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Lost in the stupid wilderness

Janet Urquhart

It’s not a good omen, searching in vain for a trailhead. I should have gone home right then.Unfazed, I picked my way across stream No. 1 and bushwhacked upward through the trees,figuring I’d connect with the trail after I crossed the dirt road, which I could see cutting across the mountain from my parked car. This plan actually worked.With the trail beneath my feet, I huffed into the wilderness, which, in addition to its purportedly qualities (untamed, spiritually rejuvenating and all that crap), was damn cold at 7 a.m. The next stream, which I fell in, was even colder. Bad omen No. 2. Stupid icy logs. Why don’t they build real bridges over these things?Two hours later, I’m standing at the head of a scenic valley and rereading the description of this hike in the guidebook that I threw away as soon as I got home. Look for rock that looks like a finger on the ridge. Which finger? I have one in mind.The trail sort of disappears, according to the guidebook. Yes, I can see that. The book does offer a map, apparently sketched by a second-grader. Picture a crude line that leads to a circle (the lake). A smattering of overturned V’s signify mountains. I make my only intelligent decision of the morning. Screw the lake.I begin picking my way back down the valley, looking for the trail. I can’t find it. I do stumble across a stray cairn, however, and sure enough, I see a trail skirting the scree field at the base of a waterfall fed by the lake, according to the guidebook. I’d passed right by it on the way up the valley. Don’t ask me how. It was right there on the map, amid some overturned V’s.I’ve lost the will to find the lake, though, not to mention all sense of where the trail homeward might be. I start trudging down the slope, figuring my path will cross it. It doesn’t. I trudge back upward, which involves a lot of stopping to pant. Still no trail.I can feel my heart pounding. It’s the altitude, or maybe panic setting in. Stupid trail.The valley’s not that wide. I should be able to see it, but these stupid trees are in the way. I bushwhack across the slope, parallel to a trail that is either above me or below me.Oh, look. A waterfall that no one has ever seen before, because they’re all on the damn trail. How am I going to skirt this?I stop to listen for the conversation of other hikers – a clue to the trail’s whereabouts. I hear nothing but the wind and chirping birds. Stupid, stupid birds. Fourth of July weekend and I’m the only one here. What are the odds?I head downward through a meadow, knowing I won’t have the oomph to haul myself back up the slope if I don’t intersect with the trail. Years from now, my dental records will come in handy.I find the trail. Stupid trail.Janet Urquhart is going hiking tomorrow. Her e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com.


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