The path began at a gravel parking lot. It entered the forest with a gentle descent, lined with glorious wild flowers and flittering songbirds. Sun shone brightly through happy trees and dappled the sweet green growth that welcomed us to this wilderness adventure.
However, within one hundred feet, the path had dropped sharply into the thick wooded darkness of eastern Kentucky. There were no songbirds. There were no blooming flowers. No happy trees. No dappled sunlight. The path fell away into dense undergrowth and tangled vegetation. But we were mountain men, blazing a trail through pristine forest; two men facing nature. Nothing would defeat our resolve.
After ½ a mile of hiking, the packs grew heavy and the path grew thin. At ¾ of a mile, our resolve turned to concern. The map and the trail did not always agree but we pushed forward. We forged on. At one mile’s distance, our pleasant little hike had turned to a desperate crawl under drooping limbs and sagging branches. Our jaunt in the woods had become a panicked roll down hills and dales. Our skip along a wooded path had become a huffing struggle as we slogged through creek beds, fell over logs, and sweat up a storm.
When we came to a stop, scared, scratched, and bruised, we found ourselves standing in a quiet, hidden valley, covered by the shadow of towering mountain peaks. The map showed that we should be standing on a trail at a creek. In reality, we were standing at the junction of two trails and two creeks.
The water flowed in two directions and the trail went into four. If we hiked to the north, we met fallen trees and a disappearing path. If we marched to the south, we were on our knees pushing through tangles of vines and branches. The eastern path was a dead end. The western path returned us to the same point. We had hiked less than four hours and we were hopelessly lost.
Not to be defeated, we dropped our packs and set up our tent. Until we could find our way out of this valley, this would be base camp. We were not concerned. We were not afraid. While we were not due back in civilization for another four days, we had brought thirty days worth of provisions. We had beef jerky, bagels, peanut butter, and instant coffee. What more could we want? Except, perhaps, an air-vac rescue attempt?