Have you ever gotten lost in the forest in the middle of the night? On a recent trip in the backcountry, it happened to me!
I have been debating for a few weeks now if I would actually publish this post. In the end, you can see who won the battle because here I am telling the story to you.
Yes, it is embarassing , but, even so, I am hoping that people will see that this can happen to anyone and that they might learn from my mistakes. We are all only human and sometimes things go wrong, it’s what we learn from it that makes it important, almost necessary even, to become more proficient in the things we do.
I was camping at the Massasauga Provincial Park. I was staying on a site only 15 minutes from the boat launch. No portages, nothing fancy, just an easy weekend trip. I was with my level 1 classmate and we had come to work on some paddling skills and get in an easy two day, one night backcountry trip. We had a great day and we were both tired, so around eleven, we got into our tents and went to bed.
I woke up around 3am. I had eaten dinner very late and it was sitting unhappily in my tummy. I needed to use the privy. I had gone to the actual privy only once during the day and we had had a hard time locating it as there were a few trails going back there. I grumbled to myself, so tired I could hardly get up, but knew I had to do it.
I always keep a whistle around my neck when I’m camping in the backcountry, regardless, of if there are bears in the area, or not. You just never know and I encountered a bear face to face coming back from the washroom last summer so I was religious about it. I had asked my camping partner to also wear a whistle. I had brought two but she said she had one on her PFD and although I did my best to insist she wear one on her neck, she declined. You can’t force people to practice the things you do, you can only ask.
Anyways, I put on my headlamp, grabbed a flashlight for backup and put my sneakers on. I have worn flip flops many times in the past, but my feet always got eaten up by mosquitoes, so I figured better safe than sorry. I generally always take my phone, but this time, I left it behind. I planned on being quick and I had two light sources, so off I went.
I had a very hard time finding the privy, but eventually I did. It was pitch black out, barely any stars and a crescent moon that didn’t give off much light. I did take notice when I left my tent where the moon was situated in respect to our site, but that didn’t turn out helping as much as I thought it would.
After my visit to the privy, I started my trip back to my tent. Somehow I was extremely disorientated and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find the right trail. I walked a few steps, thought I was wrong and went back, repeat, repeat, repeat. Finally, I thought I was being stupid, I got on a trail and started walking, and walking and walking. I knew I wasn’t right, but I didn’t know what was? I figured I would eventually arrive at the waters edge and then it would be very easy to walk along the shore and find the site…. but I was wrong.
I ended up climbing through shrubs, trees, weeds, prickly things, thank goodness I had my sneakers on. My feet would’ve been in rough shape after this outing in my flip flops for sure. One good thing I did at least!
After a while I made it to the water and was happy, but that happiness was short lived. I took the large flashlight I had brought (larger compared to my headlamp) and shone it along the shore. All the way up and down the shoreline, looking for our kayaks. NOTHING!! I didn’t see the boats? What the hell???? Panic started to set in. I had my whistle, it was around my neck, but my camping partner advised me she slept like a log and heard nothing at night and further more, she didn’t have a whistle on her, so if I blew mine to get her to blow hers back so I could follow the sound, it wouldn’t work out too well. I did my best to calm myself but I started to get really really scared.
I didn’t understand why I couldn’t see the kayaks and why the shore didn’t look right from what I could see. But honestly, it was so dark out, you couldn’t see much at all. I remembered earlier in the day, looking at the landscape where our site was and thinking that it looked like we had water behind our site. Suddenly, I thought, maybe I got so turned around, I was on the other side of the site? OH dear!! More panic. I stopped and sat down so I could think calmly. What do I do?
When you get lost, you are supposed to retrace your steps and go back to where you came from, where you first realized you were lost. That was far far away from me and I probably couldn’t retrace my steps, it was so dark. I tried my best and started walking from where I thought I came from. It was the only thing I could do other than sleeping on the rocks until daylight, uh, not happening. I saw the moon and saw it was on the proper side of me, but other than that, it wasn’t a huge help. Slowly and painfully, I walked, back through the shrubs and trees and weeds and swampy areas, scratching my legs and not caring one bit. I just wanted to be back in my tent. Where was it???
I continued walking and finally came back out by the water again, but a ways down the shore. I shone my light as I did earlier, and suddenly, my light caught a glimpse of something white. It was one of the kayaks, it had been flipped over in case of rain and it was the best thing I’d ever seen!!! I was so happy I couldn’t contain myself. I walked towards the boats and eventually saw our site just up from where I was standing. I had made a drastic error in judgement when I left the privy. I wasn’t on the other side of the lake, or on another lake, just down a ways. There were bushes and shrubs beside the boats that concealed them when I first came out to the shore line and that is why I didn’t see them earlier, but I saw them now!!!
Forty five minutes after I left my tent to go for a quick trip to the privy, I was back in my tent. I was so happy to be there, so grateful I made it back, and so amazed at how easily I’d lost my way in the dark. I couldn’t even believe it happened, but the scratches on my legs said otherwise.
I have camped a LOT over the years and I got lost at 3am going to the privy and as hard as that is to admit, if I can help one person be more prepared and make sure this doesn’t happen to them, then telling my story will make it all worthwhile. It can happen to anyone and the outcome could be much much worse!
Thanks for reading my post! If you have any questions, comments or just want to say hi, please send me a message. I would love to hear from you!
And if you have a good trick for keeping this from happening to someone, please share it in the comments for others to see! My usual trick is glow sticks, but as they’re not environmentally correct, I’ve stopped bringing them. (I ALWAYS pack them out btw! #cleanupourparks ! shameless plug for my new page). lol