Saturday, February 27, 2010

Lost in the Woods

This snowman greeted us at the trail head of a preserve not too far from where we live. With my son Ryan and husband Mike on skis and me on snowshoes, we looked forward to exploring all that the recent snow had sugar-coated with a frosting of white.

We talked with some other people in the parking lot and asked them if they had ever skied in this park before and they hadn't. I wasn't able to find a trail map online and there were no maps available at the trail head, so we forged out into the woods, figuring we would do a simple out and back loop.

We hadn't traveled too far when we came upon a large trail map painted on a wooden sign. After studying the map for a few minutes, we figured we could take the yellow birch trail out and loop back on the red maple trail to the parking lot. It all looked very simple, so simple in fact, that I took the above picture as I stood next to the trail map sign, rather than a picture of the sign itself. After a few hours rambling around in the woods lost, I would come to regret that decision.

Initially, on our way out, we passed many people walking their dogs which made us feel this was a well used park, difficult to get lost in. About 45 minutes into our trek, we passed our last person, a woman who warned us that the red trail was difficult and required some scrambling. Scrambling was an understatement, we would soon find out.

But with the day still new and the solitude of the woods welcoming, we didn't worry about where the trail would take us. We enjoyed traveling through patches of wild rhododendron and gazing upward at many of the larger trees.

Coasting down a small hill, my son exclaimed "this is fun!" And it was. But slowly, slowly, I began to wonder why it was taking us so long to hook up with the red maple trail. Hindsight tells me now, we should have turned around at that point, but we pressed on.

After a bit, we came to our first of what would be many stream crossings, growing in difficulty as we progressed. Soon after, we finally found the red maple trail and were excited to be heading back toward the parking lot. Problem was, this trail was extremely difficult to ski. Loaded with rocks and twigs and logs across the path (not to mention the numerous stream and bog crossings) which made for tedious travel. We felt fairly confident we were going in the right direction until our red blazes turned to orange. We had to go slightly off the trail to negotiate around a bog and when we resurfaced so to speak, the blaze color had changed. I prayed that the orange trail wasn't taking us back further into the woods. We traveled for at least 2 hours in this manner. As I crested each hill, I wondered if I would see something, anything that would make me we feel we were headed in the right direction. I kicked myself that I hadn't paid better attention to many of the signs that could help us out of this mess. For instance, I couldn't remember which side of the tree lichen grew on. Was it north or south? I wondered if the snow remaining on the bark of trees would be located on the north, as it would be the last to melt, or if the south side of the bark was covered since the snowstorm had come from the south. I was beginning to see how easily it was to get lost in the woods.
The above picture shows Ryan and I taking our lunch break with a water-filled bog we had just traversed in the background. Only three sounds could be heard while sitting here. Snow falling off the trees, water rushing through the bog, and silence. Funny, I think silence is a sound. I guess it becomes one when you never hear it.

As the day begins to wane, we hear a nearby road and a bit later voices. Civilization! Whew! We won't be spending the night in the woods. I have traveled the woods of Oregon, Colorado, and Georgia to name a few and have never been lost in the woods. We soon came upon a neighborhood and a man directed us back to the parking lot. He told us that you really need a GPS when traveling in the park, because it is like a maze. My husband and I have always made sure to have proper gear, food, and water when we go into the woods. Now we understand the importance of having some sort of directional device. I will be glad to put my head down on my pillow in my warm house tonight and dream of how beautiful the woods were without having to spend the night out there.

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