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Confessions of a Travel Writer: Hot (and Lost?) on the Jordan Valley Trail

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.

Problem again.

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.

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Comment by Diane Kolak on October 13, 2008 at 12:19pm
You never fail to entertain, LT! We invented a game where the object is to get lost. All you need is a car and a pair of dice. At every stop sign/intersection, roll 'em. 1-4: turn left. 5-8: go straight. 9-12: turn right. That's how I happened upon this place: B&B way off the beaten path
Comment by Emily Betz Tyra on October 9, 2008 at 5:48pm
I am hitting the road early tomorrow morning with Ms. Magellan in search of search of 40 fabulous holiday gifts and I can't wait to see what in points north we find ourselves. I'm sure we'll figure out a way to take the Ironton Ferry back and forth a few times to get to Elk Rapids. :)
Comment by Rachel North on October 9, 2008 at 5:29pm
Now you have two fans. 2 pet peeves: not being able to find something and being lost. I must admit I'm a map carrier. And still I have tales

... standing in Cardiff, Wales looking at the weather protected map that said, "you are here." Looking around, thinking, "no I'm here." Finally asked someone walking by, "the map's wrong, right?" Passersby laughing said, "How funny, not something the Welsh would do--that's something the Irish would do!" (Made me think that kingdom isn't united at all.)

...walking in the summer twilight in London, not able to tell which way was west because the buildings were too tall. A Fodors in my hands. I was traveling alone and several miles from a taxi, train or tube. I don't remember how I got back to my hotel, just that terrifying vulnerability

... and once at 8 or 10 years of age in the Sleeping Bear Dunes. We had reservations at the Bluebird that night, with Grandma & Grandpa. I had the Labrador Retriever pulling me along, his head as high as my shoulder. I lost sight of my parents a bowl or two past the front face of the Dune Climb. The dog and I walked all the way to the shore, where he went swimming and drank. Walking back, every bowl looked the same, and there wasn't the thrill of making it to the water. It was taking a long time and I was hot, tired and thirsty. I might have been crying when the two college girls joined my path.

My parents had tried to catch up to me, reaching a 200 foot bluff that overlooked water. They still don't believe that I found a path to the water. Back at the Dune Climb, the park rangers told my parents that they usually find the lost children in 4-6 hours.

We made our dinner reservation on time, thanks to those college girls. I guess I didn't have a map that time. There are several in my car though.
Comment by Lynda Twardowski on October 9, 2008 at 4:01pm
You are my only fan, mom. :)
Comment by Mij Johns on October 9, 2008 at 2:34pm
As always, that was excellent! Funny but still, excellent! I really enjoyed it!

Love,
Your (Always) Directionally Challenged
Mom

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