Friday, November 2, 2012

The Pull of the Water

Water attracts me. To an unhealthy extreme. As in, if a body of water glistens in my field of vision, I immediately fall victim to its spell, its magnetic field inexplicably pulling me toward its edge.

This phenomenon got me into a little trouble on my girl-less Girls Weekend.

Realizing my folly in traipsing through an unmarked hunter trail on the first outing, I relegated myself to a marked hiking path for the second adventure, something that would provide a healthy walk with some beautiful freshwater scenery to entrance me. I scoured the maps at home, and determined that if I was venturing out on a sissified marked trail, then it would be a new one. One that I've never hiked before with my girlfriends or with Mr. Musky. So Madeline Lake Trail won out.

My plan was simple. Hike for a few hours, then head over to the local wine bar and be all aloof and mysterious and independent as I sip my wine, nibble on a cheese plate and keep the locals guessing at the identity of the dame dressed in black with a pink hat at the bar. Alone. Because only really cool women drink alone at a bar in all black, engrossed in their own little world (aka the book I was reading), Right?

Right. And idiotic hikers who don't learn their lesson on outing one.

As I pulled into the parking lot at the Trail Head, I smirked to myself. There were about six or seven cars, which meant that I was going to see way too many people for my comfort. As I started out, I passed two groups heading back, which was good - that meant that with the passing of two or three more groups, I'd be alone on the trail.

Time of hiking departure:  2:30 p.m.
Length of Red Trail: 5.5 miles
Average time to hike a mile (assuming stops to soak in nature's beauty and to take some photos): 20 minutes per mile
Estimated time to complete hike: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Estimated arrival to Wine Bar: 5:15 p.m.

I smugly harumphed at the first of the many trail signs. Color coding for remedial hikers.

Although the eerie silence on the hunter hiking trail two days earlier left me restless for hours, I enjoyed the adrenaline it coursed through my veins. This marked trail nonsense resembled kindergarten hiking class. I expected Mary Poppins to appear around the corner with milk and cookies and a blankie for nap time.

"Lake View." I snarked at the sign. Really? They need to spell out that the blue wetness below is a lake? And here's the so-called "lake view" from the elevated bench:

Total crap.

The hill was quite steep to get to the water's edge, so I debated for about, oh, five seconds before descending. It was worth it. The up-close view lifted my mood and made me feel all survivorwoman for conquering the steep descent to get a better picture.

The trek back up to the trail proved a pleasant, conquerable challenge.

Further along, I encountered some women contemplating their options with the colored squares and corresponding trails on a map. I overheard them say that they were taking the green trail, so I huffed off along the red trail. They warned me that the red trail was the longest. "I know. I'm good." Pfft. Like I needed them to tell me what was up. Pulease. Besides, the red trail bordered bigger, and surely more beautiful lakes.
In reality, they were very nice women, but I missed my girlfriends. They would have loved this trail. Just not the guide.
Fortunately, only one other hiker and her adorable pooch passed me. I dawdled, taking pictures of mossy ravines and interesting downed logs. The quiet on the trail definitely relaxed me, and it was actually quite pleasant. It didn't raise my blood pressure like the hunter hiking trail; it was an all together lovely, albeit sophomoric experience.

I scoffed at every sign I happened upon, even the ones that told me how much further I had to go. Isn't it much more exciting to guess how far you've come and how much longer you have to hike in order to get to the car?

And look - how cute! A little shack in case you want to spend the night. In reality, this looks like it would provide awesome fun while cross country skiing in the wintertime. I tucked this scene into my memory bank for more fun over Christmas break.

With a little less than two miles to the trail head (thanks to yet another sign indicating as such) I noticed a very large body of water off to my left. It was some distance away from the trail, but like a siren, it called me to get a better look. I hesitated, based on my self inflicted bargain that there would be no drama for me on the Madeline trail. I considered that I left the GPS in the car - I neglected to change the batteries, knowing that I'd stay on the trail and the well trodden path would faithfully lead me home. But the water was so close...crying to me: "I'm just a short walk away. Just meander toward me and then head back the way you came." I debated the temptation for five minutes while munching my trial mix. Then decided to go for it.

And it was SO worth it. I ended up not cutting directly through the woods, but following the water's edge for awhile before descending to the bank. I found myself a beautiful little spot and drank it all in.

I relished the beautiful scenery and basked in the late afternoon sunshine for about half an hour to forty-five minutes. The picturesque landscape promised a stunning sunset, tempting my idealist side to remain until the sun dipped below the treeline on the horizon. But my rational inner twin emerged, and scolded me for being so cavalier. She insisted that I move my butt back to the trail before darkness covered the woods, despite the fact that a three year-old could find its way to the parking lot on that very well marked trail just feet behind me.

