It's not something I hope for. In fact, it's something I hope never happens, But it does - you know - happen.
I'm out on a nice hike minding my own business - I look up - and realize I have 'misplaced' myself.
And it can happen easier than you might think!
See that trail there in the photo?
The one cutting proud and loud across that wide-open land?
Well here I am, standing within 30 feet of that well-used trail - and it's gone!
And here, in thicker vegetation, I'm standing within 12 feet of that leaning tree over there on the right.
And it's pretty hard to tell there's a trail there between me and that tree! (Same tree on the right edge of this photo.)
And this is early spring, before the vegetation starts to thicken up, cutting sight-lines even more.
Maybe I've just stepped off the trail a few feet to pee in private.
Maybe I wandered off a little ways to find some shade for a short rest-break, or because something shiny caught my eye.
Either way, if I'm not paying attention the results could be the same.
That heart-stopping - blood-draining realization that I'm out here all by myself - and don't know where 'here' is.
I've had enough experiences in life to learn that it's OK to let panic's chill take hold of me for a moment, it's a natural process after all, but it's usually not OK to actually do anything while it does so. (An exception maybe when a bear is charging. Then I might want to be unholstering the pepper-spray!) The best thing I can do at this moment is to just stand still and let panic do its thing until the crinkling of my scalp, and at least most of the whimpering, has settled down.
Because right now I at least know where I was when I first realized I was lost. Letting panic translate into motion at this point will only make the situation worse.
That's where STOP comes in.
I talked about STOP, Sit-Think-Observe-Plan, at the end of an older post and since this current post is focused on one possible action resulting from the P part of STOP I won't go into STOP any deeper here other than to emphasize the importance, the critical importance, of the Sit. And I do mean Physically Sit Down! It's hard to run off half-cocked when sitting and half-cocked is the last thing I need right now!
By the way, STOP is applicable to a whole range of situations and isn't limited to wilderness experiences.
There are whole books, and lots of them, written about getting yourself back out of remote places. The hub and spoke is only one of many options and it may not always be the best. But let's assume I have determined that it is in this case.
The hub-and-spoke strategy of self-recovery is based on the universal truth that I will never be closer to where I should be than right here where I first realized I wasn't - you know - where I should be.
This spot becomes the hub.
From there the idea is to explore outward in a controlled and methodical manner, making note of my outward path so I can reliably return back to the hub, until I resolve the situation. These outward explorations become the spokes, as many as it takes to resolve the issue.
The strategy here is to move outward from the hub along a spoke, presumably in the direction I determine most likely to get me out of this mess, and see if I can find myself. That might be finding the trail I was on and resuming my interrupted hike with a nervous chuckle and a vow to never speak of this incident again. It might be finding a road, a power-line, or different trail that I can follow until I can figure out where the hell I'm at, or perhaps run into someone who knows.
But a key feature of this strategy is ensuring I have the ability to, when I admit that this current spoke I'm on is the wrong direction, backtrack to the hub and try again.
So it's better to attach the blaze well away from any large trunks on a small horizontal branch at or slightly above eye level. This takes less material, less time to attach, and makes the blaze visible without obstructions from a much wider viewing angle.