Mental Maps

The other day I went on a long and rewarding hike. It wasn’t to a new waterfall, and it wasn’t to a scenic viewpoint. In most outward ways it was a completely dull walk, with truly nothing of interest. I didn’t expect much from the hike. It’s that stretch of time before the ebb tide into fall, that static time where summer seems to linger forever. It’s been very hot and dry, although we are not currently in an abnormally dry period anymore–just normal end-of-August dryness. The sun is noticeably setting earlier now, and we’ve been getting lower temperatures at night, which is greatly welcomed.

I had a few hours to myself, and I just hustled out without planning much. Most walks I take I am very familiar with, and I know the boundaries quite well. This hike was in a vast, unmarked territory that I go to just every so often, and every time I try to go a little further. So on this day, I did just that. I went a little further, hoping to hit a trail I was heading for. After about an hour of walking, I hit a new trail. Was it the one I was hoping for? I felt sort of lost and saw some people far off and thought to ask them where I was. They were taking a while though, so I went the other direction and in less than twenty feet I was at a marker that had a map of where I was. I was on the trail I had hoped to hit! It was so satisfying!

Feeling confident, I decided to continue following my intuition and headed off on a trail I thought would loop back to my starting point. Shortly there was a three-way trail choice, and I chose to head north. It was soon very obvious that I had picked the wrong trail. It became narrow, not much more than a deer trail, and followed the edge of a tall marsh. The trail then petered out with the end of the marsh. I consulted my phone’s map wondering where I was. I looked around as much as I could–the marsh densely packed with phragmites and cattails in one direction, and all other ways were uphill into dense forest. My mind calculated where I was, but I didn’t feel as confident as before. Hoping I was right, I bushwacked through the trees, spiderwebs breaking on my face, feet deep in dry leaves. A sheen of sweat soon coated me, from both the dry heat and the pinch of anxiety that feeling lost brings on.

That feeling thankfully didn’t last long, as I soon broke out onto the trail I had headed in on. I felt so thankful to be back on the boring, dull trail heading home and relished a swig of water. In ten minutes, I was cooled down and feeling pretty jaunty. It was such a nice feeling to have been lost and then found my way. And now, my brain shifted and readjusted the map of this area in my mind. It was so much clearer to me now, holes were being filled–I could see it in my head. I wouldn’t have figured out so much if I didn’t get a little lost. I savored that feeling through out the day: getting lost, finding my way, and the expanded map now in my head. Sometimes those are the best walks, when I never took a picture, but I left with a profound memory, nonetheless.

  1. Your experience brought back childhood memories of a few times when I got lost in the woods behind our house. Once I came out on a highway on the other side of the forest, a couple of miles away. I decided to follow the roads home rather than risk trying to find my way back directly. Thanks for sharing your story! Familiar feelings – I felt like I was there…

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