I love hiking, but taking on the outdoors, solo? Not for beginners like me. Getting lost, bears, copperheads… hiking with a friend seems like a good idea, if only to have a partner with which to share the low-grade anxiety.
I stumbled upon a hiking Meetup group via Google, signed up for a hike, and showed up at the trailhead.
As people started to show up we all sort of awkwardly introduced ourselves, our hike leader told us some cool stuff about the trail, and we set off. Five minutes in, we were all talking, laughing, and generally having an awesome time.
At this point we come across a pretty deep washed out… ravine? Dry river? I actually have no idea, but it was practically horizontal down one side and up the other. I didn’t really feel like sliding down it on my backside like everyone else. In reality, it was probably only 4-5 feet down, but at the moment it seemed like:
So, instead I followed a fellow hiker as she walked down to the river and around said hazardous canyon. To be completely honest, this required some scaling up some steep dirt that was probably just as difficult as what we were trying to avoid, but you live, you learn.
To this day I have no idea how she made it across unscathed, but I would like to point out, before I sound like the dumbest hiker on earth, that this seemed like a safe path. She walked right over the area with no problems, completely safe. But just my luck, I followed, and:
My right foot sunk halfway up my shin. My thoughts were something like:
Oh crap oh crap, this is some serious mud. I can’t move my foot, maybe if I… oh sh*t it’s going deeper. Is this quicksand? Northern Virginia doesn’t have quicksand does it? I actually have no idea. OMG this is so embarrassing.
At this point, some people start to notice and someone says “Hey are you ok?”
I’m mortified, so of course I stupidly reply, “oh yeah, just some mud, hahaha….”
Just some mud?!?! Are you kidding? I’m pretty sure this is QUICKSAND you idiot. Wait, I remember something about this… you’re supposed to increase your surface area or something…
At this point it’s up to my knee and I somehow maneuver my foot so that I’m sort of kneeling in the quicksand. Somehow, this magically, gloriously stops the whole sinking process. There is hope!
As a few people start to gather the intrepid hiker that went before me comes back with a gigantic stick. I grab on and crawl my way out of the mudhole/quicksand/puddle-of-misery-and-mortification like some kind of Wild West cartoon.
But it works.
I live to tell the tale, make quicksand jokes (mostly involving Indiana Jones), and take this picture:
Just for reference those shoes are supposed to look like this.
We continued our hike without further incident, and the group actually found the whole thing to be pretty funny. In fact, I’m pretty sure they were laughing with me about 60% of the time, and I really can’t begrudge them for the other 40%, because I DID look pretty darn goofy.
I learned three very important things from this encounter with quicksand:
1. STAY ON THE TRAIL. There are all kinds of lovely groups that manage the hiking trails and put in trail maintenance time (Including the lovely Mid-Atlantic Hiking Group) in order to keep these the safest paths. Unless you’re in backcountry, there’s no good reason to go off on your own. In addition, these trails help protect the delicate ecosystems that we hope to admire forever, so check out Leave No Trace if you haven’t yet! For legitimately useful advice on quicksand check out this article from Backpacker Magazine.
2. There’s no substitute for good hiking boots. One of the first things a seasoned hiker in the group asked is if I’d lost my shoes. If I’d been wearing running shoes, or something else unsuitable for the trail, that would have been a serious possibility. Not only did I keep my shoes (though they were far muddier than when they started), when I removed them later my feet were completely dry/devoid of mud from the bottom of my ankle, down. This is one of many reasons I love my Keens Targhees.
3. There are a lot of wonderful strangers out there that are willing to share their knowledge with you/save you from quicksand. If you haven’t tried Meetup yet, give it a shot. The great people that I’ve met are not only a blast to hike with, but they’ve also been willing to share their knowledge with me – and I’m a better hiker for it! Instead of sitting at home complaining how you’ve already binge-watched everything on Netflix (been there), try meeting up with a group to learn more about paddleboarding. Or French conversation. Perhaps salsa dancing?
And one last thing…. stay on the trail!!
Disclaimer: This is a story from when I was an uninformed, novice hiker, and even so, I should have known better. Stay on the trails, people. Leave no trace isn’t just about littering, it’s also about staying on the trail so you don’t disturb the ecosystem. Said advice could also save your life!