“Where are We?”

The word “wanderweg” is lovely — it means hiking trail, but to an English speaker it also says “wander this way.” I “stole” this Wanderweg sign from a small forest in the Canton of St. Gallen in Switzerland on a visit about 20 years ago 😦 . I don’t think anyone missed it as one of the holes is clearly ruined and the tree on which it was afixed was down. Swiss hiking trails are (naturally) extremely well marked and signed all along the way. I HAVE gotten lost, but it wasn’t the fault of the Swiss signage. I wasn’t paying attention.

Here in the US, trails are marked too. However, as it is an immense continent rather than a conveniently compressed confederation, trail signage is not as consistent or clear. One of my favorite trail signs is the “trail confidence marker.” I was “wandering” with my friends in Penitente Canyon a few years ago and we came across one. We stared at it a long time trying to figure out what it meant and we decided it did not give us any confidence at all.

Apparently (according to research I did later) they are signs on this largely mountain biking area that let bikers know they’re still on the trail. Any trail sign is a “trail confidence marker.” On the trails in Penitente Canyon they are numbered so as mountain bikers whiz by, they can tell they’re still on the trail. But for someone moving more slowly it’s like, “Huh???”

The hiking trails in the Laguna Mountains in California were not just clearly market, but imaginatively marked. The Sunset Trail (a 3 mile loop) was marked with a little picture of the sun setting over the ocean, framed by pine trees, an actual view you could get if you climbed a particular rock and faced west at the appropriate moment.

Wandering implies (in English) that you don’t know where you’re going, you’re just going. The truth is we’re all doing that all the time even if we think we know where the trail leads. That says that the “trail confidence marker” can only tell you you’re still on the trail, and, god-willing, you’ll get back to your car.


23 thoughts on ““Where are We?”

  1. I’ve helped mark many long-distance trail race courses, and I’ve swept courses to remove the markings after the race. Engineering tape tied to a tree or shrub branch is the most typical marking in the PNW. As ultra-distance trail racing grew as a sport, demand for “confidence” markings grew – markers put in places where no one could get confused about direction because there were no intersections. Rather than just marking intersections or possibly confusing places, markers had to be set along the entire route because without them, some runners got worried about getting lost if they hadn’t seen a marker in a while (or failed to see one they already passed) and would turn back until they found an earlier marker or another runner who could assure them they were on course.
    Sometimes I think they should be called anxiety markers.

    • That’s funny! Apparently there are Apps used by the young that correspond with these as well as mtn. bike trail maps. But for us, it was more inscrutable than T. S. Elliot’s poetry.

  2. I love the yellow Wanderweg signs, because I knew they were OK. It’s the red and white signs I am wary of. They are the mountain paths

  3. Good evening to you. I like hiking too. Sad to say, not every places that I hike, has proper signages for hikers. On the contrary, too many of these signages also ‘spoil the fun’ of exploring nature. And I often find such place to touristy. I don’t know how far you agree with me on this?😄

  4. Laughed out loud at the confidence part. Yet you kept going! Good for you. In this world of GPS and constant tracking we like to thing we have a handle on where we are going…and lord knows Google can tell us where we’ve been….but I have to agree with you that in the end, we are all just wanderwegging our way through life. 🙂 Thanks for a great post!

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