February 1, 2017
I still feel a little stupid for wandering off the trail on a hike I was on a couple weeks ago. Maybe it will help if I talk about it. I’ll tell you the sad details, make an excuse or two, and hope that by the time I’m done writing I’ll feel vindicated, or at least not quite as dumb.
Here goes. I went hiking with my friend George, who is working on completion of a circuit hike of the Buckeye Trail. He had less than 300 miles to go and was anxious to knock off the 40 miles he had left of the Stockport section in southeastern Ohio. You don’t experience many 60 degree days in January, and we had three of those before us.
We started day one by setting a brisk pace. We hoped that after a quick 13 miles we would reach the car with time left over. Then we could reshuttle and maybe get in a few more miles before dark. By afternoon we crossed a bridge. The bridge itself is not so important. The intersection at the end of it is where my sad story begins. Our plans were about to cave in like a dilapidated house we’d passed earlier.
Our map showed a right turn. Even though we hadn’t seen a turn blaze, we complied. We began climbing a long, steep hill. After a quarter mile, we passed Shew’s Orchard. It was the tall, colorful sign out front that first grabbed our attention. Then our awareness quickly shifted to a large, vocal dog that came running toward us from the house.
It let us pass unscathed and I started breathing again shortly thereafter. Though it growled at us once or twice, it obviously meant us no harm. It almost seemed to be trying to tell us something. Sometimes I wish dogs could talk. Especially dogs on the BT. Especially that day.
We continued on and finally reached the hilltop where we took a much-needed breather. It was a great view, and I liked the sight of the long, gradual descent ahead. When we were rested, we began a fast pace that I estimated to be over 3 mph. At this rate we would easily reach my car with a lot of daylight left. I felt great, marveling at the weather, the scenery, and especially the miles we were devouring. How could it get any better?
It wouldn’t. At least not right then. Our happy conversation about making good time was interrupted when we realized almost simultaneously that there were no blue blazes to be seen. In fact, neither of us could recall seeing one from there back to the bridge, probably a mile and a half behind us by now. After I indulged in a few seconds of desperate denial, the blame started.
The easiest target was the map. It definitely showed a right turn after the bridge. However, earlier in the day we had encountered a reroute not shown on the map. We thought this must be another one. Why do they reroute the trail and then only put the changes on the “Trail Alerts” section of the BT website? Don’t they know guys with a map don’t read trail alerts?
There was nothing to do but retrace our steps back up the hill. After a good mile we passed Shew’s Orchard again. No dog this time. We went further down the hill—at least gravity was on our side at the moment—but before we got to the bridge we saw a blaze! What? How? The map was right? We took another look at it. This time we noticed something else. Something important. It showed a left turn at Shew’s Orchard!
We grudgingly trudged back up the hill. There hadn’t been a turn blaze at the orchard the first time we passed it. Now one had magically appeared on a squatty fence post below the sign that we had so admired earlier. (There wasn’t a turn blaze when we passed the orchard the second time either, but then, only lost hikers would be coming from that direction.)
We now saw the narrow dirt road that turned left. Bearing no road sign, it had masqueraded as a driveway when we passed it before. The dog was sitting quietly in the yard this time, watching us. It seemed to have an “I tried to tell you” look. We made the turn and got back on track.
I spent the next few hours kicking myself. Because of our miscue we did not get in the planned extra miles that day. On the positive side, we did get almost 20 on Saturday, and Sunday we finished early enough to drive home before dark.
Thank you very much for listening. I feel better. However, I do make a public promise to never pass a turn blaze again. Wait, isn’t that what I promised when it happened the last time, and the time before that, and . . . ?