Reluctantly, I listened to Little Miss Rational and trudged back.

The trail.

Where was the godforsaken trail?

It never appeared. I looked and looked, wandered and wandered, searched and searched, but the trail never showed itself.

If images of invisible witches and American werewolves and lurking strangers raced though my brain last time, it was nothing but sheer panic and horrification of spending the night alone in the darkened woods this time. I shuddered at visions of myself, huddled around a tree trunk - frozen, exhausted, starving - begging for morning to arrive so I could continue searching for the trail. At one point, I sprinted ahead into the thick brush. Still no trail. Anywhere.

So I stopped, and called upon Little Miss Rational, commanding free spirited, Little Miss Dumbass-Idealist to think. I remembered that I took a picture of the trail map for mocking fun, not intending to save my butt. I pulled it up on my camera and tried to figure out where I went off the trail. Drawing heavily upon the sense of direction that my father passed to me genetically, I surmised that I needed to head east, directly away from the sunset, in order to make it back to the trail.

Clearly, my sense of judgment was diminishing exponentially based on the panic surging through my veins. The parking lot was to the west. THE WEST, MORON! What ever possessed me to walk east? Little Miss Dumbass triumphed over her Gemini twin.

Finally I happened upon some kind of clearing that made sense to follow, until it forked into two other directions. I went with my gut and followed it away from the sun.


Eventually, the pseudo trail ended and I was lost again in dense forest, running full speed at times. WHY? To get lost faster? Little Miss Idealist definitely panics when she doesn't share the grey matter between my ears with Little Miss Rational. I stopped, amid mini trees bearing down on me on all sides, and considered my situation.

Since I couldn't find the real trail, I opted to head back to the pseudo trail, figuring it would eventually lead me to a boat landing or a road or the actual trail. I was scared. To death. When I wandered off trail two days earlier, I still had a solid idea of directionally where I needed to go to get back to my car. But I had absolutely no idea now. I walked and walked and walked, constantly checking the height of the sun. It seemed to be just a few feet above the tree line, and I considered for the fiftieth time what it would be like to sleep on the woodsy floor. I started making bargains. While I couldn't promise that I'd never hike alone again, I swore that I would never, ever call any hike remedial and would always welcome warm cookies and milk from a smiling British nanny.

FINALLY! Up ahead, a GLORIOUS red trail sign! The pseudo trail dumped into the real trail and I was back on my way home! Saved to live another day! Rescued from the creepy sleepover in the woods! Saved to tell all my good friends about my crackbrained adventure!

This time, I literally kissed the trail sign.

And the trail itself.

And hugged the "Trail Head, 2 Miles" sign, grateful for it's tidbit of information, despite the fact that I'd already passed that sign after fatefully altering my lovely afternoon stroll.

I slowed my pace, willed my heart to return to a normal rate, and gratefully made my way back to the car. I no longer smirked at signage, but instead at my idiot self and the carnage of my nightmare evident on my favorite fall cabin hiking pants.

While considering my adventure on my way back to the car, Little Miss Realist made some promises:

1. To never again make fun of anyone who appears "over-prepared" for a simple hike. There is no such thing.
2. To never again hike off trail without a GPS device. Little Miss Idealist knows that I'll wander off, but Little Miss Realist will bitch-slap her into submission if she tries it without a map to get us back to safety.
3. To be the biggest, loudest cheerleader ever for trail signs.
4. To remind the precocious LMI that marked trails almost always have a trail down to the lake, as evidenced by the sign that sardonically tortured me a mile away from the trail head.

If I had just remained on the trail, a well-groomed, leaf lined path would have led me to the water's edge, drama free.

Instead, I missed an exquisite sunset and slumped through the woods in this, finally arriving to my car at 6:30.

And the wine? It morphed into a desperate stop at our local resort bar so I was closer to home. When the bartender asked what he could get for me, I croaked: "Drink! Food!" like a barbarian. Not speaking for over four hours and my traumatic experience rendered me a social buffoon. 

But the locals at the bar took pity on me, guffawed at my story, and even bought me a drink out of compassion and sympathy. 

Or were they simply mocking me? I didn't care. I was warm and safe, there was food in front of me, and a giant manhattan warmed my belly. Wine was for sissies, that day.



  1. Love your trail walking blogs Jen! Jealous you are able to lose yourself in this big 'ol crazy world,especially right now! And of course, find yourself again. :) Looks beautiful!!

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