Well, I got lost in the woods this weekend. It was the most stupid, preventable thing and I would like you to learn from it if possible. I say 'if possible' because I broke every common sense rule there is and hopefully none of you can quite say the same.
It started off being the first nice day I've seen in ages, so I wanted to spend it outside. By 'outside' I mean in unfamiliar terrain a few hours from where I live. What I wanted to do was hike to a bald eagle's nest and take some pictures. Sounds innocent enough, and it was intended to be. I got directions which were not very good, but how do you really give good directions to an eagle's nest? I'm not entirely sure you do...
After a couple of trials and obvious errors in finding the mystery point from where you are supposed to hike, we settled on what we thought was the trail and were on our way. A little ways in, there was no sign of an eagle's nest, but something else had reared its ugly head and that something was mud. How much mud, you ask? Tons of mud. This mud was deceptive to some degree. Yes, it looked like some very wet, nasty mud, but I was lulled into thinking it was traversable. Ha.
I really wanted to see that eagle so my partner and I went for it, foolishly thinking that even though the mud was gooey, it would somehow be firm enough to support us. Ha again. It was not. The end result after dancing through about a 200 foot stretch of mud was that our shoes were barely intact, our socks were no longer white (and never will be again), and our ankles were somewhere under a layer of funk. Good times!
Oh, and still no eagle. The trail dried up some for a little ways only to eventually reveal another mud patch that was ten times worse than the first. We then had the choice of continuing on through that, going back through the previous bog, or taking this totally awesome dry trail to the left. I chose the trail to the left. Yes, me, it was all my fault. The trail to the left was entirely dry. There were no eagles on it, however. They were nesting in a tree 'all by itself' and there was no such tree on that trail, so it must have been on the other side of the swamp. Oh well, we will try this again when the rainy season passes.
Trekking down this trail, my partner and I got separated. We knew the way back to our vehicle if we turned around, but we did not want to turn around. We wanted the mud in our shoes to dry and to avoid having to submerge ourselves in more, so we kept walking. After a while we walked two different ways (not the best idea). I did not have a cell phone or any other means of guidance. My partner did have a phone, but it isn't like he could have called me and given me direction should he have found a clear path. All I had was a camera to take pictures of those awesome eagles and that turned out to be of no use at all. I did not even have water.
For the record, my partner made it to the truck first, but in the meantime, here is what I did:
1. Listen for road noise. I knew there was a road nearby. I was parked next to it and the trail I chose seemed to be sort of parallel to it. I am not entirely sure that is true, but I knew I could hear that road so I kept walking in the direction of the sound. Eventually, I was proven right-road noise led me to a road, but it was the wrong road. It was not the road on which my vehicle, my salvation, was parked. I started walking on this road in the direction of where I thought the other road would be, and after a while came to a 3-way fork in the road. All of the roads at that point looked the same. None of them were the road for which I was looking. My partner was long gone, and what if he was injured somewhere? I realized earlier in my trek what an epic failure this expedition was and now I was embarrassed. Luckily I had plenty of time to think about that as I walked and walked and walked.
2. Follow signs and power lines. While at the 3-way fork in the road, I saw a sign giving directions to some cabins. Based on how the sign was positioned, I figured it was meant for people to see it upon coming from the main road. I looked around me and saw power lines above my head. They went in two directions, but one of those directions corresponded with the sign, so that is the way I walked, figuring the power lines would lead out to other power lines as well as to the main road. I was right. I found my partner and my vehicle. Never did see any eagles, but oh well.
The point I am trying to make here is that you should always be prepared. Even if you expect to walk a few hundred feet into some woods to look at a bird's nest and walk right back out, things can change. There was never a fear of dying or not making it back to the main road; I always knew it would happen in time, but during that time I had nothing. No water, no compass, no dry socks or shoes. All I had was an ability to walk and luckily I had that. I grossly underestimated the situation I got myself into and wanted to share my experience with you so you never do the same. Luckily I only had to trek about 4 miles without water on a 70 degree day, but it easily could have been 10 miles on a 90 degree day, which could have been difficult without proper hydration. Dehydration could have impaired my thinking and I may have never found that main road or my partner because those signs and power lines would have meant nothing to my fuzzy brain. So the moral of the story is, always be prepared, even when you might think preparations are not necessary. Be it walking a few hundred feet down a trail for just a second or scaling a mountain, take with you what you might need. I may have been a fool this time, but you don't have to be.