May 13 – May 24, 2020.
I got lost in the woods alone. This was annoying. Not just because I was lost but because by becoming lost I ended up not avoiding the very thing I was trying to avoid when I became lost. No worries, obviously I found my way in the end.
We were in Sedona – the land of red rocks – boondocking (free camping) along Forest Road 525 in the Coconino National Forest. There were lots of great campsites to choose from but we drove miles until we had a view of Sedona’s amazing sandstone cliffs. It was stunningly beautiful. Every morning, as our habit of the last few months, we got up at sunset and hiked. At first, we walked the roads, following gravel paths towards the towering burnt orange walls until we decided to head back. But then Friday rolled around and those same roads were besieged by ATVs zooming past us covering us with red dust. It was time to find some real trails.
There is a wonderful trail system in the forest around Sedona. My app, The Hiking Project, showed lots of possibilities. We picked a few hiking routes and spent a couple of peaceful mornings, barely seeing another person.
During the next week, we drove to more hiking spots, sometimes exploring more trails and sometimes walking more of the road. The trails seemed to get more populated as we week wore on and even though we were acutely aware that the pandemic continued to take 1000 or more lives a day we felt we could adequately social distance. Then another weekend rolled around.
Not just a weekend but a holiday weekend – Memorial Day weekend. By this time Greg had suffered a small hiking setback (nothing to worry about, he just needed to take a few days off) and I was hiking alone. Greg dropped me off at a trailhead on Saturday shortly after sunrise and I set off on a five-mile loop. It was a good hike. I passed maybe a dozen people which I always gave the appropriate amount of social distancing space by leaving the trail and standing aside. But as my walk came to an end in the late morning I found the trailhead crawling with people, lots, and lots of people – like this was the only trail in all of Sedona! On my way to find where Greg was parked, I passed pairs of people, families, a pack of 30 or more people in a steady stream towards the forest. No one was masked or social distancing.
I needed a new, more unattractive hiking plan for day two of the holiday weekend. And just in case you are thinking I am taking this whole pandemic thing way too seriously (I am), I had other reasons for finding a less-traveled trail. Fewer people meant a smaller chance of people getting in the way of some perfect picture I wanted to take and most of all, fewer people would have to see my ass sticking in the air as I bent over to take macro-zoom pictures of flowers every five minutes.
The next day, I found a trail that didn’t lead into the red rocks hoping it would be a little quieter. When we arrived, the hike looked promising, there were no cars in the parking lot. At first, a narrow footpath led to a disused road but eventually that disused road became an active forest road with campers (people!) in campsites. On my trail map from my Hiking Project app, I saw that there were several trails that led from the main route that would loop me around back to the disused road portion of the trail. But each time I consulted the map I found that I had missed the turn-off. Finally, determined to get off the road before the ATVs woke up I doubled back to find one of these trails just as I heard the loud engine of an off-road vehicle heading my way. I stepped off into the brush to avoid a dusting. From my position off the road, I could see on my map that I was close to the trail I was looking for so instead of going back to the road to find the trailhead I walked farther into the forest hoping I would pick up the path. And I did. It was a well-worn track!
All was well until I reached this wash (dry river). Somehow at the wash, I became confused and started following a different trail from my map. I thought I knew where the trail went, then lost it. I ended up following the wash and then climbed up the 20-foot wash wall trying to get back on the path. But then, once out of the wash I got distracted by some pretty flowers and a butterfly and started taking pictures.
After the butterflies refused to cooperate and pose for me I realized I need to get back to the task of finding the trail again. I looked at my map and saw It showed that I was actually standing on the trail. I looked down and there I was in the middle of a well-worn path. I started following it but it seemed to be going the wrong way. I checked my map again and saw I was one more off-trail. I turned back, couldn’t find a path that corresponded with my map so I very carefully descended back into the wash knowing it would take me to the road sooner or later. Which it did, right before an ATV came powering past me blanketing me with dust.
I was never too worried while I was lost because there are people almost everywhere in the forest around Sedona. I figured no matter where I was, I was always in the yelling distance of someone. But who can blame them? Sedona was quite nice. We stayed there for two weeks. The weather was perfect, the view stunning, the hiking mostly good, and there was something new to see every day. There were two Native American ruins we could have visited but they were closed because of the pandemic. And although we only saw downtown Sedona as we were heading out it looked like a place we might return to for a night on the town when social distancing and crowds are no longer daily concerns.
* BTW – Once I ended up on the disused road portion of the trail on my way back to the parking lot, I looked for the trailhead of the original trail I was trying to follow when I left the main trail. I never saw it. I believe that that this trail must have been closed by the forest service and although the trailheads had grown over the middle was completely intact. As for the other trail when I got lost – I have no idea what was going on there.
Have you ever gotten lost hiking? Do you prefer to hike popular trails or do you like the path less followed?