Trail Lessons

lower falls

“Do you think they’ll let me run barefoot?”

I was over halfway through a triathlon and had just finished my bike ride. Staring dumbfounded at my station, I realized I had forgotten my running shoes at home. Unsure what to do, I had turned to another triathlete and half-jokingly asked this question. It turned out she had a daughter with a similar shoe size, and she must have already finished because the next thing I knew, she was handing me her daughter’s shoes and saying, “Go for it.” So I did. I raced through the run course and finished the triathlon in another woman’s shoes.

I thought of this story after a similar experience this week. I was hiking in Uvas Canyon County Park when I realized I had lost my Garmin GPS device. I rushed back to where I thought I had left it, carefully scouring dead leaves, damp soil, and clumpy hillsides. I imagined triumphantly finding it. I imagined the relief I would feel. I imagined telling this story to friends and family. This was just temporary, I assured myself.

Nothing.

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This has happened before—forgetting things, I mean. I have left hiking poles on the trail and had to backtrack to get them. On one hike, I somehow misplaced my car keys. I was just about to call AAA when another hiker said there were keys tacked to a signboard nearby. I went to look and sure enough, they were mine. In late 2017, Grace and I were hiking an icy trail to Easy Pass in the North Cascades, when I realized I had forgotten my microspikes in the car. Grace gamely lent me one of hers, and thankfully, it fit over my boot. Problem solved, again.

My GPS device, on the other hand, was the most valuable possession I had lost. The frustration was not just about losing something valuable, it was also losing my work for the day. I had been so careful to document trail junctions and waterfalls throughout the freezing temperatures that morning.

What to do? Without finding my GPS, I finished the 5.2-mile loop hike and made a decision. It was only about 12:30 p.m. so I knew I had enough daylight to cover 5.2 miles (and 1400 feet elevation gain). I had an app on my phone that I could use to record the hiking route.

Done. I would do the hike again.

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Back at my car, I fired up my Gaia app to start up a new breadcrumb trail. I stuffed my fleece jacket into my backpack and set out once again. I retraced my steps exactly, except instead of my leisurely 1.5 mile per hour research pace, I booked it at 2.5 miles per hour. I’m sure I must have looked half-crazed in my speed-hiking stupor. I kept checking my Gaia app to make sure it was tracking my footsteps and forced myself to pay attention to the trail. I focused on the landscape as if I was looking for a piece to a complicated jigsaw puzzle.

My intention was two-fold: to re-track the trail and to find my Garmin GPS device. I was 90% sure where I left it, but still needed to retrace every step for my trail write-up. GPS tracks (aka breadcrumb trails) are important—once I upload the data, I use them to calculate the distance between junctions and important places on a trail, so that I can tell the reader it is another 0.5 miles to the next waterfall or that it is a stiff 500 foot climb in 0.4 miles. They are the backbone of a trail description, colored in with details about what you see on the trail.

Throughout my re-hike of the loop, I never found my GPS device. I stopped multiple groups of people, asking them if they had seen it. No one had, but all offered to return it to the ranger station if they did. My usual shyness vanished: I was on a mission and needed help.

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I finished the second round of the loop hike at 2:30 p.m., nearly seven hours since I had started hiking earlier in the morning at 8:00 a.m. Resigned, I stopped in the ranger station and pulled out my business card, intending to give it to the ranger in case they ever found it. After explaining what I had lost, the ranger pulled me aside and said, “I have it—someone dropped it off.” I took a wobbly breath and nearly cried. She said something along the lines of “Makes you glad there are honest people out there.” Indeed.

For all I have learned out on the trail, one of the greater lessons is how kind people can be in moments of distress. Whether it was someone picking up my keys and posting them to a signboard, Grace giving up traction on one of her boots so that we could both make up the icy trail to Easy Pass, or a good Samaritan returning my Garmin device to the ranger station, it’s heartening and hopeful. It makes me want to be a good Samaritan, too.

Here’s to brightening someone's day in 2019,

Melissa

//Inspiration//

This week I watched the documentary, “Being Serena” and came away admiring the strong, athletic, and human person Serena Williams is. I love that she named her daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian, Jr. because, why not have a daughter be a Jr.? :) I also enjoyed hearing her talk about sports, strategy, and ambition. She is a woman and a mother, a fighter and an athlete: strong, powerful, vulnerable, and confident. Her blend of femininity and toughness is inspiring.

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