“Not all those who wander are lost.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien,
The statement is quite true and for most of my travels so it was for me until I became lost. A few weeks ago I had this nagging feeling that I needed to leave. This feeling comes upon me every once in a while, I listen to it and leave out the door and into the woods. That is where the feeling always pushes me to go, into the quite, the calmness, the solitude of the wood. If the world were ever to end, I would pack up and move out to a quiet wood. A forest is a safe place, I always felt – thought the feeling has somewhat changed, only slightly though – that nothing quite wrong could ever happen out in the wilderness. Yes, perhaps you might get eaten by some wild beast, but I would far rather be eaten by a bear than die as a result of smog, pesticide, leached medication, etc.
As I was saying, this feeling of needing to escape came upon me, I checked my calendar had three days off the following week and the matter was settled, I was LEAVING! I decided instead of going up to Algonquin Park, which I had already done that year, and mid-October was not going to be warm up in Northern Ontario, I would travel five hours in the opposite direction, which lead me to find Elk State, Forest Park. It seemed big enough, the trails were nicely laid out on the map, I could spend two days backcountry camping and settle the nagging feeling. I called the park, inquired about a permit – none was needed for backcountry camping – and where in the park I could camp. At this point, I was told about Fracking. “Excuse me!” I blurted out, to the very kind lady on the phone, “Fracking in a Park, a State Park?”. Yes, she told me, therefore I was restricted to the South of the Park for the duration of my stay. She told me there were designated parking areas and several trails. I thanked her, I probably should have asked some more questions – Were there any bears in the area? What if I get lost? If there was an Information Centre? – I was so taken aback by the Fracking I couldn’t quite think.
No one was quite happy with my going, except my younger brother who thought it was a wonderful idea and that there was no better way to camp than by yourself. ‘What if I got attacked/kidnapped/lost?’ were the #1 questions. I didn’t think I would and I knew enough Muay Thai to defend myself – perhaps not against a bear, but bears didn’t quite scare me – so I bought an air horn (which no one liked either, Pepper Spray or Raid was supposedly the way to go). In case I got lost, someone might hear me (I never did use it). I sent everyone a goodbye message the day of my departure, I would return in two days, ALIVE. I was all packed into my backpack – I may have taken a bit too much food, but I knew I would be hungry and adventures are not too pleasant on an empty stomach.
I had the park selected on my GPS and off I went in my little yellow Fiat, across the border into the United States. Just because the GPS found the park, didn’t mean it was the right one. I ended up at another park (not too far from the right one). I thought about staying there but decided against it, in case I got really lost and needed to be found. Incidentally, as it happened I lost all communication with the outside world about four hours into my trip – no Cell Service in Elk County. So I turned around, asked for directions and entered Elk State forest at around 2:30 pm (I left the house at 9 and was stuck in a world of traffic in Oakville). As I drove through, using the map of the park as a guide, I passed by two construction sites. Not Fracking, but hole digging. I had enough time at that point to hike out far enough to hear none of the noise. I parked at the designed parking ground, on Hicks Road just past Barr Hol Road (Elf Forest Map). There was a shared-use trail not too far from the parking lot which I had planned to take. I put on my Cowboy hat, attached my water bottle to my bag, hid my documents in my car, double checked that I had everything and that the windows were all closed, put my backpack on (boy it was heavy — the food) and I set off.
The sun was shining, it was warm 23 or 25 degrees, I took a couple of pictures as I hiked up the gravel road. I walked for a few more minutes, I turned around. I couldn’t find the path!! There should have been one! I walked forward again, perhaps the map was not to scale, still couldn’t find it. Nothing was marked. I decided to not let it stop me, It was a little past 3:00 pm at this point and I had lots of time to find a campsite, pitch a tent and collect water. I ended up hiking out for an hour, tried to cross a river – ended up covered in mud…but only to my ankles – at which point I realized I needed to turn back and try another part of the park, because although it was warm it was October, the sun set earlier and it would disappear even quicker as a result of the mountains.
I hiked back. Threw everything in my car, the men who had been digging holes had left, they had already laughed at me once, I didn’t need to hear them laugh again, and I drove off to Hicks Run Camping Area. There was a trail right across from the lot so I decided I would try that one. I drove into the campground and parked. I looked around, at the far end of the camping site was an RV, beside me was an Elk, other than that there was no one else there. I looked for the trail, couldn’t find It. It was growing late, I was hungry so I decided, “To hell with it, I’m sleeping by the Elk”.
I parked my car, I pitched my tent, made myself tea and lentil soup and settled in for the night with my books. I had a wonderful sleep, thanks to the Elk. I don’t know how you might have felt, but I decided that he would be the best companion to have nearby in case something horrible came lurking in the middle of the night. His eyes glowed brightly when I went to the washroom around 2:00 am, it was a comfort to know that he was there. I slept for about nine hours, woke up made my self some tea, I read for an hour or so and finally began on making breakfast (which was oatmeal and a whole raw organic dark chocolate bar — Giddy Yoyo packaged it saying it was for breakfast and that is how I ate it). At around 11:00 am is when the noise kicked in.
I love the sounds that a forest makes in Fall. The wind whipping through the trees, the leaves rustling on the floor, the bird calls, the creaking bark, the running stream it is perfect tranquillity. If you add in the smell of wet earth and withering leaves – nothing is more perfect. However, if you add the sound of a chainsaw and the chopping down of giant trees – poof – it all blows away and there I am unable to enjoy the quiet as a result of human interference. I wish I could say that there was a just purpose to their cutting, but frankly, I believe they were making room for cabin developments. I stayed for a few more hours but I eventually had enough. I packed up my tent and decided to end my trip then.
I collected some extra water for my trip. Washed myself up by the riverbed and before departing met the man who camped in the RV. A pleasant sort of fellow, though he had a few screws loose. I said my goodbyes to him and lastly to the Elk, how as it happened, decided to leave at that point too. I drove into town, filled up some gas. While I was pumping gas I met the RV man again, he had followed me down the road, I’d like to hope to make sure I made it to the gas station as all my wondering the day before had caused my ’empty tank’ light to turn on. We said goodbye again.
I began my journey home. My trip was mismatched, but my itch was gone. The next time I set foot in the outdoors alone, will be in the coming Spring. A solo trip is nice because even if something does not go as planned – even if there was no plan, to begin with – it is never a mistake or a wrong step, it’s just a wonderful detour to the end result. Leave your negative thoughts behind when you travel, especially if it is not alone. Adventures may not go as planned but that is what makes them memorable. If the world were to end tomorrow as it is today would you be ready to venture out into the unknown? If you are to make it, in this world your attitude towards life is what will push you through.
“Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture. If our thoughts are peaceful, calm, meek, and kind, then that is what our life is like. If our attention is turned to the circumstances in which we live, we are drawn into a whirlpool of thoughts and can have neither peace nor tranquillity.”
― Thaddeus of Vitovnica,