February 18, 2020

Go on an adventure, don’t get lost


“It is a surprising and memorable, as well as valuable experience, to be lost in the woods any time.” — Henry David Thoreau.

Being lost is almost considered a virtue. Whether it’s directing a car in a given direction and heading into unseen territory or wandering in the woods along the road less traveled like Robert Frost, aimless exploration is revered as a rite of passage.

Now, I have no beef with taking the less trampled-upon route or detouring down a dirt road. But let me tell you, being lost isn’t always what Thoreau made it out to be.

Super Bowl Sunday, I decided to go snowshoeing in the Ogemaw Hills Pathway. A little after 4 p.m., I strapped on my shoes and started meandering the trails.

I didn’t technically get lost, I guess, since I remained on the trails the entirety of my adventure. (Apologies to cross-country skiers if I mangled the trails for you.) However, at one point I must’ve taken a wrong turn or misread a wayfinding sign, because I had shoed almost 3 miles and was ready to call it, when I emerged into an opening — back at the parking lot.

But this was not the parking lot, simply a parking lot. You see, my car was parked off Fairview Road. This, I eventually found out after studying the map at the trail entrance, was Sage Lake Road.

During the hike, I made frequent stops to snap pictures with both my phone and camera. That was the plan — a nice, leisurely snowshoe hike covering about 3 miles. The stops, though, coupled with my novice snowshoe experience — I’ve gone three times and this was the second time I wore this pair — meant what would’ve been around an hour hike had dragged on an extra 15-20 minutes. Any semblance of blue left in the sky (it was quite dreary out to begin with) had been replaced by an ominous gray.

If I didn’t get moving, after studying the map and locating an actual target, I risked hiking through darkness. In the immortal words of Homey D. Clown, “Homey don’t play that.”

The most direct path back to my car was along trails marked blue (difficult) on the map. I decided I would briefly stop at each trail sign to make sure I was staying the course. I had plenty of water left, and a flashlight, so at least I wasn’t too ill-prepared.

I embarked on the journey back with a purposeful pace. For anyone unfamiliar with the trail system, there is definitely a reason it’s called Ogemaw Hills. The literal ups and downs will cause your thighs and hamstrings to burn, and wearing bulky snowshoes that you’re not super familiar with doesn’t make it any easier. After trekking three-quarters of a mile back to where I started, one of the snowshoes slipped off atop a hill.

Decision time. Should I re-strap and tighten the shoe back to my left foot or remove the other one and continue on my way? I chose B.

That was incorrect. I wrongly thought since the trail was freshly groomed (again, I’m sorry skiers for the damage I probably caused) it would be stable enough to walk on in boots. Of course after walking a few yards and finding this to be untrue, I could’ve stopped and put the shoes back on. Or I could continue on my way.

I chose B. Again. I thought the time spent on re-securing the shoes would slow me down too much. The slog continued.

With more than a mile left to get back to the parking lot, I picked up my pace more. At times I even ran, no doubt clumsily as I wore multiple layers and a backpack, all the time carrying the snowshoes and sinking into the snow. The treetops were outlined in gold light, but it wasn’t a beacon of hope in the gray sky, just the sun setting as beyond the treetops the gray began fading to black.

Fortunately, I made it out unscathed (except for some swollen calves and deflated pride). The walk back was 2.5 miles and overall I covered more than 5 miles. I was sweaty and snowy and hot and cold all at the same time, and most importantly, I was safe.

But I have doubts about the merits of getting lost. Thoreau was right about one thing, though. It was definitely memorable.


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