Gone Wild in the Wilderness Part 2: When Fate Steps In
Quick summary: In my July 4th post, I wrote about the challenges of entering the 100 mile wilderness as a SOBO hiker. I recounted the first 6 days through mile 78 from Katahdin. And now …
Onward through the wilderness
Leaving Sidney Tappan campsite my feet were sore around the blisters but I bandaged then up differently, yet again, and added more paper tape around the whole foot for added security. My knees were feeling fine even though they had taken a hit apiece and bruising along the shins had appeared. Nothing a few minutes of rock n roll n stumbling hiking wouldn’t numb out!
Fording can be so much fun!
Six miles into the day’s hike, we forded the West Branch Pleasant River, well known for being wide, fairly shallow with slick rocky bottom. We swapped out our hikers for camp shoes and crossed the cold river and refilled our water bottles. It was great to cool our feet but then looking at all the bandages that had finally stayed in place, I decided that since we were only going an additional 4.3 miles, that I would put on dry wool socks and hike on and do a major bandage redo once we hit the Chairback Gap Lean-to.
Meeting is so fleeting …
The mile plus ascent after the river was pretty vertical and typically rocky and roots galore with some scrambling. Ultimately I made it to Alexa by 3PM who was waiting at Chairback Pond … having been there a while she wanted to move on ahead and meet me at the lean-to where we were stopping for the day. It was a mere 2.3 miles off. So off she went with the A.T. Guide in hand. Since we had planned to hike together, we only brought one guide and with me bringing up the caboose, she kept possession of it. She indicated the trail would go up and down a bit the up for a strenuous climb then down again and up and over Chairback Mountain with about .3 mile down to the shelter. Off she went and I followed. Now, while this part of the trail isn’t as bad as other areas, there were plenty of times where I would stand there and blurt out “Where in blazes is the damn blaze?!” Daily one of our tramily would ask if we too had taken a wrong turn or straight up gotten lost. MATC, hikers could sure use a little more help.
What the … ???
As I hiked on, I was actually feeling quite strong and felt, yay legs are really starting to kick in! Somehow, over time, the terrain didn’t seem to match the description Alexa gave me but I was following blazes and had only fretted twice looking for a blaze. Next thing I know, after having descended for a stretch, I found myself back at the river we had forded at 1:30. It was now 5:45. This being day 6 in the wilderness and day 7 since charging my phone, I only had 13% left. I fired it up and texted Alexa and my husband that somehow I was back at the river and that I would be heading right back up and she was not to move until I made it up tonight or by the following morning. Hit SEND. Powered down the phone and started back up that vertical mile. Parenthetically, Alexa and I each hike with our own Spot Gen3 GPS location gizmo. So I knew that Bruce would be able to watch my location. The $64 question was, where did I take a wrong turn? and …
… would I do it again?
That thought haunted me. I retraced my steps to the location where I met Alexa at 3 and continued on. After a wide sweeping incline with an old felled tree I continued and then something made me stop. I went back to the tree, checked for blazes or double blazes … none. Still, I explored and found a smaller trail through new growth and I followed it. I found a white blaze but since the blazes are white whether you are going north or south, I couldn’t be sure if this was the trail. Was I going to get lost again?! The rays of the sun were now long and I finally made it around a bend and out onto a bald face mountain top and eventually came across a rock cairn. No sign indicating which mountain this was, but I was elated thinking Chairback Mountain, YAY! The sunset was magnificent and I continued on. Twilight gave way to darkness and I hadn’t yet arrived at the shelter. Switching on my headlamp, I hiked on. By now I had been on my feet for almost 14 hours, my blisters were screaming, and I was out of water.
I found myself staring up an endless rock scramble of sharp Maine bluestone … no longer the rounded boulders but angular and fierce made all the more so by the sole light source on my head. I scrambled up half way … stopped at a ledge … looked up … looked down … and knew I was D.O.N.E. By now, I had no idea if I had passed the turnoff to the shelter or if I had even reached her location. The ledge was tapered and perfectly flat, about my shoulder width narrowing at the feet. Basically the shape of my sleeping pad. So I unrolled the pad, and sleeping bag, wedged the backpack against the rock to block the breeze and secure my downhill shoulder, took off my boots, added a pair of socks, another top, my insulated jacket, my waterproof shell and slid into the bag. I fired up the phone at 9% and texted Bruce.
Come to discover, my original text never went through. Alexa expected me by 5:30, 6PM at the latest and now it was after 10 and she and 2 of the tramily members had been out 3 times searching. He could see on the Spot that I had gone in a circle of sorts and that I had not passed the shelter but was still a ways off. I signed off texting I would hike out at daybreak. By now, without water I couldn’t cook so I ate a Larabar and Gomacro bar and snuggled in for the short night. The night was absolutely drop dead (probably not the best analogy) gorgeous. There was barely a breeze, no moisture in the air (thank GOD) and the sky was barren of clouds. The stars were magnificent stretching beyond my vision and as I watched the moon rise between my toes and glide silently in the night sky I faded into nothingness. This time of year dawn is around 4 and so I hiked out by 4:30. I was hurting, tired, thirsty, hungry, and dragging. Once at the shelter I felt tremendous angst that, getting lost and not having my text reach Alexa, had resulted in an serious upheaval to her and all the hikers who needed their rest and peace and quiet versus being worried and out searching in the dark. These lovely tramily friends showed compassion and extended me such grace. Apologies just didn’t seem adequate. Thank you too just felt insufficient. I was overwhelmed.
