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It’s pretty much impossible to get lost on the Appalachian Trail.
Unless you get lost on the Appalachian Trail.
Then it’s possible. And kind of embarrassing.
“How did I get lost on the Appalachian Trail?” I thought last month, when I got lost on the Appalachian Trail.
For starters it’s a giant, well-marked, well-traveled 2,000-mile-long trail.
The problem, I suppose, is that it’s about six-feet wide. Maybe that’s the reason I wandered off while climbing down a rocky stretch of Blood Mountain recently.
I didn’t realize I was off the beaten path at first because it still seemed, well, kind of beaten.
But then, eventually, things seemed wrong.
My first instinct was to head left through the woods to where the trail probably was, but might not be.
My next instinct was that that instinct was wrong. As a reporter, I’ve written stories about people who do that. They require search parties and infrared helicopters and embarrassing stories in the local paper.
So instead, I stared at a patch of dirt where I thought the trail should be.
It didn’t materialize.
So I turned around and headed back up the mountain.
On the way I passed a couple of female hikers who seemed to be traveling in the wrong direction as well.
I thought about telling them they had taken a wrong turn, but stopped.
Why?
Well, what if I was wrong about the wrong turn?
That would mean I had taken the right turn. And so had they.
So I just nodded and kept walking.
Really on a scale of lostness, with one being equal to losing your car in the Walmart parking lot and 10 being equal to finding yourself on the actual island from Lost, I would say this was only about a three.
Which meant it was the fun kind of lost.
The kind of lost that most of us are actually seeking out when we strike out into the woods.
We’ve become so separate from that wild world, protected by layers of cellphones and Internet and GPS units, that when something actually goes wrong, it kind of feels right.
Anyways it didn’t take too much back-tracking before I stumbled across a comforting white blaze marking the A.T. Then I turned around and headed the wrong way again.
“Hey!” I yelled at the lady hikers from above. “The trail’s thisa way!”
They too had been staring at the same patch of dirt.
“Thanks!” they shouted. And headed back up the mountain.
Ah yes, I probably seemed like quite the mountaineer. A true hiking expert.
But then, nobody really needs a hiking expert on the Appalachian Trail.
It’s pretty much impossible to get lost on it.
Unless you do.

by Matt Aiken

A slightly different version of this column has been published by Matt’s daytime employers at The Nugget.

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