Sometimes trips don’t always go as planned. Sometimes we have to pull out our maps and compasses and orient everything to north as we try to find our way. Please welcome Lisa to the website today with a true story about fun, adventure and getting lost (and then found) on the trail. Thanks, Lisa (and stay tuned because she’ll be a guest on an upcoming podcast episode!)
There’s something to be said for mindfulness.
My friends Heather and Joe were all over a spur-of-the-moment overnight backpacking adventure on the northernmost section of the Knobstone Trail in Southern Indiana. It was May, great weather was forecast, and none of us had been on this trail that was darn close to our backyards.
When we arrived at the Delaney Park Trailhead to find 20-plus Boy Scouts and their troop leaders assembling to set off on the same trail, we didn’t take much of a pause—no moment of grounding and talking over our plan—before taking off from the car at a slight jog. We had no desire to be caught in the trail-wake of a crowd like that! We giggled and lamented the luck of arriving at the same time as a hoard of kids, all the way across the creek and up the hill, following the trail of what appeared to be an old logging road.
As we settled into a more-suitable backpacking pace, we caught each other up on our lives.
Just as the chatter started to die down, so did our trail, until it looked less like a trail than a deer path and we had really no trail at all.
Where was the last trail mark? Neither Heather or I remembered seeing one since crossing the creek at the very beginning. Looking at the map, there were no side trails and nothing that intersected, but then I remembered each mile of the Knobstone Trail is marked with a number. We’d definitely hiked more than a mile, but we hadn’t seen any numbers, either. With such a clear, wide trail for the first half a mile or more, we didn’t question the lack of marks. We should have payed closer attention.
I should pause here to say this was the first time that the three of us had hiked all together. It’s possible Heather didn’t know what she was getting herself into, because Joe and I can’t go hiking without getting lost. We’ve probably gone out more than a dozen times, and I bet we’ve lost our way—or at least seriously questioned our way—on 80 percent of those trails. Most of them were far simpler than the Knobstone Trail.
Heather and Joe tried picking their way forward into the direction that this trail might continue while I went back a ways looking for marks or turns in the trail that we might have missed. I found nothing, and they found nothing. We just continued on through overgrowth in the sort-of direction that this now-imaginary trail might travel, driven by pride and a hunch. It was only about 100 yards before we picked up a bit of a trail again and then another logging road—this one graveled and clearly more in use. Again we looked at the map, and again we found nothing helpful.
This is where I realized the great benefit of backpacking over car camping: When we get lost like this, we already have our sleeping and eating stuff with us, so we can just set up camp as we please. There’s no concern of needing to get out of the woods before dark. The opposite, in fact, is the goal.
Walking along this more-developed logging road, one of us actually found a trail mark in the woods, to the right. We happily dodged trees and rocks and rejoined our lost trail. We didn’t know where we actually diverged from the trail to begin with, so it was hard for any of us to pinpoint exactly where we were at that moment, but we knew were we thought we were or at least where we should be on the loop. We pulled out a compass and headed north. From the wear and tear on the trail, it looked like our Boy Scout friends had already gone on through, so at least the mission of avoiding the crowd was still on track.
Our next mission was to turn left onto the Spurgeon Hollow Loop to do our planned 11 miles total. This junction comes between trail-mile-numbers 46d and 45d. When we came to the first number on the trail, we were elated to now be on the actual path, but no one bothered to confirm our location on the map. Then we came to the second trail-mile number and realized the numbers were going up, not down. We were going the wrong way.
In our scout-troop-averting fervor, we crossed the actual trail in the creek bed in the very beginning. Unbeknownst to us, the logging road we started on cut diagonally across the loop, so when we found the real trail again, we were in the northeast corner, not the northwest corner.
And at this point, I learned the problem with loop hikes—you really need to know where you are before you know which direction you should be heading. This was a good time to stop for a snack and a sip from the flask.
We just laughed this off, because there wasn’t much else we could do. We just continued on in that now-south direction, waved at our car in the parking lot as we went past, and hiked along the loop to find a campsite in the area we’d originally planned for the night.
Day 1: 6 miles hiked; 8 miles planned
Day 2: 2 miles hiked; 3 miles planned
Joe, Heather and I talked about backpacking the whole length of the Knobstone Trail in sections—it’s 58 miles total. It was a lovely trail and surprisingly varied terrain for a state that I always think of as pancake-flat. (Yes, I know Southern Indiana is beautiful.) So I look forward to seeing the other 48 miles, which I hope to take in more mindfully.