My sense of direction is pretty reliable. I start off in a direction until I sense I’m lost, then rely on sheer chance and stumbling around to get back on track. It’s no good to panic when you get turned around out in the woods. It’s happened enough to me that I stay calm, knowing I’m going to panic, then start zig-zagging and sooner or later get lucky and back where I need to be. So I guess I do panic, but I’m not overly panicked about being panicked while it’s happening, if that makes sense. Of course that doesn’t make any sense. That’s why I own a GPS and bring five pounds of spare batteries any time I go farther than six inches from a road.
On the plus side, you really get to know a place when you criss-cross it in a sweaty lather, wondering if you’re going to be spending the night out there. So certain terrain has been seared into my memory after crashing around and recognizing the same landmark for the fifth or sixth time. I use this horrible learning strategy to my advantage by concentrating my hunting and woodcutting in the same general area. I’ve been gradually getting lost in enough parts of that section of country that terror has imprinted a growing patchwork of memorable trouble spots on my brain. Eventually I’ll recognize enough places where I got lost and my hair turned white that I’ll be immune to getting lost anymore. It’s not a perfect system, I admit. Pretty sure that’s not how Lewis and Clark operated.
I heard a terrible story last week about friends getting lost on a mushroom picking outing and the hairs on my arms started to get up out of their chairs because from the description I knew right where they were. It was in my stomping around lost grounds where I know just what it feels like to not know where you are like the back of my hand. These folks eventually got back to their rig, so rest easy. But get this. The morel mushrooms have been going crazy lately on account of all the rain and whatever other hocus-pocus controls wild mushroom production. Mushroomers are a secretive bunch, and in this case the only location mentioned to anybody back in town about where the group would be was very general and also very much an entirely different part of the county from where the group actually went. The ol’ misdirection and then lose your own sense of direction trick.
I talked to Search and Rescue member and Wallowa County Sheriff’s Deputy Paul Pagano. Turns out saying you’re going one place but then not doing that is not recommended. Pagano had some solid common sense rules of thumb for any outdoorsy venture. Leave word with somebody about where you’re off to. It’s best if they’re allergic to mushrooms so you can be honest. Also mention a time you plan on being back, stick to it and check in. Bring a GPS, Spot or DeLorme satellite messenger device if possible. You can get a handheld GPS unit for under a hundred bucks. The only buyer’s remorse I had after getting mine was not doing it years before.
Nobody plans on getting lost. We don’t plan on getting flat tires either, but most people carry a jack, lug wrench and spare. So bring enough essentials to make an unplanned overnighter doable. Lighter. Water. Cell phone. Little bit of food. Little first-aid kit. Headlamp. Jacket. If you have extra room, maybe butter, garlic and a cast iron skillet so you can survive on your mushrooms. Perhaps a volleyball to paint a face on and become friends with if it turns into an extended stay.
Wandering around through the trees with your head down searching for mushrooms that might be anywhere is a great recipe for losing track of where you are and where you’ve been. Another great recipe is sautéed morels from who knows where you were in the woods, served with backstrap from a deer you wandered around looking for and in the process maybe got just a tiny bit turned around too. I call that dish GPS mignon.
So enjoy this morel boom while it lasts. Remember to enter a waypoint before traipsing into the forest and let’s spare our Search and Rescue folks any outings of their own that could have been avoided.
Jon Rombach is a local columnist for the Chieftain who knows his way around getting lost.