The Art of Getting Lost

Nature // December 05, 2017

by Carol Beam, Trail Ambassador

Not all those who wander are lost.  ̶ J.R.R. Tolkien

It’s not as though I ever actually set out to get lost.  I’m an average map reader and as easily turned around in the forest as an average map reader might be. It’s sometimes hard for me to be sure exactly what message the signs are giving me. But here’s the beauty: It all works out okay.

In a place where all downward paths lead to the creek, how lost can you be? Once this beacon became clear to me, I could abandon myself to the game of exploring, of looking for familiar places, of digging deep and going with hunches.

And the things you see along the way! Whole areas you forgot existed or never saw before. A sudden beautiful vista. An enclave of gorgeous homes. A new place to enter the park. A quiet trail covered with fallen leaves.

I’ve gotten semiseriously lost on bike trips. One time it was raining, so I took off my glasses, which meant I couldn’t read my plastic-covered sheet of directions very well. Though there was supposed to be a group of us, I figured they were ahead of me, which wasn’t unusual. So I biked through some lovely neighborhoods, pedaling to little tunes in my head.

This was pre-cell phone time, but my husband and I had walkie-talkies. After a good half hour of enjoying myself immensely but seeing no bikers, it occurred to me that it was possible I was lost. I looked into my handlebar bag for the walkie-talkie to tell my husband where I was. The little yellow device was sitting pretty dead under a couple of inches of rainwater.

A good rule of thumb is to go back to the last spot on the direction sheet where you knew for certain you were in the right place. I did that and found a bunch of bikers wringing their soggy gloved hands waiting for me. They were right at the turn I missed. Pretty embarrassed but also strangely pleased with myself, I apologized to everyone.  And we all made it back in time for dinner.

My life is overwhelmingly orderly. Things are blocked into spaces on my calendar, tickets tell me when a show or meeting starts, dinner happens around the same hour every night. I go into the Wissahickon and I don’t know if the plan I started with will hold up at all.

Whoops. I must have missed that turn-off.

It doesn’t matter. I get home when I get home. What freedom!