We had been walking along what seemed to be a jeep trail for hours. We couldn’t figure out where we were on the map. We rationalized, we compared finger lengths to miles, we calculated elevation and guessed whether we should be going up or down. Frustrated, Em offered that she didn’t think we were on the right trail and we really needed to get to a water source soon. She had a point – we had no idea where we were and we did need water. We scanned the terrain. There seemed to be a trail down one mountain, through a batch of trees, then up a hill. “What about over there? Maybe that’s the trail we should be on.”
So we did what every single guide tells you not to do — we left the trail. We thought we were heading towards another trail, which somehow justified this very not so prudent decision. The meadow was easy to cross, though steep. As we descended, Em said, “We’d better make this work, because there’s no way I’m climbing back up this.” Famous last words. As we descended into a wooded area, the sound of water encouraged us. We walked towards the babbling. Or more precisely, slid down the precipitous conglomeration of loose rocks, looser soil, decayed leaves and broken twigs. My first of many falls involved me sliding, trying to grab a branch for support, falling face first into the hill, sliding more, and wondering if my limbs were still attached. They were.
We lunched by the stream, pumping fresh water and munching on peanut butter and tortilla sandwiches. “Okay. So our goal is to get to the beach trail. We’ll just follow the water, because it flows to the ocean. We should be no more than an hour away.” Excellent idea in theory, not so excellent in execution. We were at the nadir of a gulch. There was no walking along the stream. After several failed attempts, we decided to attempt to traverse higher ground. Which involved a lot of time on hands and knees. A lot.
Seven hours later we were back on the jeep trail. About 25 feet from where we had left it earlier. Lesson learned: never leave the trail.