A few years ago, I went for a hike. An innocent Sunday hike that my friend described as “Five-ish hours.”
Five-ish hours was a lot for me back then, admittedly. I came from a place where “hiking” wasn’t really a thing. People walked, people spent time in the woods, but this was a rural town where people mostly had a destination or a purpose. Not just a jaunt through the forest.
Anyway, this was my first time going on a real hike since I’d moved to St. John’s. It was the summer of 2009, and the sky was surprisingly clear for St. John’s. We lazed around for a few hours, finally leaving the apartment around 11. Winding along the coast, we finally made it to Topsail beach, where the trail picked up. We would head north from here, leaving another car parked on the other side.
We had a good start. The breeze was slight along the craggy coast and the intense sunlight was filtered enough by the vegetation above that it was quite pleasant. After a couple of hours, we stopped in a clearing to have lunch. I have a constant habit of overpacking when it comes to food on a hike. I’ve always had it, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing.
We passed through a couple of small towns, losing the trail head and finding it again. Soon it was nearing suppertime and I began to wonder what distance we had left to cover. My heels were blistered from hiking in new shoes, not to mention that we’d reached a section of trail that was undeveloped. Well, unless you consider bright orange ribbons attached to the trees to be developed.
“I don’t know, shouldn’t be too far.”
This was the moment that I realized that my companion actually had no idea how much farther. I don’t know if he’d even read about the trail, or if he’d just heard about it in passing and decided it would be a good idea.
Anyway, we decided that it couldn’t be much farther and kept going. Over a ridge, down a hill, up the next hill, the ending was just beyond that ridge, the next one, the next one.
Eventually we came along an older man and his dog. He didn’t look like someone that you’d want to run into on your own in the woods. Maybe that’s a little harsh.
“Oh, you’ve still got about five or six hours left this way.”
Panic. I have to work tomorrow. It’s already dusk.
“You can come stay with me, I’ve got a little shack down the next hill.”
We had no choice but to keep going. We were far enough that we couldn’t head back to the last town. The sun was disappearing, and we certainly didn’t want to spend the night with some strange man.
I revelled in my stupidity along the way. Why hadn’t I asked for some specifics? Why had I put utter and complete faith in the fact that someone else had done the research?
We walked though a field of dead trees, a section that had been destroyed by disease. For the first time in hours, we could see through the thick vegetation and down into a valley. In the distance, I could see a town. It was tempting, but out of reach. A bittersweet thing.
Soon enough, the darkness was upon us. Something we were not prepared for, not even a flashlight. I scrambled through the muddy path and dense brush, longing for the next ribbon to mark the path, and then it was gone. Too dark to make out the trail. That’s where we stopped.
We ignored the rules against it and built a fire. Nighttime in Newfoundland still has a chill, despite the midsummer season. And I wandered around, hoping to get a signal on my cellphone. Which, I did. One bar. I called my mom, who decided to spend five minutes scolding me over a crackling signal before calling the police.
So began hours of calls with search and rescue–asking if we heard sirens, if we could describe where we were, how long we’d hiked, trying to figure out where we were. Finally, at 4 in the morning, they found us. We were only another hour-and-a-half from the town.
By 6 am, we’d filled out the report and headed to get breakfast. I called in sick for the first time ever.
I felt embarrassed, guilty, and stressed about missing work–not one of those jobs that are easy to fill in for. My legs and feet were destroyed–branches had slashed at my legs and my blisters were unbearable. Of course, we were never in real danger, so it could have been much worse.
Why am I even talking about this now? Because it was a stupid situation. I went out without knowing where I was going, for how long, and was completely unprepared. I was lumped into a group that would become a cautionary tale in the newspapers–seriously, not much news going on that summer.
The moral of the story is that it is dumb to let someone else lead you into the woods without getting a few details first. You can save yourself a whole lot of grief and embarrassment.
Have you ever gotten lost (or lost the daylight) on a hike? How did you react?