Lost

An account of an early spring walk in the bush during which, I get lost.

(sorry: all words and no pictures)

2000 April 27

This morning, I decided to go for a walk in the bush. I'd gone paddling the previous two days, but although it was sunny, it wasn't that warm and, as I was paddling solo, the wind was blowing me about. Just enough to take the fun out of it. So I went for a walk. Before leaving I left a note for Diana outlining approximately where I intended to go.

I walked along the pipeline and then off into the bush on some old roads and snowmobile trails. I cursed the destruction caused by some recent logging operations. And the new logging roads had diverted me from my intended route. But no matter; it was a beautiful sunny early spring day in the bush.

I came across an old ski trail that I was vaguely aware of. It wasn't marked on my map but I knew it went in the general direction of back to where my car was parked. It started with an intense climb up three 50 ft contour lines and at the top I sprawled out on a big knob of granite in the sunshine. I had a snack and a drink and then continued on my way. But clearly no one had come this way recently. I was in an open deciduous bush with an even leaf cover; the trail was no longer evident. But that was no matter. The pipeline was only about a km away and as I had a map, a compass, the sun and a GPS, what trouble could I get into?

My direction of travel was to be east, and then a little to the north. After 10 minutes or so, I was descending the hill I had climbed for lunch but I was now on the north eastern side as opposed to the south western side. The bush here was coniferous with blow downs. There was no hint of a trail. As I continued the bush got thicker and thicker — a balsam thicket — until I couldn't see much farther than at most 10 feet in any direction. I pressed on because I knew what direction to travel in and it wasn't that far. I tried to get a fix on my position, but in the thick bush, the GPS wasn't seeing any satellites. I started getting a little nervous because it was hard work and I was tiring myself out. Also, nobody really knew where I was. But at least I knew approximately where I was. But in really thick bush, where you can't walk more than a step or two without having to go around, over, or under something, it is difficult in keeping to walking a consistent bearing, especially when you're alone. I came to a small beaver meadow and stumbled out into it, dunking my map in the process (thank you, whoever you are, for inventing tyvek maps). I think I was panicking a little at this stage of the game.

In the beaver meadow, I had a clear view of the sky and was able to determine my position with the GPS. I could see what direction I had to go — it wasn't that far — but I could also see that travel in that direction was essentially impossible due to an intervening swamp / beaver meadow. But if I worked my way farther to the south east and then turned north, maybe I could get through. Tough going but perhaps possible. So I reentered the balsam thicket and proceeded. This bush was really thick, almost impenetrable. After thrashing around for five, maybe ten minutes, I realized that I didn't have my GPS. Whether it had fallen out of its holster, or I left it acquiring a position back in the beaver meadow, I didn't know. But it was gone. I took a few steps back the way I had come, but soon concluded that there was no way I could retrace my footsteps with anywhere near sufficient accuracy to have a chance of finding the GPS. So I abandoned it.

Strangely, the loss of the GPS calmed me down I realized that the only person that was going to get me home was me. I knew approximately where I was and that I had a map, a compass, and the sun. But I had lost my crutch. I immediately quit trying to go cross country to the pipeline to the north, but instead turned and went due south. I knew if I kept walking into the sun, I would eventually reach the railway line. Soon I had climbed up out of the coniferous swampy valley and onto the ridge that parallels the railway track. I was back to my lunch spot in about half an hour and back to my car an hour or two later.

I am really struck by how losing the GPS caused me to change from thinking tactically (we'll thrash in that direction for a while, determine our position using the GPS, readjust our course and then thrash some more) to thinking strategically (The bush is too thick to allow me to determine my position accurately, but I have an impassable swamp to the north of me and a railway line to the south of me). I think I behaved more sensibly without the GPS. Maybe, I'm better off without it.