Woodland Adventure, part 3
As I headed into the woods, I realized I’d lost my sense of direction in the climb. Which way was the park? I could have found it so easily had we gone back the way we’d come, but how could I make that climb again? Oh, sure, I could get back down the hill. The flatlander’s way of going down a steep slope: sit on my bottom and pretend it’s a slide. But I’d never have been able to get back up, carrying bottles of water!
**Note to self: Design hiking belt from which things like water bottles can hang without getting in the way.
I hurried down the dirt trail towards the direction I believed the railroad tracks would be. I was going at jogging pace, but realized quickly that if I kept that up in that heat when I was also a potential victim of dehydration, I would also collapse, and then where would we be? As I crossed a muddy streambed and rounded a curve I thought would take me towards the tracks, a tiny part of my brain kept wondering, ‘Wait a minute! He’s stronger than I am and in better shape than I am! How come HE’S the one who collapsed?’ For the first time in quite awhile, I had cause to be grateful for my thin, Florida-raised blood. I freeze all winter, but if I have to climb hills and run for help on hot humid August days, apparently I can keep going long after native Northerners have collapsed.
Around another curve, and the railroad tracks and river were before me. Sort of. Actually, they were below me. To reach them, I’d have to make my way down a semi-steep valley – not a problem, except that it looked like it dropped off sharply before reaching the tracks. Well, this path seemed to run parallel to the tracks. I could follow it and hope to find an easier way down. I set off.
There was a problem. On our way down the Rhododendron Trail, the tracks and river had been off to our left. On my way down THIS trail, the tracks and river were STILL to my left. I was going further away! I groaned, exasperated, hot, frustrated, and extremely worried about my friend.
I heard a noisy motor and looked up to see a couple on an ATV coming towards me from a side trail. I flagged them down. “How do you get back into the Valley Falls Park from here?” I asked. “My friend collapsed back there—he has sun poisoning, I mean, heat poisoning, I mean, heat exhaustion. I need to get him some water.” If I’d been able to pay attention, I probably would have realized that my lack of ability to speak coherently was likely an early warning sign of my own pending heat exhaustion, but it wouldn’t have mattered. I was the one up and functional, and I had to find help and water.
The man and woman didn’t know for sure. They knew the railroad tracks would take me back to the park, and they thought *maybe* the split off the trail I was on would do. I didn’t dare drop down to the tracks, so I thanked them and backtracked. The trail split; one side, the darker and more mysterious side which I would have preferred to have taken under ordinary circumstances, led back to my friend. I looked longingly that direction as I took the other path.
This new path was very rough and rock-strewn. It was also damp and full of tiny buzzing flies. I swatted at them with my hat as I hurried.
A few more splits in the trail. Well, now what? I was completely out of sight of the railroad tracks and river. I knew I was going in the right direction, but the trails kept dead ending, and I kept having to backtrack and try again.
(In retrospect, I don’t think they were trails at all. I think they were dry streambeds disguising themselves as trails. You know, just to cause me trouble.)
I turned my ankle on one of the stones—no damage to me. Or to the stone.
I squeezed through a particularly thick bunch of brambles and realized I could go no further. The trail/streambed/whatever it was ended. I was surrounded by trees. It was passable, but I knew I’d quickly lose my sense of direction in there and wind up more lost than ever.
I had to go back. I was NOT giving up, but I had to find my way back to my friend and check on him before trying again. I’d check on him, then take the steep drop to the railroad tracks.
Was it sweat stinging my eyes, or tears? Tears of frustration, tears of pain, tears of worry for the friend I’d left lying on the dirt. It didn’t matter. I had no idea where I was or how long I’d been trying to find a way through. I just knew that I had to find my way back.
Woodland Adventure to continue.