I try to go on a backpacking trip every year with my five best friends from high school, although now that most of us are getting married and having kids, it’s been a few years. One year (I think 2005) we decided to hike through the John Muir Wilderness in California, which we figured would be a fairly straightforward trip.
Everything was beautiful, and our first two nights passed without any problems to speak of (other than some dehydrated-bean-induced flatulence and a few minor spider attacks). After hiking through the third day, we set up a camp in a flat, tree-sheltered clearing near a babbling brook (sounds cheesy but really, it was the perfect spot). It was late afternoon, and we were pretty tired after a day of hiking uphill. Once we settled down, I realized – and I’ll put this frankly – that I had gone the whole trip so far without pooping. No big deal of course, since nearly everywhere in the wilderness is a potential bathroom (don’t poop in or near a water source). However, I was pretty modest about such things, and I wanted at least some privacy. I decided to go on a short walk, just far enough from camp that I felt alone. I walked a bit farther than I expected because I just couldn’t find a good spot. Eventually, I ended up in a nice area of fallen trees and large rocks, and decided that it was the perfect location. After I completed the task at hand, I could see that the sun was nearing the mountaintops and that it would be dark in less than a half hour.
I started walking back, no doubt in my mind that I was heading in the correct direction. About ten minutes later, I noticed that the terrain seemed slightly different… the vegetation was thicker, the trees seemed shorter, and overall I felt like I was at the wrong elevation. I looked around, and realized that I didn’t recognize the area at all. I turned back and started walking uphill, because I thought I had strayed too far down the grade we had been hiking on. This didn’t feel right either. At one point I crossed a stream that I had never even seen before, knowing that I was not going the right direction, but also knowing that the path I had just come from was even more unfamiliar.
If you’ve ever been lost at sunset, you might be familiar with the specific fear one can feel when the light starts to disappear. That’s what I felt, anyway. The thought that time was running out, and that I would be even more alone when it did. Things went from yellow, to brown, to a dull gray. Then it was dark. No help from the moon.
Did I mention that I was wearing FLIP FLOPS? Oh yeah, and no jacket. Or flashlight. By the way, I’m an Eagle Scout, making this even more embarrassing. I was younger then, of course, but it’s definitely the most rookie series of mistakes I’ve ever made outdoors and I know better. I was basically failing the Orienteering, Wilderness Survival, Camping, and Common Sense (if there were one) merit badges all at once. I have no idea how I got turned around in the first place, and I never had any intention of being more than 100 feet from camp or being gone for more than 10 minutes. But there I was, stumbling through the wilderness with almost no useful gear.
Eventually I saw a barren mountain face that would give me a better view of the area. On my way up it, I tripped over a log and my flip flip flew off. Good riddance! Once I was high enough, I looked for the light of a campfire in the distance, but didn’t see anything. I probably could have hunkered down through the night, but I knew that my friends would be in crisis mode until they saw me again.
At this point I wasn’t so much scared as I was lonely. All I wanted was to get back to those guys, to sit in front of the fire, and to feel safe again. I was determined not to start screaming in terror, so I started talking. Loudly. As loud as I could without sounding scared. I didn’t want to scare myself or to make anyone else even more scared for me, but I wanted someone to hear me. I think I was also too embarrassed to yell in a panicked-sounding way. “Hello.” I half-shouted in a monotone voice. “It’s me, Brian. I think I am lost.” “HEY GUYS, WHAT’S UP? I AM OVER HERE.” My voice echoed. I was sure they could hear me. “HEY, FELLAS? ARE YOU THERE? HOW’S IT GOING?” it probably sounded very strange to anyone who heard it. My monotonous comments were booming through the valley now. Every few seconds I paused, waiting for a reply.
“…ian?” I couldn’t tell if it was an echo or not. “HELLO?” I offered. Pause. “..BRIAN? BRIIIAAAN?” the other voice wasn’t panicked either. I followed the voice down the rocky face, through a glen, back over that stream (should not have crossed that stream in the first place), and up a mossy bank. At the top, my buddy Ryan saw me and gave me a standard “so glad you’re alive but damn it why’d you do this to us” look and a hug, and led me back to camp.
The other guys had been searching in various areas, and they all found their way back to the campfire immediately (of course). Except my friend James, who had stayed at camp in case I came stumbling back. I sat down on a log next to him and said, “hey.” He looked at me, raised his hand, and slapped me across the face. Fair enough. After that, the trip continued without a hitch. It is the only time I’ve been lost and alone in the wilderness, and I’m glad it happened the way it did. Ironically, I had originally left camp in order to be more alone, and in the end I wanted nothing more than to stop being alone. In conclusion, please don’t be shy about pooping in front of your friends.