Sequoia National Park, California
It was early afternoon when we arrived in Sequoia National Park. I was excited. I was about to cross something big off my bucket list, hug a giant tree. The thought of it was occupying my mind and any other questions of time or food or direction were put in second place. I had one goal for the day. Hug that tree!
So when Ellie and I pulled up to the park entrance, we quickly grabbed a map from the park ranger, asked her to mark all the best spots and inquired if she had heard of our campsite in Eshom Creek ( which she had not) and were ready to head on our way.
First mistake, never enter a national park when relying on cell service for directions, especially when the park ranger (an expert on the area) hasn't heard of your campsite. Nonetheless, we continued on. Obliviously.
We spent the better part of our afternoon frolicking through the forest trails, taking pictures, crooking our necks upwards to stare at the towering trees.
And finally, the grand hurrah! I got to hug a giant tree. Redwoods sort of feel furry so it felt kinda like hugging a giant, very hard bear. It was great and I felt tiny (even more than normal).
Unfortunately the excitement was short lived. We realized that we had no idea where our campsite was. We couldn't find it on a map, we had no cell service, and it was close to dusk. We were in a jam.
Finally, as we hit the western outskirts of the park we got enough cell service to find directions to our mysterious campsite in the woods. All was solved. That is until we saw the road Siri was telling us to take, the only road in a 25 mile circumference that could lead us to where we needed to be.
Now i've travelled down some rough dirt roads in my experiences abroad (see posts about getting lost in Corsica's GR20 trails), but this experience was next level terrifying.
We had a quarter tank of gas, no address or printed map, had now lost cell service and were set down an unpaved primitive road in the wildness of the Sequoia National Forest, at dusk.
It was bad.
The built in GPS in our truck said we weren't even on a road, and we agreed. The road was wide and even when we started down it but had somewhere along the way, all of a sudden, narrowed into a steep, treacherous, cattle trail that lined a sudden dropping cliff. Siri had led us astray.
There was no room to turn around anymore, so we kept driving onward sure that at some point we would reach a main road and thankful that we were driving a 4x4.
I remember thinking, 'Worst case we sleep in the car'. Then I looked out the window and saw the size of the bear droppings all over the road and decided that may not be the worst case, that in fact there could be a much worse situation that could play out. Soon after, Ellie pointed out a large animal skull in the middle of the road. It was clear that no one had driven down this road in a long time.
I'd like to think I am an outdoors wilderness survivor, the kind of person who could go into the woods and live, alone, for months. I think, in the midst of a mild panic of determining where we were and what to do, I discovered that I'm not. I'd love to say the idea of setting up camp in wild bear country was enticing to me but it wasn't. I was scared. Truly, honest to goodness, scared.
To put my readers at ease, we did eventually find our campsite. It was at a beautiful spot secluded in the woods. And no, we didn't come the right way. There was a roughly paved road leading straight from park entrance. The campsite host greeted us when we arrived and informed us that yes there were bears in the area, as well as a Mountain Lion he liked to call Kitty. I was less scared but still enough on edge I need a sleeping pill to knock me to sleep that night. We learned our lesson the hard way, the lesson being this; sometimes in life, the road less travelled should be left that way.