A Comedy of Errors
With fall officially here, and the leaves starting to turn ever so slightly to gold and orange and red, my zest for outdoor adventure has kicked into overdrive. Having spent a good 4 hours out on the trails at French Creek State Park last weekend, I decided to take on a greater challenge this weekend by taking the Appalachian Trail into Hawk Mountain. With the weather in the 60s and the sweet smell of a coming rain in the air, I set out from Hawk Mountain Road northbound on the Appalachian Trail with the sunniest of outlooks and the greatest of ambitions. What followed was a gorgeous trek for several miles up the side of a mountain and over a harrowing but rewarding ridge.
That was, until through a series of foolish miscalculations on my part, I quickly found myself turned around, running out of daylight, with a steady rain coming down through the trees. I’ll preface the rest of this story with one simple fact: I am an experienced hiker, and have made a habit of spending significant time in the woods for the last 20 years. In fact, at one point it was my livelihood, and I regularly led hikes and never lost a camper. However, even the most experienced among us are going to make a mistake sooner or later. It can even be argued that through our experience we become arrogant, taking on more than we know we can handle, and being too stubborn to admit defeat. Being independent as I am, I really really hate admitting defeat.
And yet, there I was, making a quick business of my descent from the ridge, taking note of the time (approximately 17:00), and figuring I had a good hour back to my car. And then, I made my first and most fatal mistake. Instead of trusting my gut and the sense of direction that almost never steers me a astray, I talked myself out of the direction I was going, turned around, and looped back on a trail that ate up an hour of very limited time.
Once I got my bearings, it was too late. The rain was not letting up. I was without a flashlight, save a cell phone, which was fortunately getting a signal so that I could confirm my direction with someone who later saved my stubborn and soaking wet ass. As I hauled east back to the AT, I was able to navigate myself back to within 1/4 mile of the road and my car which contained clean, dry clothes, a heater, and means of getting myself to the nearest pizza shop for a much needed slice of pepperoni. Such things, though, were not in the cards for me. As I reached the campsite, knowing that I was close, I lost the trail. The trail was gone. So, I tried the next logical step which was to get back to the campsite, and then I couldn’t find that either. I headed due south, but to no avail. Finally, sensing defeat, I made shelter on the dry side of a tree and prepared to wait out the night when with the last bit of signal my phone could muster, I got a phone call insisting that rescue needed to be called, that I was not to spend the night laying in the bed I’d just made for myself, and that there would be no further argument on the matter. I got myself into this mess, it was time for someone else to get me out.
So, I waited, and sang some songs, and had a few harried phone calls back and forth with emergency services, until finally I heard someone calling my name. Within half an hour, I was found, a mere 50-75 yards north of the trail (I was heading right back towards it when I decided to stop) and about 1/4 mile away from my car. Oh the irony, to have made it so far on so little and to be so close, and yet, so lost at the same time. I was not scared. I had a few moments of panic, but on the whole, I was mad at myself. I KNOW BETTER. I really do, but I was too arrogant and probably too stubborn to know that I had misjudged and that dear mother nature wasn’t going to let me get away with it this time.
I’d like to thank Ben for two things: 1) for letting me borrow his hike which was truly one of the best I’d been on this year and 2) for not letting me stay out there all night. Also, the folks from Hawk Mountain who kept checking in with me and eventually found me and led me out. If you ever have a chance to go there I highly reccomend it. As for my next trek, I’ll be sure to trust myself more, and just in case that doesn’t work, I’ll remember a flashlight. Still, with a view like this, I really can’t say I regret much about the whole experience.