Some of the national parks are so big and vast you can’t believe you're in the United States. When I was in Bighorn Canyon National Park in Wyoming I got myself lost hiking through the Red Cloud wilderness. I had a compass and a topographical map, but somehow I got turned around. It was a dense alpine forest and the foliage was so thick it was hard to find the right path.
As I was walking along I saw bear claw marks on a tree. I knew bears ate ‘Buffalo Berries’ and I realized I was surrounded by Buffalo Berry bushes. Somehow I’d ended up right in the middle of bear country. Being 5'3'' and 118 pounds going up against a bear that weighed several hundred pounds, I knew there were two possible outcomes. One: I would never see the bear and lose; or two: I would see the bear and lose.
I was right next to Lower Ten Sleep Lake, so I stripped naked and jumped into the water. It was 9,400 feet above sea level, so the water was freezing but I thought it would be my best chance of surviving. When you are hiking alone your senses change and you become more acute. An hour later I heard voices off in the distance. I could tell they were the voices of men and children. I got out of the water, put my clothes on and followed the voices until I found a man with a gun that was hiking with his children. I walked out of the wilderness with him.
The other transformative experience occurred while I was on the Methuselah Trail in Bristlecone Pine, California. There is a reason the forest rangers keep trails – to protect the wild life but also to protect the hikers. But I dropped my map somewhere on the trail, followed the wrong trail and got lost. I couldn’t find my way back to the main trail. When I first got turned around I wasn’t nervous.
I thought, “Okay, I have enough water. I lost my compass, but I still have my map. I can stand with my arms out so I know north south east and west. I have a very ‘outdoorsy’ Coach watch.”
I decided to go to a higher ridge to look for the ‘cut off’ trail back to the main trail, but I couldn’t see anything. More time went by.
“Okay, now what do I do?” I asked myself.
I started to get nervous. I only had half of my water and one Clif Bar. I started to get cold. I could probably sleep through the night – it wouldn’t be below 40 degrees – but how many nights could I do that?
Since I was alone my imagination kicked into overdrive. I began thinking of all the news stories of people found dead after getting lost hiking. You don't get eaten, you just dry up and become a leathery thing.
I said out loud, “I'm lost and I'm NOT going to die here.” Then I said, “I'm lost maybe I WILL die here. Oh my god, I'm lost! I don't want to die here!”
After peeing again as a stress reliever (by the way, peeing is a great stress reliever!) I turned around and went uphill a little more. I heard voices, but I couldn’t tell where they were coming from. I went into the ravine because I thought the trail might circle down there. I called out but heard nothing. I panicked.
“Help! I'm lost! Is anyone out there?”