Musings on IT, data management, whitewater rafting, and backpacking

Friday, February 10, 2012

Stupid Hiking Story #1

After two hours wandering the hills trying to find a dirt road clearly marked on the map, I stumble upon it. Too late to turn around for Plan B, I forge ahead on the overgrown track, thrashing through deeper and deeper green stuff that I don't recognize.

Cue ominous music.

I come to Old Womans Creek, completely dry this time of year. No bridge. Deeply incised, the creek bottom is 10 feet straight down, the other side a tantalizing 10 feet away. Another 15 minutes thrashing, looking up and down the creek for a better crossing – no luck.

Then I see a horizontal tree limb, perfectly positioned for a Tarzan-like trapeze move to drop down into the creek.

The instant my feet hit the ground, I realized several things:
  • That might have been a one-way trip. The other side is straight UP, too.
  • I'm hiking alone, and miles from where anyone might look for me.
  • If I don't get out of this creek, they might find my bones washed up on the beach after the winter storms.
Another 15 minutes wandering up and down the creek, looking for a way to climb up the other side.

My first try ends when I fall about 5 feet, backwards, with scrapes and bruises and dirt and leaves and bugs.

My second try succeeds – only to present another problem.

I could see the dirt road I wanted – on the other side of 8 feet of blackberry vines, 5 feet high. I can't wade through them, there is no way around them, I don't have a machete, and going back was not an option!

After a few minutes of head-scratching, I take off my backpack, throw it on top of the  blackberries, crawl across the pack, drop into the berries on the other side, and repeat until I reach the dirt road.

I'm standing on an obscure, one-lane dirt road, in the middle of nowhere, covered with dirt and leaves and bugs and bruises and scrapes and scratches. I need to clean up and inspect the damage before continuing. So I take off my shirt, and start dropping my running shorts ...

When a woman and a girl in a pickup truck come around the corner.

No doubt they wondered what this mostly-naked, dirt-leaves-bugs-bruised-scraped-scratched aging hippie was doing in the middle of nowhere!

I quickly pull up my shorts and step out of the road, and they quickly pass with eyes averted.

Thoroughly thrashed and way behind schedule, I continue hiking.

A fierce burning sensation slowly builds on my arms and legs.

Eventually I reach the Butano State Park entrance station. I'm extremely tired, the burning is getting worse, camp is five miles away and 1000 feet higher, and the sun sets in about two hours. I'm seriously considering ending the trip here.

I call my wife, but she's not home. I leave a rambling, confusing message.

An off-duty ranger stops by, and I ask about the burning. He says the "green stuff" I was thrashing through was stinging nettle. I ask how long the burning lasts – he says just a few hours in his experience.

So I hike toward camp, confident the pain will go away soon.

I make it to camp just after sunset, somehow hiking even faster than normal, maybe because the burning is getting worse.

I barely have enough energy to set up the tent and cook dinner.

I'm trying new meals on this trip. Tonight's meal is freeze-dried Mexican Fiesta – extra spicy.

The spicy food turns up the stinging nettle burning pain to 11.

Despite being dead tired, I can't sleep because of the pain.

I'm carrying leftover vicodin from an old prescription, in case of extreme pain. One pill isn't nearly enough, the second one knocks me out.

I'm so groggy the next morning, I don't remember anything before lunch. Luckily, that morning's trail is straight up the wide, well-marked Butano Fire Trail.

The big lesson I took from that adventure:

When hiking alone, always stay on well-traveled trails.

(Inspired by Guthook's post)


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