It’s disconcerting to hike through thick brush where bears can jump out and eat you before you can take evasive action.
Bill and I went for an easy hike up the trail on the north bank of the Eagle River. It’s fall and cool, and I love the way the forest smells this time of year. To me it smells wonderfully over-ripe with the sweet decay of summer foliage.
We didn’t have much with us: no snacks, no water, and I didn’t think we’d be gone long because Bill didn’t say anything about an extended hike.
This was the third time we’d hiked this trail, and I was jabbering at Bill not really paying attention to how far we’d gone, when we crossed a little creek. I realized we hadn’t walked this far back up the river.
For the first time on our walk, I was a little concerned about meeting a bear or maybe a hormonal moose.
As we hiked up the river, we got deeper and deeper into nowhere: no houses, no people, no nothing. Then it started to drizzle, just a little. No big deal. You know what it’s like to live in Alaska. If you don’t go out in the weather, you’ll never go outside.
After a while, we met two women with two dogs coming back down the trail, and we asked them what the trail was like, and where it went. Bill and I didn’t have boots on, therefore, muddiness of the trail was a factor for continuing. We had already hopped over some mucky parts of the trail. The women told us the trail went along for a while, and then it looped back to itself like the eye of a needle, and it wasn’t wet at all. They suggested we take the path on the right at the fork.
Bill smiled at me, turned, and continued down the trail.
We hiked along, climbed a hill, went down again, and then the trail meandered through a swampy area. We eventually climbed up again until we got to a bluff and a blue tent. What the expensive blue tent was doing there late on a Monday evening? I don’t know.
As we walked along through the trees, we came upon a huge, beautiful bluff overlooking the river. The view was an unexpected treat. The river was below us, and the mountains dressed in fall colors were really breathtaking.
We continued following the trail until we came to what we thought was an intersection. We had to choose to go right and follow what could have been a trail – we weren’t sure because we couldn’t see any trail markers – or continue on the path before us down a really steep decline.
Bill wanted to go down the hill even after I pointed out, being the excellent tracker I am, that no dogs or people had left scramble marks on the path; meaning, the women with their dogs, did not take this trail.
Bill dismissed this information and headed down the hill. I followed.
At the bottom of the hill, the path continued into picturesque, open spruce and birch forest. It was lovely, peaceful, and we could see through the trees for large, wild animals – this was a plus!
I finally relaxed a bit. I really don’t like walking through thick brush. I like to be able to see large animals so I can give them lots of space.
At the bottom of the hill, the path disappeared. There was nothing: no markers, no flagging, no nothing. This did not deter Bill as he marched on through the moss, lichen and fall vegetation.
This was our conversation:
Me: Bill, I’m getting really hungry and I hope you know where you are going.
Bill: Why are you so hungry? Eat a mushroom.
Me: I’m not going to eat a mushroom! I’m hungry because I’ve hiked 47,000 miles this weekend on a salad and a cheese stick. I need food. Are you sure where you’re going?
Bill: (Silence – He stops.)
Me: How about you pull your phone out, look at the compass, or the Google machine, and do an Eagle Scout? (He is an Eagle Scout.)
Bill: (He pulls out his phone… )
With the new info from the phone, Bill said we should head left. I said we should go right.
I have a very sophisticated sense of direction, far exceeding Bill’s. Additionally, I was starving, it was really raining now, and it was getting dark. These things boost my homing instinct.
In all fairness, Bill was probably hungry too. It was well past dinner time.
I headed off into woods and Bill followed my lead this time. I course corrected as I went along, according to my internal compass, we climbed two smallish ridges, and eventually, we popped out onto the main trail.
Yay for us!
We realized we had traveled in a complete circle. No kidding. We were twenty yards down the path from that expensive blue tent by the bluff.
Do you remember watching a movie or TV show where people get lost and they walk around in circles? I always thought, Really? How could they just walk around in circles? I would never do that.
Well, when you’re lost, walking in circles really happens. It happened to us, and we are seasoned outdoorsy types!
What an eye-opener for me! We were unprepared to traipse off for miles in unfamiliar territory. We were never in any real danger, and we had our phones with us, but things could have turned real bad, real fast. We were out for much longer than we were prepared for.
No harm, no foul. But was it smart? Probably not.
Bill and I got back to the truck wet, hungry, thirsty, tired and schooled. I won’t go into the woods that unprepared again. It’s not worth the risk.
Friends, when you go into the woods to enjoy the wonderfulness of fall, don’t be like us.
Bring some water, some snacks, have a plan, tell someone where you’re going, and keep an eye on the time. I always want to go and see what’s just beyond that hill, and one mile leads to the next, and the next. I’ve since learned to be smarter about hiking.