There are little-marked trails in the woods near my house. They are used primarily by snow machines in winter, though I can see occasional footprints and tire prints when I am walking back there spring and summer. A neighbor who grooms the trails tells me he doesn't know of any maps of them. I resolved to make one for my own enjoyment and safety, to know where I am as the seasons change or I decide to explore different sections.
I didn't think it would be that hard. I can make a decent road map to give directions, and think of myself as having a good, though not exceptional sense-of-direction. Also, the territory in question is only a couple of square miles tops, so I would have trouble getting deeply lost in any way. (I am guessing there are more than 5 miles of trail, though. Maybe 10 or more. They interconnect quite a bit.) I discuss a lot of the issues in my 2011 series on Wayfinding. (Has it been that long?)
Yet I find I go wrong almost immediately. The cues are ambiguous, undermining one's confidence that the memorised links are valid: 643 steps generally WNW with some winding back and forth. So say, less than 600 as the crow flies, call it a quarter mile. Then almost north for 200 steps to the stream, then left onto that very winding path up to the ridge. I figure that is close to NW, maybe a little west of that, almost another quarter mile. That leads us to -- hell, a stone wall about 70 degrees off from where it should be. Something's gone wrong here. I can't be crossing the stone wall at this angle. It shouldn't be near here, either.
Half a mile from the start and I'm already uncertain how to draw the path I have just trod. Walking 200 yards up the ridge, so that I can now look back over the territory, and even into the neighborhood, does not resolve this. Things are not where they should be.
I am slowly working it out. I am not bringing paper and pen, trying to do this by memory. I try different trails to come in from a different direction. I hike earlier or later, to be more sure what direction the sun is in. I am making corrections as well. The central stone wall I have been using as the spine of my calculations actually turns 15 degrees S just as it goes out of my sight at the very beginning. That 15 degrees, plus my "70 degrees off" above, is 85 degrees, suggesting that yes! this is a different stone wall, which meets the other at a right angle deep in the underbrush. I was right the first time...except how can that trail meet the other so quickly then? That would make two sides of a triangle added together shorter than the third. That can't be. Where the hell am I?
I could bring in a GPS, things to write with, and the USGS or SPNHF maps, I suppose. Yet I would like to have the ancestral experience instead.
I'm not very good at this.