When a Dead End Is a Good Thing

My son Zach has been crying at night sometimes, saying he wishes his Grandma Shirley were still alive. She died a year and-a-half ago at the age of 82. He usually then asks when my husband and I are going to die. We decided to use this as an opportunity of getting him to come hiking with us, since as we tell him, it’ll help us live longer.

This morning I took Zach to an open space preserve that my friends recommended, but I had never been to. It was a pretty quick drive to get there until I missed the turnoff and ended up at the end of the road, which was just a steep trail of gravel and an outdoor garage, possibly for use by the nearby quarry. I reminded him that it was okay to make mistakes, to which he wholeheartedly agreed

We found the trailhead, and debated whether to take one of the maps with us. This ended up being a pretty important decision. We walked out to a pond, which a friend had already warned us was dry. Then we continued on what I thought was a path that would loop around back toward the parking lot. At some point, I forgot which trail we were on and which direction we were facing. There were signs, but one of them was a loop trail, and it crisscrossed another trail. I decided to head back on a trail we hadn’t been on yet because it would be more interesting than covering ground we’d already traveled.

We walked, and walked, and walked. Zach started to complain that his legs hurt. Then he started to say he was “dying.” I of course paid no heed to his whining. Then he said he was feeling dizzy. It was warm, but not terribly hot. We did stop a couple of times to have snacks and drink water, but we did seem to be walking considerably longer than I expected. Finally, we started walking toward a reservoir that we should have been walking away from, and I realized we had walked 0.6 mi in the opposite direction we were supposed to be going. Thankfully, this trail was ending at a road, and it was obvious the only thing to do was turn around. If there had been a wrong turn available, I undoubtedly would have taken it.

Zach and I turned around, and he was pretty forgiving that I had gotten us lost. It was especially sad that he kept saying, “I think we’re almost there!” while I could see that we still had over a mile to walk. He began a series of different ways of saying, “I told you so.”

In the end we got back to our car without having to call a ranger to rescue us.  Our 1.5 mi hike turned into a 2.5 mi hike.  Afterwards, I realized I could have done a few things differently. I could have:

  • used the compass app on my iPhone to tell which direction we were facing
  • used the MapMyFitness app on my iPhone to see the shape of the route we were taking (comparing this to the preserve’s map would have shown me which trail we were on)
  • listened to my six-year-old, who frankly has a better sense of direction than I do, when he said, “Mom, I think we should just go back the way we came.”
The red is our route from the parking lot, the blue is our route back to our car

The red line is our route from the parking lot; the blue line is our route back.

In the end, Zach said he had a good time. We did get to see part of the preserve we hadn’t intended to, and it was pretty and shady. I didn’t get all stressed-out. Instead I relaxed, smiled, and enjoyed a lovely morning with my son.

Sadly, this wasn’t the longest experience I’ve had being lost. One night I walked around the Mission district in San Francisco for an hour because my friend and I were so engrossed in our conversation I failed to notice we had walked past my car during the first block.

Do your kids have better navigational skills than you do? How do you know how much to trust them to lead the way?”

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3 thoughts on “When a Dead End Is a Good Thing

  1. Mara Migraineur August 6, 2013 at 8:11 pm Reply

    It became clear fairly early that I inherited my father’s navigational skills (thank goodness). I had to tell my mother how to get to my grandparents’ home across town. And once, on the way home from a Girl Scout camping trip, I realized that my mother was leading the caravan off to Pennsylvania. We lived in Ohio. Hahaha! Fortunately, my mother knew by then that she needed to listen to her 13 year old daughter on directions.

    • flawson August 6, 2013 at 8:34 pm Reply

      I wish I could navigate, but my brain really seems to lack the proper wiring for it.

  2. Robyn August 7, 2013 at 11:44 am Reply

    I am a geographer . . . not that you would know it from the number of times I get lost.

    My brother took me on one epic hiking trip in the Sierras that I was woefully unprepared for, training-wise.

    On the hike back, I kept trying to hike straight in the direction of the car, no matter what way the trail was pointing. If a straight line to the car was heading off a cliff, I wanted to go that way, and not take the switch back. My brother said it was the diet coke in the cooler in the trunk, calling me home.

    All of which is a long-winded, anecdotal way of saying I feel your pain here.

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