Trail maps are important items.
They keep you from literally getting lost in the middle of the forest. The help you be prepared and know what’s ahead. And most importantly, they normally tell you how far you can expect to walk.
However, some trail maps are better than others. My husband, his mother, and I went to a Cochran Mills Park a couple of weeks ago to hike. According to the maps and websites we saw, we expected to walk about 4.5 – 5 miles. It was a beautiful hike through damp, cold forest. And I say that in a good way.
The cold and damp kept a lot of people away, and gave an ethereal atmosphere to many places on the trail. There were several sections of boulders overgrown with moss that reminded me of Te Fiti and the mountain giants from Lord of the Rings.
We finally made it to the waterfall we were looking for, and enjoyed the scenery for a moment before heading back. There was a short discussion about which way to turn to have the shortest way back, but we ended up returning the same way.
When we got back to the car, we knew it had been far longer than 4.5 miles. My husband and I are somewhat out of hiking practice, but not that badly. When we looked at the map again with a better understanding of exactly where we went, we calculated a hike of about 7 miles. 7 miles. Those extra two miles can have a huge impact, and spontaneous events like that are the reason I carry so much stuff in my day pack.
Regardless of the extra mileage (yes I was exhausted and sore for a day or two, but I slept really well), it was a beautiful hike. I also believe it was mostly user error in misunderstanding the trail map, and don’t want to put any blame on the park itself. We will definitely be going back to that park, since it’s nearby and there is a ton to see there.
The takeaways from this story are to have plenty of supplies in your daypack, double check trail maps and make sure you know exactly where you’re going, and take a good sense of humor to get through difficult moments. Hiking, much like running, is often a mental game. You have to have thick skin, determination, and perseverance. But it is certainly worth the struggle and exhaustion in the end.