This week I celebrated my birthday, and it was quite a day.
I decided to go for a walk as part of my celebration. But not just any walk. I decided to go to one of my favorite Town of Amherst conservation areas to walk in the woods, instead of walking from home around the residential neighborhoods. And since I typically walk 1-2 miles per day, it seemed very reasonable to plan to complete a 1-mile loop at the conservation area only ~2 miles from home.
The day was beautiful and a bit cool, and since I planned to be gone for only ~45 minutes, I took only my camera and driver's license with me. As usual, there were no other cars present when I began the walk. The sign was new -- it said the loop was 0.83 miles, and it pointed to a break in the trees. So I began the walk, and to my surprise, what used to be a dirt road was overgrown with 1' tall grasses. Perhaps I should have taken a clue from that.
I had visited this conservation area in the winter -- on show shoes, I had tromped through the woods and made my way 3/4 of the way around the loop. And then the trail disappeared so I had to retrace my steps and give up on completing the loop. I returned a day later and walked the loop in reverse, finding my way through a mass of dead trees that fell from the maple blight, and locating the loop trail even where the trail had disappeared.
After this winter experience, on my birthday I planned to walk the loop in reverse again, expecting to be able to navigate through the fallen trees as easily as I had during the winter...
The first part of the walk was easy. I found the trail into the woods, and followed the blazes. And like my winter trek, when the trail emerged from the woods, the trail blazes disappeared since they were on the dead trees that had fallen. But I could see the general direction I needed to go in. So I continued walking. Well, it was sort of what you would call walking. But with all the rain we had this summer, the grass had grown over 4' tall. And these grasses were hiding fallen trees beneath.
Walking through the tall grass was kind of like slashing through the jungle, only I didn't have a tool to cut the grass with. Only my arms and legs. So I would lift my knees high to climb over the fallen trees, taking one slow step after another. And more often than not, it took 2 tries to place my foot on the ground around whatever trees were underfoot. I did wonder about snakes, but that was not my biggest worry. I didn't know where the trail was, or how long it would take me to find it. I didn't have any water with me. And my energy was starting to drain.
After 15 minutes of trying to make headway through the tall grass, I realized that I didn't want to turn around. Or that it was unlikely that I could retrace my steps even if I wanted to. And I realized that if the trail was this overgrown, I might never find it. I had visions of Humphrey Bogart in "The African Queen" pulling the boat through the jungle and slashing the grasses before him. Several times I walked into underbrush too dense to navigate through, so I headed into more open areas instead, where the grasses were taller but I could make headway. I kept hoping I would intersect with the loop trail which I had walked countless times.
And as in all memorable adventures, I came to the point where I decided that if I hadn't found the trail in 5 minutes, I would get out my cell phone and call for help -- I would ask the Fire Dept. to come rescue me. For I realized that I didn't have the strength to bush wack through the woods for the entire 1-mile loop, and I didn't have the strength to go back. I wasn't exactly lost -- I knew exactly where I was, I just wasn't exactly where I wanted to be.
So when the dragon fly flew by and circled around me, I asked it for help. I asked it to show me the way to the trail. And then it disappeared, so I kept walking. Legs trembling from exertion. Sweat dripping down my back. Face red from getting overheated and not having any water.
And then suddenly tall grasses were gone. The undergrowth was gone. And the canopy of trees overhead shaded an open space before me that was like a breath of fresh air. I was standing on the trail. Even though I didn't have water, I felt as overjoyed as if I had been in the desert and had found an oasis to drink from.
I had spent 45 minutes to go ~1/3 of the way around the loop, and I might have stopped to rest had it not been for the mosquitoes. Oh, and did I mention the poison ivy? I noticed it when I was in the open places, and I had no idea if I had been walking through poison ivy vines as I trudged through the tall grasses. So I didn't dawdle, but walked with purpose to complete the loop trail. In another 20 minutes, I was back at my car. Then in another 5 minutes I was home, and went directly to the shower.
It was quite the birthday walk. In the jungle, only 2 miles from my house. An unforgettable adventure. And I didn't need to get rescued after all. But I did say to myself, after that adventure, that I really like walking around the residential neighborhoods.