I had a mind-blowing afternoon. Around 4:20 I decided to walk across the street to the development that has great climbs and great views. I had to beat the rain which according to TWC was coming around 7pm. But there was heavy cloud cover and with the sunset scheduled for 5:41 I didnt have a ton of light. I had with me a dog, a leash and nothing else. No water. No compass. No food. No rain gear. No cell phone. No flashlight. In other words, not a single thing on the "10 essentials for survival" list. I left the house for a walk I had done many many times and then made a series of compounding errors in judgement.
When I got to the place, I went up the other mountain I never go to because its posted property, and actually the highest peak and a longer walk. But I am trying to do harder and longer treks because Id like to hike the AT the next few years. I took the gravel road as far as it could go and then the trail; climbing climbing climbing. It was great exercise and I was delighted at how the padding of fallen leaves make it a little more difficult to get traction, making me work my core keeping my balance. At this point I still had Trout leashed. I got to the summit and took in the 360. I was surprised at how fast the weather was moving in and I have to say, it was a sight to behold. It was one of those moments where you feel really dazed and happy with physical exertion combined with a beautiful nature moment.
On the way up, I was so focused on getting to the top, I never noted any landmarks. I was not on any trail because I was looking for ways up that had the clearance for me and Trout. I came down and thought I was going to connect with the trail that leads to the gravel, that leads to the road home. But I didn't connect with it. Right then, I should have gone back to the summit and tried to get oriented correctly. Instead, I thought Id shag over a bit and catch it at the bottom. I didnt ever see it again. Shoulda turned back, but didnt because by now, it was raining, and it was getting dark the way it does in woods when its still daylight in a field. I let Trout off the leash as it was difficult to hike down on the wet leaves. When I failed to connect to the trail once again, I had my first thought of how stupid it was to go off trail this late in the day, knowing bad weather was coming and with no means of managing a night in the forest. I mean how bad could it be? I was in a development for Crissake.
Speaking of Christ, it was at about this point where I started asking for help from Him and my Mom. Something similar to "Jesus, Take the Wheel". I would walk on a ridge and could not believe I couldnt see a cabin or field or anything. If iI had been on the other side I would have recognized familiar landmarks but I was on the side I never go to! I was soaking wet. It occurred to me that a night in the low 40's when you are wet puts one in danger of hypothermia. I 've always thought that would be a good way to go but not tonight. I walked the ridges for a while, saw nothing and started contemplating what I would do if I had to stay. For one thing, I would have to get out of the wet clothes and lay in some leaves under some thick hemlocks or something. Im serious. At no time (well, briefly) did I consider whistling (I have a mega whistle) or yelling as I had been trespassing in the first place, and I still thought I would eventually figure it out and could avoid the epic embarrassment of getting lost in my own neighborhood. Trout was no help because her nose was to ground on prey and not at all looking like she was heading home. I went low to a creek bed and followed it until I found a trail. Eventually that trail lead to another trail; a maintained forest trail and I was relieved.
But it was almost dark. I started running which I never do because of all the hardware in my neck. (The compression is hard on a skeleton.) When the trail came up on a wilderness boundary line I paused in disbelief. I sure didnt expect that and yet I knew I was within a mile or two of a freaking neighborhood. The final decision was when the trail came to a fork and there was a sign tacked to a tree that simply read "pond". I took the other way. I admit at this point I had no clue where I was but I knew I would find a road to something eventually and have a possible long walk home. By now it WAS actually dark dark. When its this dark it doesnt matter if its 6 pm or 2 am - its edgy. It was raining even harder and my boots were now soaked through and my jeans were sagging and heavy. It was like a nightmare where your progress is seriously impeded and you cant move as fast as you need to.
Probably around 6:10 I came up on a cattle gate, climbed over and started walking. There was a barn and cows and an open field. Yes! Now I was out of danger of mortal embarrassment and/or possible physical consequences. By 6:30 I realized where I was and was astonished that I could have gotten that turned around and that far. I knew it would be about 10-11 miles by the road to walk home and even though I now knew where I was and how to find the correct trail back, I could not even think of going back in the forest. So I had to suck it up, and knock on a strangers door.
A voice called "come in". I didn't. I was waterlogged and I had a wet dog too. A man eventually came to the door and I said "Hey. Uh, I know this is a little weird, but I got lost today and just got out of the woods, and wondered if you would give me a ride back to my house on ****" He said sure and that he was on his way to church anyway and we loaded Trout into the pickup bed and we headed out. The man (I know his name now) started laughing after a minute and I said something like "I know, what a doofus. You dont know how foolish I feel. I am truly humbled" and he said "No, I was just laughing because at church everyone has been telling me if I want to meet somebody I have to get out there. They said no lady is ever gonna come knocking on my door" Eventually we got to the part about me being married and all -and how he got lost once on his own acreage in Kentucky, and yes, its mortifying. He also mentioned that people had gotten lost that section of the Cohuttas before and that search and rescue usually has a good track record on finding people because of their cars being left or people wondering about their lost hikers. Of course I had neither of these. The first time V would start wondering about me is maybe tomorrow afternoon.
It took almost 10 minutes to get to my house.