In my introduction, I shared my positive experience on my very first backpacking trip. I spoke of how I fell in love with the sport while hiking the Boulder Mail Trail in Utah. The weather was perfect, the company delightful and the guide took all the stress of logistics upon himself so the rest of us could just enjoy the experience. Enjoy the experience we did!!!
I returned from that trip and immediately began researching lightweight gear so Tom and I could start exploring the mountains within our own state of GA. Our backpacks arrived as well as our tent, water filtration system and stoves. We discovered a beautiful area known as the Cohutta Wilderness on a previous day hike and wanted to explore more trails within the area. We packed up our new gear and off we went.
I will take this opportunity to digress from the trip adventure to give a little backstory… Once Tom realized I was diving into backpacking with abandon, he wanted to share a movie with me about a couple who goes backpacking in Canada. Long story short, a grizzly bear drug the boyfriend out of the tent, ate him and the girlfriend barely escapes with her life! I turned to Tom in disbelief that he would want me to see such a horrible event and have it forever imprinted on my mind. He explained the reason for the tragic episode was because the boyfriend was over confident and did not bring a map (“he had been there hundreds of times as a boy”). The movie also had the boyfriend sneaking the girlfriend’s cell phone from her backpack and leaving it in their car. Tom then turned to me and said, and I quote “That will never happen to us because YOUR boyfriend will always have a map!” I had no trouble believing him due to his (not so slight) obsession with maps, similar to my obsession with cookbooks.
Continue story…Sooo, we decide to take a different route from our last day trip in the Cohutta Wilderness. This route would lead us to Jacks River. We had read it was a beautiful spot and the trail would crisscross the river several times (13) and would circle back to the trailhead at which we were parked. It was a beautiful fall day, we were with our beloved dog, what could go wrong?!
Note: this is where the drama begins… Before we reached the river, we realized neither of us had grabbed the map before we left home (he thought I had it, I thought he had it). We both felt confident that we had studied the map enough to be able to follow the trail’s direction back to the car. We would follow the river south and all would be well.
After crossing the river over 20 times (I stopped counting a 23) it was starting to get dark. We were pretty sure something was not right but also knew we had not seen any other side trail that we would have missed. Also, we were following the river downstream and we knew we needed to be heading south, so what was wrong with this picture?
At dusk, Tom spotted a trailhead and we were both excited and relieved. We shined a light on the USFS map posted. Tom saw the “You Are Here” before I did and before I could register where we were, I hear Tom exclaim “This map is wrong!” In hindsight, that is about the funniest thing that could have been said. I am pretty sure the USFS would not post a map at a trailhead with inaccurate information.
To summarize our situation, we had started our day hike in Georgia and ended the hike in Tennessee! We were about 20 miles into a 13 mile hike. Shelby, our dog, was exhausted, we were exhausted. There was a sign nearby indicating the closest highway was 9 miles up a gravel road. We could not ask our dog to go any further so we found a field nearby, pitched our tent and adopted a mantra Scarlett O’Hara would be proud of… “Tomorrow is another day”. We would worry about getting ourselves out of this pickle tomorrow!
In the morning, Tom headed toward the highway, hoping to get cell service sooner rather than later. He left the tent armed with the USFS phone number. We agreed that Shelby and I would stay behind due to the fact that Shelby’s feet were not up for walking any distance much less 9 miles on a gravel road. Shelby and I lay in the tent having no idea how long it would take for Tom to get to the highway, find someone to take him back to our car and then drive back to pick us up. We had finished our hummus and crackers the night before so we were down to one RX Bar to last until ???.
About an hour after Tom started his trek to find help, I heard my name being shouted from afar. The voice sounded like Tom (he always calls me by my first AND last name). Yep, it was him. He announced help was on its way so we quickly broke down the tent, packed everything up and as we were slinging our backpacks onto our backs, a USFS truck pulled up. Out steps our savior and I’m pretty sure it was Grizzly Adams. Grizzly was very kind and helped Shelby and I fold ourselves up and squeeze into the backseat of his truck. He was one of those rangers who carries a firearm except he carried several! It was a little bit intimidating.
So if this isn’t crazy enough, as we were being driven back to civilization, he informs us that he will not be able to drive us all of the way back to our car. He had a few fires to put out (literally). We told him we certainly understood and that if he could just get us somewhere more public, we would find a way to get to our car. He then called a friend who lived close to the trailhead where we started this adventure and his friend agreed to meet us close to the GA/TN line. We switched vehicles and were then delivered to our vehicle by these kind souls.
1. Always carry a map!
2. Don’t assume all rivers run south. Jacks River is one of a handful of rivers in the U.S. that actually run north.
3. Carry a little more food than you expect to need, just in case.
4. In situations like this, you really learn a lot about the person/people you are with and how they deal with stress. Tom and I both did very well keeping our cool and staying focused on finding the best solution to get us out of the mess we had gotten ourselves into. This was a very good trip to solidify that we are a good couple and a good team!
I am sure I could come up with a few more lessons learned but I think these will do for now!