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A scavenger hunt adventure in Westwood

By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Staff

Most of my assignments these days involve Zoom or large outdoor activities - nothing that takes me out of my comfort zone. This weekend, I was asked to attend Hale Reservation’s annual fall family scavenger hunt. Normally, I would protest going into the woods for anything - I’m directionally challenged, can’t read a map, and I’m not a huge fan of nature.

But this scavenger hunt was for families, so I took a chance and made my way to Westwood.

I spent my first 45 minutes about a mile from where I was supposed to be. To be fair, this was completely on me misreading directions and thinking I had to be dropped off by the Carby Street entrance. Once I realized this mistake, I got dropped off at the right parking lot, checked in, and began the scavenger hunt. I spotted the sign for the easy route right away.

Hale's scavenger hunt required a smartphone to read QR codes and access different activities and informational websites, with one of each at the different spots along the trail. The first one was titled "Meet a Tree."

After the first clue, there was a sign placed on the ground marking the easy route turning onto the trail. It wasn’t clear, so I asked a fellow walker if this is the right way to go. They were also confused and decided to go straight. I followed; being in the woods makes me nervous and I was determined to make my way through. The trail I followed soon turned into a boardwalk over water; it seemed questionable. I turned around and went another way. Luckily for me, it was the right one - and I found the next clue. 

It’s around this point that I realized my endeavor was going to be a lot harder than I thought it would be. The signs pointing out the easy trail lessened in frequency, and I noticed them a bit too late for them to be helpful; I’d walk down one path, failing to see one of the signs until I found the next clue. In most cases, I’d go down one trail only to figure out that I wasn’t going to find the clue, then turn around. 

There were at least a dozen families on the trail at the same time as me. Most of them were much better navigators than me. The Muzikant family was having a much better time than I was. One glance at the map and they knew exactly which turn to make and where to go. I followed them for around 20 minutes before I got distracted by taking a picture of the pond we walked beside. I realized I was alone far too late and found myself with four trail options, none of which gave me the sense I was on the right one.

“I’m lost in the woods,” I texted my friends, 15 minutes later. Somehow, I had near-perfect cell service, which worried me a bit less. Almost immediately, I received two texts back. 

“Omg, need help?” my friend Grace asked. She's the only person in my life I consider remotely outdoorsy. She hiked the Appalachian Trail by herself, and is probably the best person in my life with whom to be stuck in the woods. Did I think to call her before doing this? No, not at all. Why? No idea, but I’d like to remind my past self with a swift head slap. 

“Wait, WHY ARE YOU IN THE WOODS,” my friend Christina pointed out, highlighting the most troubling fact of this situation. Both of them know very well of the time that I got lost in Rutland State Park when I was 18. I ended up walking 8 miles on the street with my grandpa back to our car, after what was supposed to be a leisurely mile-long walk, all while he recalled how his friend once found two murder victims in those woods. It doesn’t take a psychologist to figure out how this could have scarred me; I have since turned down most every hiking invitation I receive. Every part of this scavenger hunt proved my existing assumption that I shouldn’t hike ever. 

After taking a break, I began walking again, this time asking other people along the way. “Are you here for the family scavenger hunt? Do you know which way to go?” Most of them were like me, completely turned around after clue five. Some were doing the hard trail and somehow ended up on the medium trail.

I was in a clearing when I spotted a mom, her two boys, and their dog, also trying to find their way out of the woods. I decided to follow them. Her young son suggested a trail, and we all agreed to follow it. We ended up at another parking lot (fun fact: Hale Reservation has a lot of them) with a sign for Noanet Pond. The backup parking lot for the event was Noanet Landing, so I knew we were getting closer. At this point, my concern for the clues was out the window and I was just looking for the exit. Carby Street runs through Hale Reservation - and for our sanity and safety, we agreed to walk down it rather than trying another trail.

I entered the woods at 11:05 and I arrived at the starting point at 1:29. The walk was supposed to have only taken an hour and a half at most. You may be thinking I learned a lesson; I did learn several. 1) Pay attention to signs at the check-in desk. There may be one that mentions what to do if you get lost, and I can say from experience that I wish I knew that the pink ribbons would have led me back to the parking lot. 2) Don’t go into the woods unless you know where you’re going or if you can read a map. 3) Particularly if you're me, don't go into the woods alone.

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