Dehydration had set in a couple hours earlier, but I wasn’t counting the time, nor did I have any idea what the real time actually was. My mouth was past the point of dry, and had developed a sticky film that sealed my lips shut, smacked against my teeth. My tongue was stuck to the top of my mouth until I forcibly unhinged my jaw to take a deep breath. I could feel the slime stringing between my lips as I wiped my mouth. Probably afternoon, I muttered. I’ve been dehydrated before, but it’s been awhile since I’ve been this dry on such a hot day.
The sun was directly overhead, making it impossible to tell which direction was north, and we were forced to rely on our intuition, which was truly more of a guess. We could be anywhere and heading in any direction, but we weren’t too worried. This particular forest isn’t too big. Walk in a straight line long enough and we were bound to hit a road eventually. Still, it didn’t help that we had no map and no compass. The trail system looked simple enough from the map we had looked at before departing. Follow red trail to blue trail to yellow, which brings us back to red. Simple enough, but it wasn’t so simple. Either we’re terrible map readers, or the map was too far outdated. Somehow, we managed to get lost in the woods, but you never say “we’re lost” when you’re out in the bush.
The bugs were swarming around us like a black cloud, and I gave up whacking mosquitoes a long time ago. I resolved to allow the hitch-hikers a warm drink as long as they didn’t take more than they needed. Some ended up mangled into my arm hair in a splash of blood – reminding me of a painting by Claude Monet. Your mind wanders when you’re approaching heat stroke.
My dog, Ronin, had disappeared into the dense brush a few minutes ago as he usually does when he catches a scent, only this time he hadn’t returned. I had noticed earlier that he was getting hot and nearing heat exhaustion, so I was worried he may have layed down somewhere to rest. We slowed our trot to a halt and began wandering back to find him. After a minute or two of calling for him, he emerges in a crashing wave of brush and leaves – dripping wet from a nearby swamp that he used to cool off and rehydrate. His tank was full, but we were approaching empty.
You know you’re dehydrated when your eyes start drying out.
Today, what was meant to be a jolly good trail run turned into a marginally rough trek through the woods trying to get back home. A running buddy and I decided to adventure into some unknown territory for an easy loop trail run. I was itching to get my feet out to feel the land and this was a great spot because it was a new adventure for us both. We studied the map for a moment, took one last sip of water, and set off down the red trail – trying to keep up with Ronin who kept charging ahead from pure delight while searching tirelessly for moose, bears, and deer to terrorize.
The run was progressing wonderfully until my buddy, whom I’ll refer to as Roger, twisted his ankle coming down a slope covered in dense fallen leaves (on the blue trail). It wasn’t a bad sprain, but enough where we had to walk from now on. He was in good spirits about it, and I joked with him that I’m not carrying him unless he absolutely cannot walk – and I would need his sandals, too.
My feet were beginning to get tender since the trails were mostly covered with dense fallen leaves that camouflaged the ground below (and the rocks, sticks, acorns, etc.). I remember two instances where a toe got bent backwards a bit too far, and there were too many verbal ouches to count. Things started to take a turn for the worst when the blue trail markers disappeared. We searched about a 200 meter radius on both sides of the trail that had abruptly ended. All we got were some ancient red tree markers that had marked a border – but no trail.
We made our way back to the last blue marker and decided to just keep walking straight forward for awhile to see if we found anything – guessing where the trail could have been. About 5 minutes of walking later, we found the next blue marker and continued on. Little did we know that we were just beginning the blue Gum Tree Trail, that I gleefully referred to as the gum drop trail on our journey. It turns out that this is the longest trail in the forest, and there’s more than one yellow trail connecting with it. Red, blue, yellow wasn’t going to work for us after all.
Several moments of deja vu later, we realized that we had gone in one big circle and had made no progress. Maybe it was the lightheadedness kicking in. Not only that, but the first yellow trail we took ended up being a loop that connects back with the blue trail.
Neither of us said anything, but we were both thinking it… we’re lost.
Roger’s ankle was getting worse after several more minor twists, and my feet were getting very tender. But these things didn’t worry me at all, it was the dehydration that was on my mind. This was the only real risk. Ronin had plenty of swamp water to drink, but that dog can drink anything (then he goes to mark every tree in the forest after he’s all tanked up). Eventually, we decided to try another yellow trail, since we were running out of options. We could always turn back, but it was a long way since we had run most of it originally. Walking it would take a long time, maybe too long. I could hear midgets singing “Follow the yellow brick road… follow follow follow!”
It should connect back with the red trail any minute now – we can’t be far. We peered through the trees and to our delight, saw the pond that we had parked at – we were close. What was better is that our trail was heading directly towards the pond, so we were basically home free. Roger and I took a sigh of relief as we marched towards the waters edge. Ronin dashed ahead as soon as he saw the blue, hurling himself into the water to cool off.
While we were ecstatic to see the pond, we were taken aback at how far away we still were from where we had parked. We were on the opposite corner of the pond, which was no little puddle. What makes matters worse is that the yellow trail ended at the coast. We had reached the end, and could see our salvation on the other side. I knew Ronin couldn’t swim very well, and we’re not patient enough to wait for a boat to pass by, which left us with only two options. First, we could follow the yellow trail back to the blue one and back track completely, which would take several hours. Or, we could wade through the woods following the coast until we reached the parking lot on the other side – duration unknown.
We chose the woods along the coast, and expected a rather short route since we were literally taking the shortest distance possible.
What we didn’t know is that we were only hundreds of meters away from marshlands. What started as a tight animal trail, ended up becoming dense brush and wide sections of swamp where hundreds of bullfrogs were harmonizing together. We walked along the edge of the swamp for awhile, and I noticed that we were getting off track – walking directly away from where we had parked. We were far too dehydrated, and I was trying to figure out if I was experiencing the early stages of hallucinations – with strange objects appearing in the corners of my vision at random. I was hoping Roger could hear the bullfrogs, too!
We had to cross the swamp, it was the only way. Two steps in had me thigh deep. It wasn’t the mud that worried me, and was actually a welcome relief to my achy feet and warm skin – what worried me was the immediate dropoffs. You step through the dense water and your front foot dives quickly into the dark.
We trudged on, and managed to make it out of the swamp, only to be met with another swamp over the ridge. Apparently, we had found Swamp-lantis (a cousin of Atlantis). The boys back home will NEVER believe this!
We thanked some beavers for making a dam to help us cross the last section of Swamp-lantis. After one last stream crossing that washed off most of the mud on our legs, we entered into some woods, but we had lost the coast awhile ago. We knew that there was a trail somewhere ahead of us from studying the map earlier, and it must have been just another 100 feet or so… just another 100 feet or so. After 6 or 7 comments of “we’ve gotta be getting close to that red trail,” we found it at last – much to our relief.
I think Ronin was the happiest, but we had a good laugh about the whole ordeal and finally admitted that we had been lost for the last 3 hours or so. There was plenty of water in the car, and after a quick rinse in the pond, we headed home for some grub.
The lesson in this is one that I’ve been reminded of many times – the body can go much longer than the mind would like you to believe. If you convince your mind that you can do something, then the body will follow. In the same breath, dehydration is a serious risk and one to be avoided at all costs. It’s been a few hours since I arrived home, and I’ve had about a gallon of water already – and I’m still going. It was a hot day, and we lost a lot of water in a short period of time. Be smart, over-prepare when you can, and view adventure as an opportunity for growth. I can’t wait to do it again!
CST, CST-KS, NSCA-CPT