headlamp. I yelled at the bear with all I had, but it wasn’t moving. It stood in the rain about 20 feet away, watching me. I could make out the silhouette and while it wasn’t the largest bear I had ever seen, I still wanted no part of it. I took a guess as to which way the trail continued and slowly moved on, shouting the whole time in an effort to keep the bear at bay. Luckily I had guessed correctly as to the direction of the trail and continued moving away. For the next half hour I kept looking over my shoulder. It was the first time I had encountered a bear during a night hike. I am sure they are out there; I had just never come across one at night.

I continued along the trail for another hour until I came upon a somewhat swampy area where the trail seemed to just end. I made a few marks on the trail in the event I got turned around I would know I was going back the way I had come. I had also just crossed over a small wooden bridge, which would also notify me that I had taken a wrong turn. I spent a good 15 minutes trying to locate the trail, but eventually found my way back on to the trail. As I continued on I wasn’t entirely sure I was going in the right direction. I had been expecting to cross a small road and hadn’t seen it. My compass was of little assistance. That while in theory I am hiking north, long sections of the trail could run any compass direction. Certain places on the trail looked somewhat familiar, but in a rain storm in the dark, I couldn’t definitively say I was heading the wrong way...or the right way for that matter. It was an hour later that I saw a water tank which confirmed 100% I had been walking in the wrong direction for the past hour.

I was faced with the choice of making another U-turn and trying to negotiate the trail once again, or go with certainty back to the original shelter in which I was going to stay. I felt it the most prudent decision to backtrack to that original shelter, not least of which because it was nearly midnight and the rain was starting to come down even harder. The only benefit of the rain was that I was able to lay out my rain jacket and collect a few liters of water overnight. I was also fortunate that on my way back to the shelter I didn't run into my bear friend again.

So there you have it. Not exactly my proudest moment in the woods. The following morning I was intent on figuring out where things went wrong. Before I even got to the swampy area I could see a car in the distance just beyond it along that small road I was supposed to have crossed. Had I been able to see that at night, it would have shown me the direction in which I needed to travel straight away. I crossed over the small wooden bridge as I did the night before and once again was stumped as to which way the trail led. Armed with the information of the whereabouts of the small road, I was able to locate the trail, but still only after 10 minutes. I was also able to figure out how I got turned around the night previous. I had made one wrong move where there was no signage and ended up being routed back on the trail, heading the wrong direction and beyond where I made the marks on the trail and the wooden bridge. I calculated that I had hiked a total of six extra miles to net me a grand total of zero trail miles. Nice work.

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