When I was 25 I got lost while hiking. Like…legitimately lost. I will never forget this hike, as it was the catalyst to being more prepared when I venture into the woods. When I was 29 I got lost again. I embarked on a 20 mile hike from the east to the west of Yellowstone National Park. This time it was slightly less intense, but equally frightening. It was inevitable for this Yellowstone hike, the trail was not well trafficked (very few tourists show up to YNP wanting to hike 20 miles into the backcountry), and there were endless bison paths deviating from the actual trail.
It was a real mind game completing Mary Mountain.
The point of these two stories is that I don’t like getting lost. I don’t reckon anyone really enjoys getting lost, but I really, truly, hate it. I panic quickly and my mind goes to the worst possible scenarios. I recently went for a hike on the coast that I anticipated would be as chill as an ice cream fresh from the ice cream man. The trail was easy – 9 miles all together on flat terrain forming a triangle with 3 miles in the forest, 3 miles on the beach, and 3 miles back in the forest.
What could possibly go wrong?
My first mistake of the day was buying a coffee from Starbucks without the ability to control how strong it was. I have perfected the science of a proper coffee to water ratio in order to ensure my blood sugar and my anxiety are both kept under control. I thought asking the barista to cut the coffee with half water would be enough, but let me tell you…it was not.
4 miles into the hike my blood sugar plummeted so far down I’m convinced Hades felt it all the way in the underworld.
My second mistake was overdoing my physical activity the days prior to this hike. I was cocky and anticipated it would be incredibly easy, but my goodness, walking 3 miles on loose sand is unbelievably annoying. If it weren’t for my exceptional hiking partner I would have lost my marbles. Low blood sugar, fatigue from too much prior activity, and unstable terrain set the foundation for an inexorable panic when we missed the last corner connecting the triangle from the beach back into the forest towards the parking lot.
But wait, there’s more…
Mistake number three was not downloading a map ahead of time, and neither of us had cell reception. The 3 miles of beach were hard to quantify because our pace was so slow from the sand. There was no clear indication of where to enter back into the forest, so we continued on the beach despite the fact it felt like we were literally walking for hours. (Spoiler: we WERE walking for hours.)
By this time trepidation set in. My excess caffeine consumption had induced full blown anxiety that I tried to hide with my deafening silence.
Logically my brain knew my life was not in danger (which I cannot say the same for on the aforementioned hikes I was lost on.) The problem with getting “lost” on this hike was the idea of having to walk the entirety of the beach all over again, back to where we started. This thought literally made me want to cease to exist. #dramatic.
The tide was slowly starting to come back in, so naturally my mind envisioned being swept out to sea while on this endeavor to find the trail. We eventually took a moment to pause, eat something, and reevaluate where we might be. I had a divine intervention moment and decided to check my map app because I remembered that it still showed the blue dot location even without service. To my surprise I was also able to see the outline of the triangle and suddenly the heavens opened up.
My cortisol levels were still on high alert, until by the grace of God we found the trail. What was meant to be 9 miles, turned into 14.5, and what was meant to be a triangle turned into…a kite.
We had walked an extra 2.5 or so miles off track, away from the trail.
Once we found the trail it was smooth sailing. I had a pep in my step again, and the second half of the woods were just as beautiful as the first. I don’t know what it is about loosing the trail, but it instills a sense of control loss for me, and I am a control f r e a k. At the end of the day the hike was mostly enjoyable, the weather was perfect, and I developed an unexpected bond with my hiking partner.
Nothing brings two people together like fear. #dramaticagain
I probably won’t be doing this hike again…ever, but now that I am safe in the confines of my home I can say I had a good time. I cannot deny my crippling overthinking at times, but I will say my trust has gotten better as I have gotten older. In these moments of fear I pray like I’ve never prayed before, and somehow that helps.
Getting lost is sometimes inescapable. Whether it be on a hike, while driving around a new city, or while navigating life.
Morals of the story: always have a map for trails that are not well marked, trust your gut when you think you’ve walked too far, don’t aggravate your anxiety with stimulants, don’t hike with people whose name start with the letter D (all three of these hikes I got lost on I was with one other person whose name started with a D.)
Q: What’s your wildest “oh sh!t, I’m lost” story?? I can only hope I never have any crazier than this. I’ve been lost in other countries before, but somehow I don’t panic nearly as much as I do when I am lost in the woods.