Having found myself somewhere other than actually on the trail back to the parking lot, I had three choices: I could try to backtrack and pick up the trail where I had lost it in the first place; I could try cutting through the forest and intersecting the trail on the north side of the hill; or I could chuck the trail and head for the road, then hitch a ride back to the park for my vehicle. That last plan, I realized, was a good, sensible strategy. I decided to keep it as a backup in case nothing else worked.
First I would see if I could slip down the hill through the woods and hit the trail that way. I trudged back up and over the ridge, but didn’t get very far into the forest before I realized that this was A Very Bad Idea. Heavy snow, thick ground cover, and no certainty of success: I could likely do better. Back the way I came? It was worth a shot. Of course, I had just followed a moose trail downhill through a snowfield, so maybe not so much. Back down the south face, looking for a way through, down to the wheat field, and…no dice. No path, either.
This was beginning to not be much fun anymore.
One of the downfalls of solo adventures is that misfortune is much better when shared, and I was beginning to regret not having a companion along on this one to share the excitement, or barring that the map they might have brought along. Oh, well, I thought; bad decisions make for good stories. To the road I go! But wait a minute-where’s my stick? I suddenly realized that I had been without it for a few minutes now, and that simply wouldn’t do. I’ve had this piece of cedar for nearly a decade now, and it’s never let me down; I’ve simply got to find it. Great! I get to retrace my uncertain steps all over this hillside to find my silly hiking stick, and I just want to get home! I was having what my wife would call “First World Problems.” The stick turned up again high on the ridgeline, waiting patiently in the shade. The wind called ahead to the pines, giving them first warning of sunset, and soon we were headed east again.
Trudging back across the hillside, I encountered a brief ethical quandary; namely, the fence. Should I go around and respect private property, or over and through and save valuable time? This didn’t take long. The single strand of barbed wire was only at knee height, and the narrow path I followed ran right under it. Over, and onward, I went. Had this been a cultivated field, I would have gone around; I’m not about to interfere with someone’s livelihood for no good reason.
It was downhill from there, literally.
Across the fenced-in field was, of all things, a road. Matted grass, two tires wide, but surely going my way. A little worse for wear in spots, but any port in a storm, right?
I held on to a sliver of hope that this path would bring me back around to the park trail, but I wouldn’t have wagered much on it. Considering that it had ended in the “private property” section, it was likely a private access road. No matter; any road would lead home. This is why I like to have my backup plan in place first: when the “good ideas” backfire, I can jump right to Plan B (or C) and get on with it.
I felt 30 years younger for a while, remembering my rambles through the countryside of Connecticut; getting home late in the day, probably worrying my poor mother half out of her mind. Now I was the parent, trying to get home before dark so my kids wouldn’t worry. I’ll have to take that one out and ponder it sometime. There was more crusty, icy snow and more dicey traction here, but the beginning of the end was in sight too.
Naturally, the direct route to the main road was nearly impassable, so I went around the bend (to the right in the picture above), which took me behind a house and garage. My efforts did not go unrewarded, though:
Then out to the main road, to try to hitch a quick ride to the park entrance. Surely the fine, friendly residents of these small towns will be willing to give a kindly stranger a ride! How hard could this be?
I have learned to my regret that asking this question inevitably results in an answer.
Of all the possible motorist permutations, the least likely one to pick up a hitchhiker must surely be a woman driving by herself. The reasons are self-evident and inarguable. The likelihood, then, of the first n drivers passing me being women driving alone had to be, by Murphy’s Law, very high indeed. By rough estimate, 10 of the first 12 fit the profile. Then, 14 of 16; then 17 of 20. As glad as I was to be out there at a peak commuting time, it was still a frustrating turn of events. “Patience,” said the vulture; so I held out both hope and my right thumb.
At long last, I heard the telltale sound of deceleration, and a small station wagon pulled up alongside me. A small, angry dog protested the driver’s poor judgment in stopping for such a vagabond as myself, but the human occupants prevailed. Once they secured their pint-size canine guardian, I was allowed access to the rear seat and we were on our way. An ironic twist here was that the driver had been a search-and-rescue volunteer who used to train up on the very butte where I had just been, and there I was, just having gotten myself off the hill the long way. The ride back to the park was brief, pleasant, uneventful, and most welcome.
Another ironic twist of the day was how I nearly slipped in the parking lot and cracked my head open while getting back into my van, after a day up and down hill and dale with nary a glitch–except for that whole spatial-displacement thing.