how not to hike

Five years ago on June 1st [my mom’s birthday], I was dumb. Not like box-of-rocks-dumb, just plain naive and immature with the typical teenage mindset that nothing could happen to me. Or my friends. It was the summer after our first real semester at college and Katie and I were happy to be done with the responsibility the school year had held.

We had been talking about wanting to go hiking for awhile and on our way from somewhere to Katie’s home, we had seen a sign for a trail. Buzzard Rock Mountain. That sounds fun. Wanna do it today? Sure! We went home, texted Amber [a mutual friend], and got straight to packing. Nevermind that we didn’t have appropriate clothing, shoes, or gear. We thought a nice loop hike would be great for a little picnic and a view.

We packed a lunch of peanut butter and jelly sammys, apple sauce, string cheese, and soda. Yup. There weren’t any bottles of water in Katie’s house and she lives a bit out of the way with no stores nearby. So we decided it would be a quick hike and we would be fine in the water department. Amber showed up. I borrowed Katie’s mom’s shoes. We went out.

The hike started out as our usual. Posing with random signs, logs, and what-have-you’s. This is really hard for me to show. I was experimenting with a new look and it wasn’t really working. At all. Ugh.

We had fun. Ran up some rock scrambles. We found a nice shady spot to enjoy our lunch. We still hadn’t seen a decent view yet but could tell we were ascending and hoped to see one soon. We continued on and the sun grew stronger. It was hot and we were sweaty but it felt as though we had reached the top and it was definitely worth the climb. Our valley that we call home was gorgeous.

We were starting to get tired. It was HOT out and we were getting pretty thirsty. It seemed the trail just kept going and it felt like we were on the side of the mountain. I was sure if we kept going that we would be at the end of a loop trail and our cars would be right around the next bend. After being really really hot we decided it would be a good idea to take our shirts off. And put them on our heads. I’m not kidding.

It seemed funny and a good idea at the time. This is where the dehydration delirium was starting to set in in case that isn't evident. I’m just glad that we didn’t run into anyone [which, didn't run through our minds for some reason].  After some good laughs and giggling, we carried on along the side of the mountain, waiting to see our cars. But then it became obvious we were no longer on a trail. We had been following marks on trees and those seemed to disappear suddenly. We even found another one a different color and were really thrown through a loop.

I think we weren’t far off at all but were so dehydrated we weren’t thinking clearly. The girls were starting to freak out a bit and I had a brilliant idea. Call 9-1-1 and they can tell us how to get back on the trail. I think this is was the peak of my stupidity. But for some reason, I thought they would just be able to point us in the right direction. Yeah.

Well that started it all. Before I knew it, the lady on the other end was telling me to stay still. Don’t go any further. They’re sending help.

No. We don’t need help.
We just have to get back on the trail.
Why can’t this woman just understand and tell us how to get back?

I got put on held many times. She was contacting the fire department and all. At one point we got disconnected and we used that time to call our parents. It was evident this was turning into something bigger than we intended.

Hi Dad. I have to tell you something. Just don’t get upset.
Yea we’re just a little lost. I mean, I just have to make it back to the car… but 9-1-1 may call you ok? And I might be home a little late…

Why I took an awful picture during an awful situation? I will never know. Why I'm posting it on the world wide web? Still unclear. Here, Katie is calling home to let them know about our current situation. And Amber's considering why she ever signed up for this.

Sometime after reconnecting to 9-1-1, we saw storm clouds rolling in the temperature was dropping. I hinted to the operator that I was a little nervous. It soon began to rain. We used the sheet we had to put over us but it was quickly soaked along with all of us. I couldn’t remember if you were supposed to sit or stand during a storm. Be near a tree or away from one. My thoughts were spinning.  Either way, I figured being on top of a mountain wasn’t really where you wanted to be during a storm.

Then came the lightning and thunder. One thing not everyone knows: Katie had back surgery for scoliosis when we were younger. So she has a honking metal rod in her back. And that’s all that kept racing through my mind. Here we are on a mountain top in a raging storm, with my metal pole of a friend. And I was already blaming myself for being in this position.

And that’s when lightning struck. It had to be less than a few feet away; somewhere between Amber and myself. I had been sitting in the middle of the two girls. The bolt struck the ground nearby [Amber saw the ground turn red and I could feel a tingling sensation move through my bottom and feet upward]. There was a loud crack at the same time.

There’s a difference between girly screams and outright panic I’m-about-to-die-screams. The three of us were up and running in a matter of a second. I can’t really remember where we went [maybe down the mountain], I just remember the pureness of the fear. Needless to say, the storm quickly calmed itself afterwards and moved on. We found what looked like the trail we had come in on [not too far from where we had been] and we started to descend the mountain, against the recommendation of the 9-1-1 dispatcher.

I can’t remember how long passed until we ran into our [first] rescuer. I don’t know his name. He was one of maybe four. It turns out they had sent men on horses, ATV’s, and then by foot when the former two could go no further. A man even broke his arm during the whole ordeal. At the worst, we were dehydrated and absolutely humiliated. Our rescuer mentioned since it was starting to become darker they were about to send out helicopters. Helicopters. Oy vei! We were met with several ambulances, fire engines [I still don’t get that one], and our parents. Not to mention a few straggler strangers who wanted in on the deets. It was like the ultimate walk of shame.

Luckily for us, the spot in the newspaper somehow didn’t mention our names. I’m not sure if they couldn’t find our names or maybe it had something to do with Amber’s dad being a police officer ;] 

Turns out, that trail wasn’t a loop trail [it goes into a National forest that is HUGE]. Also, you really ought to bring water when hiking and maybe take a minute to google said trail. I’m sure it also pays to check the forecast. Or not to panic when you find yourself lost.

So why do I share this? Well, it’s kind of funny in retrospect. Also, public humiliation, or risking your life, is not for the faint of heart so here’s some hiking tips to keep the helicopters at bay, keep your dignity, while learning  from our mistakes:

-Bring water, snacks, bug spray and sun protection. Bring more water than you think you need.
-Leave a note in your car that says how many people are in your group, when you left, and when you expect to return [we actually managed to do this one]
- Scream. Turns out, that trail is known for many bear sightings. And my friends were making fun of me as I was obnoxiously singing/screaming as we went along.
-Go as a group and think wisely about bringing your pup [and if you do, keep them on a leash for the safety of both of you].
-Research your trail: Its difficulty, length, popularity, etc.
-Wear the right stuff. Decent shoes, non-cotton clothing, put your hair up. Bring a hat. Bring a heavier jacket in case you end up staying later than expected.

I’m obviously no expert but I hope my story is enough to make you second guess hiking on a whim and to take your time to plan things out. If that’s not enough, watch those survivor stories on I shouldn’t be Alive. We plan on hiking this year [and we always get a few elbow jabs and jokes whenever we mention it] but we plan on doing it right! Any other tips out there besides not going topless? Any other horror stories? I’d like to know I’m not the only one ;)


  1. So I'm laughing hysterically. Mostly because Buzzard Rock is like the BANE of my existence. First time Danny made me climb it. I say climb because he didn't know there was a trail around the back side and we literally climbed Buzzard Rock. And then I literally fell down Buzzard Rock and ended up covered in mud and pine needles and tears. Second time, he found out there was a trail. He also found a copperhead which ended with Danny carrying me (crying and puking) and our dog down the entire mountain. I feel ya, girl. HAH.

  2. That is hilarious. I can't believe he made you CLIMB THAT mountain!! It's huge! Are you sure he isn't trying to fulfill an insurance policy claim?? ;)

  3. HAH seriously!! We have NOT gone hiking since!!


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