I could hear my heart pounding in my ears as I looked at the stream to my left. Wait a minute I thought, wasn’t I on the other side of the stream before? I couldn’t remember.
I was getting confused.
The steam was my point of reference. I followed it thinking it would eventually take me someplace, preferable to a recognizable trail or road, as opposed to unknowingly wandering in circles.
As I walked the stream there were trails that opened to the left of me. I followed some of them for a while, hoping for something recognizable, but always wound up turning back to the safety of the stream.
But now I was even starting to doubt the stream. The clouds had moved in, the sun was no help.
I was lost.
It was 11:54. I had my phone and it had two bars on it, that meant I could make a phone call. That was good, but I didn’t want to think about what it would be like to have to call for help. And what would I say. I’m by a stream next to a tree and a rock? It was embarrassing just thinking about it. I wasn’t that desperate yet.
Jon’s writing class at Pompanuck ended at 12:00. I sometimes went with him and hiked the 800 acres of State Forest in Pompanuck’s back yard with Fate. I was always back before his class was over.
This time I was on a trail I never hiked before. I’d heard it led to an overlook, so I assumed it was a well worn trail. But it was actually overgrown with ferns and small trees. And I can see now I wasn’t paying as much attention as I thought I had been. Because after spending sometime sitting on a tall rock wall at the top of a ridge, I headed back and lost the trail.
There’s no phone reception at Pompanuck so I knew I wouldn’t be able to talk to Jon. But, when I didn’t get back at noon, I thought he might eventually go someplace where he did get reception to see if I left him a message.
Even though I was still lost, I now had a plan.
I realized by that following the stream wasn’t a good idea. I would turn back the way I came and follow the stream to the place where I saw the old campfire then find the big dead pine. The one I had to climb over, the last place I remembered before taking a wrong turn.
At 12:00 I left Jon a message. I was feeling confident. My message was lighthearted. The last thing I wanted was have any hint of panic in my voice. I got off the trail, I said but would be back in a bit. We’re fine. I knew he’d be worried but the best thing I could do was to get back as quickly as possible.
My feet were wet from crossing the small streams along the way and my leggings were ripped from brambles, but I hardly noticed.
I’m best with visual landmarks, I don’t have a good sense of direction. When I do get lost, I sometimes think things looks familiar even if I’ve never seen it before. Maybe it’s wishful thinking. My mind offering me a false sense of security. Anything to keep me from panicking.
Fate was with me the whole time. Running up ahead or following behind. And I noticed that when she was following my direction, even if she ran ahead of me, she was different than when we were back tracking.
When we were headed back from where we came from, she had a certain confidence about her. Nose to the ground, she was the leader now, as if she was assuming where I was going to go instead of looking for my direction.
By the time we made it back to the old campfire, I had been lost for about 45 minutes. I came to the big dead pine and climbed over it once again then stood looking. I couldn’t see any sign of the path I had taken in. I had already taken so many wrong turns, backtracked so many times, I decided it was time to give Fate a chance to get us back.
“Okay Fate,” I said, “let’s go home”.
And I followed her.
I didn’t recognize where we were till we came to the clearing of ferns. There was the little stream with the log halfway across it. It took us about ten minutes to get there and now we were just another ten minutes from Pompanuck.
Back at the pine tree, I had no idea we were so close to Pompanuck.
Ever since I started hiking alone, I’ve always been afraid of getting lost in the woods. I usually only go on well-marked trails or have good maps that I follow closely.
This time I had neither.
What was different was that I wasn’t afraid to try. In the past I never would have gone as far as I did. There was something exhilarating about finding my back after getting lost. Making the decision to trust Fate. It’s as if I conquered a long-held fear.
And that’s different too. In the past this experience would have frightened me not to do it again. Now I want to go back. See where I went wrong. Try it again. I’d do it different this time. I’d have more of a sense of the place since I’ve been there before. I wouldn’t go as far before back tracking. I’d take a compass with me. And I’d be more inclined to trust Fate sooner.