Sometimes Making A Wrong Turn Isn’t So Funny…

…but luckily for me, it was in this case. Let me back up: I revisited the Blackwater Creek Trail a few days after last week’s post to take it for a run. The goal was an easy six miler from the Awareness Garden (mentioned in my previous post) to the start of the downtown Riverwalk and back.

Nice Trail Day

Well, the first half went as planned. I enjoyed taking in that stretch of tree-filled solitude that slips through the woods, across a wooden traverse, between small cliffs, beneath a couple of high bridges and through a well-lit stone tunnel before it crashes into the bustle of downtown. I made the turn and headed back. About a mile into the return trip there’s a confluence of three different trails. On my way towards the Riverwalk, I paid attention to the well-placed signage and chose the correct route. On the way back, I was daydreaming and veered left. A quarter of a mile or so into this side journey the trail started going uphill (there are none on the usual section), and I knew I’d made a mistake. I kept cruising along to make sure, and a few hundred yards later blasted out into an area with buildings and chain-link fencing. Chagrined, I turned back. I buzzed down the hill and, once back at the junction, made the correct turn and finished what had inadvertently become a 7.2 miler. I shared a good laugh with a few folks when I fessed up, but it sure did get me to thinking about how easily I had missed a pretty obvious turn because I dozed off mentally for a couple of minutes.

I immediately thought of the good people who have missed a turn, gotten lost and paid the ultimate price for that while hiking. The saddest one for me is the story of “Inchworm”, Geraldine Largay, who stepped off the AT into the Maine woods to answer nature’s call, couldn’t relocate the trail and ultimately died alone in the wilderness. It took nearly two years to find her makeshift campsite and remains:

Inchworm

You have to hike the Appalachian Trail in that area to understand how easy it is to go off-trail and lose your bearings. The trees, the understory, all of it looks so much alike along several sections of the trail in Maine. When I day hiked short sections in and south of the Hundred Mile Wilderness I kept my feet on the trail, or well within sight of the trekking pole I planted on the trail’s edge as a marker, for that very reason. “Inchworm” had hundreds of miles under her hiking belt and lost her way. As a novice hiker/backpacker, I wasn’t taking chances.

So while my little turnaround during an easy run on a well-marked and well-traveled trail system was funny to me and others, it also served as a reminder to keep my head in the game when, in the near future, I’m enjoying the outdoors in a place that is miles from civilization in every direction…

RIP, “Inchworm”

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Almost As If On Cue…

…the young couple whose exploits I was following, they¬†who vanished from their online AT thru-hike journal for over five weeks, materialized from the internet mist three days after my post here last week, delivering multi-day chunks of news in an effort to catch up those of us following them. It was a relief to see that they were still in good health and spirits! The pair had, since their last writing, hammered through New Hampshire (those Whites!) and had made their way up and down the bulk of Maine and into the Hundred Mile Wilderness before their journaling ended. Their last entry was dated September 21st, so I’m assuming they finished their quest and took their photos atop the “Northern Terminus” sign on Katahdin.

I’ll be checking back to make sure, of course. Just like I did during their five weeks of silence. In the meantime, fall hiking season, my absolute favorite, is upon me. I need to start planning some disappearing acts of my own…

(Update, September 29: They did indeed finish, and posted a photo of themselves smiling on top of the sign yesterday. Well done!)

The Return of Squiggly Sticks

When I announced to friends and family that I was moving to Virginia and looking forward to hiking the hundreds of miles of trails in this state, many of them had the same initial reaction: venomous snakes! Having lived eleven years in Missouri and run on various trails, I’m no stranger to the occasional copperhead. I may even have encountered a timber rattler or two; I blasted past several diamond-patterned slithery serpents without stopping to identify their type.

But during the decades I lived in Maine, I only recall seeing three snakes. And there are no venomous ones native to the frozen tundra there. So I’ve grown complacent over the last six years, knowing that any “squiggly stick” I encounter is overwhelmingly likely to be just that.

The other morning I was out for a run in my new home state and, in the early morning light, approached a squiggly stick in the middle of a quiet street. At first I wasn’t concerned, then I remembered where I was and slowed. As I grew nearer, I was able to identify the critter stretched out on the asphalt in front of me: It was a squiggly stick. Relieved, I booted it to the grass and kept on running.

It was an important reminder that I’m back in the land of venom-totin’ pit vipers. And not every squiggly stick I encounter will be one, especially when I strap on a pack and head to the lush greenery of the Virginia woods…