I call myself a travel writer. On the surface, it doesn’t seem very farfetched. After all, I travel. I publish articles in Traverse Magazine. Those articles are about my travels. And the bigwigs here at Traverse even gave me an official travel-y title a couple years back: Travel Editor.
It would seem a simple, forthright equation.
But it isn’t, because I lack an adherence to something that I suspect is essential to other travel writers’ toolkits: maps. Which is how I found myself lost with my boyfriend on the 18-mile loop—let me say that again, LOOP—that is the Jordan Valley Trail just last week.
To anyone who has ever hiked a path or passed 8th grade geometry, you might be wondering how one manages to get lost along the not-very-convoluted line of a circle.
I’m wondering the very same thing.
I’d like to defend myself in saying that each of the large, weather-sheltered maps set along the trail, which correspond to the numbered posts on the trail, were missing. I’d also like to add that the Jordan Valley Trail, marked by blue spray-painted dots on trail-side trees, intersects with the North Country Trail, which also appears to be marked by blue spray-painted dots on trail-side trees. Furthermore, the North Country Trail appears to break off into several offshoot trails.
Can I be certain of any of this? Absolutely not. Why? Because I had no map.
Wait. Check that. I had a map. But it was the kind of map you download from the Internet one minute after meeting a deadline for one story and three minutes before dashing out the door to pack your backpack to hit the trail for your next story.
Thus: my map was a small map—8 ½-by-11 inches because that’s the paper in the office printer. My map was also a vague map—a single thin black line, sometimes dotted, sometimes solid—uninterrupted by contours, elevation changes or lines denoting other, intersecting paths.
In the map’s defense, there were a couple other lines (also thin, also black): one for the Jordan River, two for road crossings. And when you’re in sight of a road or a river that would be helpful. But let me tell you, when you’ve hiked several uphill-downhill miles for four solid hours with a pack on your back and a weary, expectant-looking man by your side, and you find yourself in the middle of a sprawling forest with no river or road in sight, facing a forked trail that breaks off in two directions—both cheerfully dotted in blue—it’s not.
In my lighter moments, I like to think my lax attitude toward maps speaks to an unbridled spirit for discovery. A love of spontaneity. An as-yet-unconfirmed splice of Hernando de Soto’s DNA burbling around in my veins. (Hey, if a dude in 1540 could make it from Spain to the Mississippi in a wooden boat, what’s to say he couldn’t find a way to hit Poland or Lebanon for some pre-shove off hanky-panky with my ancestors?)
But in my darker moments—those generally involving witnesses—I have to admit: my lax attitude toward maps is a problem.
It is how three years ago I found myself with the aforementioned weary man, buzzing back and forth at 90 m.p.h. on the fringe of a tiny Upper Peninsula town I had assumed to be too tiny to a) hide a large boat filled with cars or b) require a map with a boat-shaped icon denoting “Ferry is here, Numbskull.”
Like I said, problem.
Shortly after squealing onto that last ferry, honking and shouting in victory, we spent several hours silently crisscrossing a dark island I again deemed too small to necessitate a map, searching for our reserved lodging.
And when the sun rose over that not-so-small island and cast a beam on the place, which, many dark hours before, we’d finally found and stumbled into, I was enlightened even more: the “rustic cabin” I’d reserved was actually a tar paper shack.
Very, very problematic.
I could bore you with dozen more tales like this. My man, God bless him, could bore you with about 40 more. (Following the first dozen, I stopped keeping count; he did not.) But I would be remiss if I told you even one more before getting to the happy ending of this tale and all the rest.
After all the weary woods wanders, the wheeling around tiny towns at warp speed, the head scratching, the eye rolling, the disgusted conversations inevitably involving the question “Why don’t we have a [map/ map we can read/ map printed after 1982/ map that corresponds to the place we actually are visiting?], I’ve always found my way out. Usually late. Sometimes only after heading back in. Often after turning in several circles. Never after asking directions. And always testing the patience of any who let me lead.
But I do find the way out. And clearly, as I sit here in my dark office, safely typing away beside a warm cup of tea, I live to tell the tale. So I feel kind of smug. Unless I’d gotten lost to begin with, what sort of tale would I have? And then, really, what kind of travel writer would I be?
With that in mind, I kick off this blog, an adventure in itself, with no map, no compass, and—save for a few terse directives from our overworked webmaster in computer lingo I’ll probably never understand—no clue which direction to head.
So I look to you, adventurous reader folk, to blaze a trail with some stories of your own.
Where’d you get lost? Where’d you get found? What are the best stories you’ve got from places you didn’t mean to go?
And dammit, if you have a clue what the heck’s up with the Jordan Valley Trail loop, spit it out. I know there’s a story in there somewhere.