My most recent outdoor excursion took place last weekend (March 21) in Enfield. Two friends and I had planned this trip for a week. The trip was to a very basic hunting camp in the middle of nowhere. The variables included in this trip were numerous and added a large element of the unknown to our adventure. The camp is located on logging land, and as such, may have joined its surrounding gifts from god in no longer existing. The hike was estimated to be about 15k, or about 3 hours, which made the prospect of our destination being a large clear cut not very appealing, but adventurous nonetheless.
We set out with basic supplies. Backpack including some extra warm clothes, food, water, fire starting gear, sleeping bag, liquor and other essentials. My pack wasn’t as light as I would have liked for a 3 hour hike, but then again what I would have liked was to have a pack that defied Newton’s Law, and only a couple of federal ones.
I had planned a route through the use of Google Maps, as well as conferencing with my brother who took me to the camp years ago. All was well planned, and supplemented with my extensive navigation skills which came in the form of a GPS system. With my Ziploc bag full of google maps, and the coordinates of the camp punched into my GPS, we were set.
We entered the trail head at about 2:30pm, as prior commitments by one of us dictated this departure time. This was only now just a slight concern, as daylight savings time had kicked in recently, and we had that fact tucked into our back pocket…. as well as our map. If this had been the beginning to a horror movie, organ music would have begun playing, with an appropriate camera zoom into the back pocket containing the Ziploc bag full of maps.
After a tough 5 minute climb, we opted to take a well deserved break to get our bearings. Just as I figured, we had already walked a good half kilometer of our 15. Maybe we should cut this break short, I eventually figure, and we head out. “Do you have that map” I ask. “Yep, right here” my friend says, while confidently patting his back pants pocket providing a “you can kiss this for asking” emphasis. I think to myself that maybe that isn’t the best spot for it, but this thought got about as much attention as we did from one of the many 4-wheelers that almost ran us over.
After another 15 minutes of walking, we reach a fork in the road, so we call for the map. The map that is no longer in the back pocket. The map that is causing increasing amounts of concern. The map that is now lost. “Where the hell is the map?! Oh my god, don’t tell me….” accompanied by other barrages, our map carrier is now the most hated man in Enfield.
After a 20 minute zig-zag search pattern jog, our map carrier returns, with no map. Decision time. Do we go on, with no map, and only GPS coordinates and my recollection of what the maps looked like? I had told the others to look at the map before we started, so we wouldn’t just be relying on my interpretations. You can guess that they did not do so, and you’d be correct. So, 3 young men in unfamiliar woods, looking for a destination that may no longer exist are faced with a decision. The decision came fairly easily: keep going.
While the smart thing may have been to turn back and try again another day, the smell of adventure had begun to increase exponentially, and spurred us into the unknown. As we hiked on, our fast pace matching the setting pace of the sun, we came to a crossroads, an area that was not familiar to me from the map, and where a decision had to be made, fast, before the sun went down. I picked up my cell phone, and called my brother, as a desperate lifeline call on a million dollar “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” question. “Which way do we go?” the conversation is as quick and to the point. We decide to head to the right and follow power lines, looking for a place to cross over to the left. We walk for a half hour, with the sun already set, and the radiating beams are all that remain of our hope. We are definitely going the wrong way, and we are 2 hours into the woods. Our adventure has come to it’s turning point, and as our denial of the inevitable wears off, we quickly set out to find a good spot to camp out.
As we find our spot, just off of a logging road, the sun is now gone, and it is getting cold. Communicating telepathically now, we all head out to gather up fire wood. We converge on a spot, and start piling it on as if it were the fireplace in our living room. We throw a match on it, and there we have it, some smoke. After the smoke dies off, we are left with a wet pile of branches and 3 men who aren’t sure if the smoke is coming from the branches or their ears as their tired brains struggle to figure out how to start a fire. After a skillful application of curse words, and some emergency fire starting gear I had packed, we had a fire. Our spirits rose with the flames, and we began to think this was actually going to be pretty nice night. A quick look at the stars, and the beer and rum in our backpacks instantly renewed our spirits. As I went around collecting pine bows to place underneath our sleeping bags, the fire began to go out. The large pile of small branches did not last even a fraction as long as planned. Spirits take a dive, and we realize this fire is going to be a lot more work than the one we sit infront of at Christmas drinking eggnog. With no axe, and no energy to use one, we are limited to finding dead wood that we can snap off. Normally on my hikes, half of the wood I see is dead, and I always think to myself what a shame it is, but on this occasion, we were in the middle of the healthiest forest on the face of the earth. Every tree was young, fresh, healthy, hydrated…. everything that we were not, at the moment.
The long hike had taken its toll on all of us. No one had the energy to use our Canadian tire flashlights to go searching around the dark woods for a small amount of dead wood. One of my friends had an army issued arctic sleeping bag, and he was quickly asleep. His snoring, combined with the bitter cold, and our “Dora The Explorer” brand sleeping bags ensured that the two of us remaining would not have an enjoyable night. As I broke out the rum, and my emergency blanket, I realized my best option was to stay awake all night, gathering firewood and staying as close to the fire as possible without becoming a part of it. I turned my portable speakers and Ipod on, to help distract myself from the situation (and ward off all of the hungry wolves that were encircling us in my imagination). As I took a moment to enjoy, I laid back and took in the amazingly vibrant night sky. The other two were awake at this time, enjoying a beer, chilled naturally. We sat there, quietly, attempting to enjoy the evening, when we hear a crunching noise, the same crunching noise you make when you walk through hard packed snow, a noise we were very familiar with, as we had been making it all day. As the noise grew, we became silent, to the point of collectively holding our breath. “We’re 3 hours into the woods in the middle of nowhere right?” I ask myself. I check my watch, 1 am. I do some quick calculations in my head and determine that this situation is extremely frightening. “Hello!?” one of my friends says, as I mentally prepare myself. No response, the noise continues. “Hello, who’s there?” he yells again, as I reach for my knife and prepare an evacuation plan into the woods, where I will hide until we find out who this madman is. Just as I’m about to jump into the woods, the noise stops. Contrary to being a relief, this ruins my plans as I wonder where the hell this person has gone, and what the hell we should do. Then it clicks, the Ipod, the speakers, there was no music playing during this time. I whisper “rewind to the end of that song”. Sure enough, it is the end of a song, an outro obviously designed as a cruel joke for people stuck in the middle of the snowy woods 1 am.
After we all breathe a sigh of relief, we continue with our roles. One quickly reverts to snoring, the other to shivering, and me to tending the fire like it is the last one I will ever see. Soon enough, the moon makes its first appearance. It peaks over the horizon in a very bright crescent. It was an interesting sight I had not seen before and is a hard one to process during a bout of hypothermia. I could tell without looking at my watch that the sun was soon to follow. As morning arrived, the sense of relief was quickly challenged by the coat of ice that now covered everything. This was the coldest point of our adventure. We built the fire to its largest point, and put some food in our tin can to cook as we thawed out our boots and laces. Once we were warmed enough to the point where movement would not risk shattering our bones, we headed back out.
The trip out seemed to take us half as long, as our pace was double that of the way in. When we reached the car, the adventure was complete. This must be what it feels like to finish a marathon in Siberia. The adventure left us with a renewed sense of accomplishment, and a large list of things not to do. Lessons learned: bring a tent, a good sleeping bag, earplugs, and do not put your map in the back of your Calvin Klein’s, the woods seem to find it insulting.