The idyllic looking gravel road meandered 30 feet up the hill, then disappeared into the trees. There were no signs of any sort here, just a heavy green bar of a gate to block vehicles. A well worn foot path led around this gate, inviting exploration. There had only been signs at the highway, identifying the parking lot as Fogarty Creek, and showing access to the small alcove of a beach. Even though online research had repeatedly shown there was a 6.25 mile trail to hike from here, there was no marking for one. Our investigation a few days earlier had only taken us on a tour of boggy picnic spots and the highway underpass creekside asphalt walking path to the beach.
But Wild Greg was determined. He went back with his two underling scouts that first afternoon to penetrate the dark, damp forest. A few hours later, the three of them returned, covered with mud and full of tales of sinking precipitously into terra non-firma, like it was all a trip to the mall. They assured me I needed to go next time. I hoped they would forget. (click on any photo to enlarge)
Five days later, I found myself on the aforementioned gravel road, dodging an occasional wooly caterpillar and rough skinned newt. Around each bend, the gravel road continued up and up at an incline that made walking feel wrong unless my body was tilted decidedly forward. Mostly, we walked in silence, breathing in the liquid air, but now and then pointing at oddly shaped tree trunks and fallen logs. Then, my three guides glided off the road and into the woods in one quiet unison of a moment, like it was the most natural thing in the world.
I stood there for a few seconds, unsure of what was going on and what was expected of me. We had passed a few logging machines already, along with other signs of tree harvesting. There were a couple piles of power-pole sized logs, some swaths of cut branches lining the roadside, and the distant hum of giant saws. With a little encouragement from Wild Greg, I ventured in.
The game was that the scouts-in-training, daughters age 18 and 21, would take turns leading. This did not involve straight lines. We delved into ravines reminiscent of the Fire Swamp in The Princess Bride, but thankfully without Rodents of Unusual Size, the young guides told me. Then, of course, we had to get out of the ravines, which often meant scaling the forest vertically.
I remembered from my days of back packing as a youth that one should never assume that a rock, log, or hillside is solid. This served me well as we walked along the spongy forest floor. Far from being reliable, it was a thick layer of peat-like compost overlaid with a false network of thin twigs. My feet sunk four to six inches with each step, the broken twigs snapping upwards to try to bite my ankles. Large logs would disintegrate like they were merely ghosts of trees if I tried to utilize them as bridges to stabilize my path, so I gave that up quickly.
Within ten minutes, I was completely disoriented. Even if the sun could have infiltrated the forest canopy, that day there was a cloud cover setting over the tree tops like a roof. Now, thoughts of Murkwood escaped my lips, but I was told there were not enough huge, man-eating spiders. I was somewhat cheered to once in a while see a red plastic tie around a tree trunk. This meant that loggers had been there and would probably be back. Someone was likely to find me sooner or later, as I was falling farther behind the scouts.
Between keeping my sights on the young scouts in the dim, gray distance, where they flitted randomly, like elves between trees where all the colors and outlines were blending maddeningly; and trying to make sure I would not slide and smash into one of the many strong trees growing like weeds, I was beginning to panic. Wild Greg, trying to keep tabs on all three of us from somewhere too far behind or to the side of me, was not aware of my distress. Just about every branch I tested as a hand hold broke with a crack at my touch. How was I finding all the dead ones? One that looked especially sturdy held for long enough to fain support, then suddenly departed from it’s tree and tried to scrape the tattoo thoroughly from the inside of my right wrist. The branch went flying up, as I went flailing down for several steps. If I hadn’t had on my neoprene moccasins (Sockwas), which mimicked barefoot balance, I would probably have gone headlong into the sticks and mud. As I regained my footing, a bit of salt water leaked out of my eyes and I stopped for some altered breathing.
Wild Greg picked me up on his radar and tried to comfort me. He said we were having fun. He said he wasn’t going to abandon me. He said if on the outside chance we got separated, we were surrounded by roads and I couldn’t go 1/4 of a mile without finding one. I pointed out that it was unlikely I would make it 1/4 mile in a linear manner. Not only that, but once finding a road, how would I know which way to turn on it? He mentioned something about the ocean keeping me from going too far in the wrong direction.
One of the younger scouts soon informed me that my iPhone had a compass. As long as I could adequately make use of that before the battery died, there was hope… Besides, I would be hard to lose in my bright pink sweat shirt and red moccasins. At least, the moccasin-like footwear made it possible for me to use my toes to advantage. I discovered I could climb a steep hillside like a monkey by pushing my toes into the peat layer and grasping with curled toes. Not being ready to be totally at one with nature, though, I pulled my sweat shirt sleeves down over my hands as gloves before digging my fingers into the mess. Nonetheless, I impressed Wild Greg by shimmying nearly straight up some 30 foot ravines.
Finally, we climbed back out onto the road. Wild Greg said confidently of his scouts-in-training, “See, they know where they are!” Then, there was an awkward time of confusion while they attempted to agree about which direction to go on the road. Sure, they knew right where we were.
Somehow, the scouts had found another, new-to-us, portion of road that was distinctly uphill. My running training made the aerobic aspect non-stressful, but my legs were not used to climbing hillsides hand over foot. There was also the fact that I had run 5.4 miles the day before on malleable sand. My brain was sending proper signals to my legs for walking peacefully through the forest, but the legs had self-activated the off switch and were grinding to a halt. I let the scouts know and they made a quick decision to turn toward the car, in a direction confirmed by Wild Greg. I guess they didn’t want to carry me.
It had taken us two hours to get to where we were. Fortunately, their circuitous route resulted in it only taking 15 minutes to get back to the parking lot. When we finally did come to the now downhill part, my legs trembled slightly at their effort to maintain me upright, but I didn’t stumble. I am happy to say that I only ever had barely sore muscles from it all. Back in the car, my Garmin GPS watch said we had only gone three miles. Wild Greg suggested it might not have done well at measuring the vertical slopes. The whole crew thanked me profusely for going with them and “having a fun adventure” with them. I have to admit that I do like to spend time with them, and that keeping up my strength and stamina make that more possible. Plus, my young scouts are very firm in stating that I may have been lost, but they were not, and they did not lose me.