Even experienced woods roamers can get turned around on occasion. Perhaps they are busy following a set of animal tracks or maybe preoccupied trying to identify a bird or simply hiking along a twisting trail. And then they spot a set of footprints and realize those prints belong to…Me! There is always a moment of thinking, No way...This can’t be me. But just as quickly reality sinks in and the wanderer realizes that she or he has walked in circles. It’s at this point that people can go from being turned around to getting lost. What you do in those few moments after discovering that you are turned around will determine whether or not you calmly readjust your internal calibrations or go straight to being utterly lost. It’s a weird feeling realizing you are not where you thought you should be. It’s even more bizarre if you begin thinking that you are suddenly helpless. But allow me to make a comparison: If you are in a city trying to get from one place to another and you take the wrong road and get turned around you generally don’t panic or even feel particularly lost. You are perhaps accustomed to these temporary episodes of navigational disorientation and you simply recalculate. If you are carrying one of those GPS devices that talk to you the voice may indeed say, “Recalculating.” So you wait a second and sure enough the voice comes back and tells you which way to go. But in the woods (assuming you’re not carrying a GPS device) you may not be aware of your navigational error. By the way, I knew a fellow who went hunting in Montana and he got lost. He had opted to buy a high-tech direction-finding gadget. Only problem was that he dropped the device into a gully and when he studied his compass he still wasn’t able to find his way out. He panicked and had it not been for two hunters who happened by he would probably have spent a night or two listening to owls and chattering teeth. Years ago I found a man (or what was left of him) who had gotten lost and he too was carrying a compass. But though compasses are handy they only tell you direction. They provide no information about terrain nor do they come with any sort of tranquilizing materials to soothe frayed nerves. That, my friends, is something you must learn to control on your own. You should also learn to find your directions without the aid of an artificial device. Lose the device and you are sunk.
When turned around in a city you might look off and see a large building you’re familiar with and use that as a direction guide. You can also pay attention to street signs. In the woods you can study the sun’s movement or if near sundown find your general directions via the setting sun. Remember, however, that during the winter the sun sets further south in North America and in mid-summer the sun sets further north. But please note the underlying requirement in either of the above two suggestions. You must stand still and not do anything. Please take that advice literally. If you find that you are turned around then don’t move. Don’t wander off because you will gain nothing by the endeavor. Just stand where you are and start recalculating. Here are some tips:
Listen for noises that might help you determine direction. For example, if you have heard vehicle sounds or maybe a pump or any other sort of mechanical device then orient on that to help you understand where you are in relation to the noise. If the noise was north of you and now it comes from behind you then north is to your back. This might get confusing if you are in the mountains where sounds echo and can be deceptive. Nonetheless, aberrant noises can help you to find your direction.
As in the city take note of large land masses or in some cases artificial structures like radio towers or even contrails from established airline routes. A fellow I know told me about getting lost years ago in Nevada. Night came and he was still lost in the desert. He rounded a knoll and in the distance saw a pulsating radio tower that he knew was near a town he was familiar with. On the ground he marked out an arrow indicating the direction of that faraway blinking red light. The next morning he took note of the arrow in the dirt and although the direction felt all wrong to him he decided to follow it. He made note of boulders and hills in the distance and went from point A to point B and after a few hours he reached a dirt road.
The key to all of this is remaining calm. Panic will in this case, harm you. By the way, panic in nearly all other cases does nothing to you. Don’t fear panic. In fact, revel in its occurrence and it will have less of an effect on you afterwards. Only when you fear panic are you at its mercy. When you decide that it will not control you nor interrupt your life it will begin to abate. Everyone, or nearly everyone, experiences panic at one time or another in their life. But remember that panic is never going to hurt you but with one exception and that’s when you are suddenly turned around in the woods. At that moment you must force yourself to sit down and do nothing. If you are afraid then think of the time you were at the beach and the waves began brushing against you. A wave would come and build and build and then suddenly it was gone. That is all that panic in the woods can do. It will build like a wave and then be gone. Sit still and recalculate. If you are carrying a compass then study it. But also study the direction the clouds are moving and as well the movements of the sun. In some areas the prevailing winds are an excellent indicator of direction. In South Texas, for example, winds usually come from the southeast off the Gulf of Mexico. Stop and feel the wind. Face the wind and you are facing southeast. In your part of the world there are similar phenomena. Learn about them and study them and always remain alert to your surroundings. And the next time you are turned around you will do nothing more than smile and, in fact, you might even relish the experience. You will realize that you are simply human and were so engaged in enjoying the woods you failed to note that you were going in circles. Stop and recalculate. Nature is beautiful.