Marching on …
In looking back, the mistakes are obvious but in the moment, perhaps less so. But, here and now, I knew we were making a mistake when it was decided to continue on without taking an hour or 2 for me to take inventory of myself, hydrate, eat, check my feet … rest a while. Soldier on we did with Alexa taking as much of the contents as she could transfer from my pack to hers. I met Alexa at the Third Mountain, Monument Cliff. I had by now slowed to .75 mile per hour and I was hurting … I had turned my ankle the day prior and it too was howling. We then met at Fourth Mountain and we agreed to meet at the trail to Cloud Pond Lean-to 2 miles further but 6 miles from where Alexa wanted to stop.
Hello Fate … my name is whooooops …
Having navigated the decline and while strategically hiking up the steep ascent, I came across the latest in truck size boulders that I needed to either get over or get around. This one had striations with moss and glistening water. I attempted to take a narrow path around it but couldn’t quite muster the energy to hoist myself and my pack up the steep incline while pulling up through a tree. So I went up the boulder and as I straightened at the top the surface gave way and I fell back onto my pack and started a hotdog roll down the boulder gathering speed. I came to an abrupt stop on that narrow path wedged between the boulder and a tree that broke my fall. I was on an inverted incline on my back, feet up in the air on the boulder, right arm slammed into and around tree and waist and ribs indented by the tree. I instantly had a vision of what I looked like in a stick figure cartoon and started to laugh. I laughed even harder when I started flailing because I couldn’t bloody get up. It took a while to get out of the harness and unturtle myself. Eventually, wet and dirty, I found the strength to go up through the tree. Argh, now why couldn’t that have worked the first time? Eventually, I limped to the meeting point and Alexa had me drop my pack and helped me get to the shelter (a mere additional .5 mile away!! Never close when you need one!). She then went back and did the mile roundtrip to bring my pack in.
Earlier while waiting for me, Alexa came across a hiker going northbound to Katahdin. Goateye is a veteran, hiking in a rather fetching kilt, toward Katahdin on a mission to raise funds and awareness for 3 veteran nonprofit groups (see below). He was going to call it a day earlier than usual and was going to be our companion for the night. As we set up and chatted he mentioned he was a corpsman (Navy medic). Later that evening he offered to check out my booboos and especially feet and liver/rib areas. I had not seen my feet in over 36 hours and they had been transformed from healing blisters to ugly twin sisters and a baby toe that was now beginning to show signs of infection and the foot was swollen and hot. His assessment of the liver was fine but I had cracked a rib. We quickly concluded that I needed to find a way out of the wilderness before Monson and get medical attention. We did not have cell reception and closest extraction point was 4 miles away then down another .8 mile side trail to Otter Pond Parking.
“It’s What We Do!”
Goateye advised Alexa that regardless of whether she stayed with me or hiked on to Monson and out of the wilderness, that he was going to reverse his direction and see me to the extraction location and to Monson. The next morning brought with it fog, mist, drizzle and then pouring rain. Alexa hiked to the Barren Ledges to get cell reception and to call the Lakeshore House Hostel where we had reservations to arrange for a special pick up at Otter Pond. She was able to text us that extraction was set for 3PM and she hiked on in the torrential downpour. Goateye and I made our way down Barren Mountain across the Ledges and down steeply to the Long Pond Stream Lean-to which was 4 miles from out previous shelter. We had noticed a small trail to the left of the white blaze trail but since it was unmarked we just continued. At Long Pond shelter we had cell service and moved up the ride to 1pm and Rebecca (Lakeshore House owner and doll!) made an appointment for me at the medical clinic for 4PM. So we figured the unmarked trail must be the one to the parking area. Throughout this, I hoped Goateye would resume his hike but he insisted that “It’s what we do. We never leave anyone behind but see them to safety.” We backtracked to the trail and the rain was coming down in sheets and we were soaked and unsure as to whether we were even on the right trail. Eventually, we spied headlight and Goateye ran ahead. The man who picked us up, Buddy, is a retired Navy man as well. Thank you Universe …and we all smile when the chips are down
The Verdict …
Once at Monson, after a long shower (first one in 9 days) and Goateye and I ate, I went off to the clinic. I had started antibiotics the night prior and he doubled the dose. My ugly twin sisters blisters were so deep that they were into the second layer of skin. The baby toe was oozing from multiple blisters and the nail bed was kind of free floating. Feet were swollen and the right one really tender from sprain. Palpating the waist area he found no liver issues but opined that the rib was cracked. Recommendation: I needed to go home and let the blisters heal from the inside out and his estimation was a minimum of 3 weeks. I was inconsolable. Back to Monson, Goateye was still there. His friend, Cornelius, was driving up from his hometown to collect him and then he would have to rethink the logistics of his hike. So began a few rounds of beer while Goateye waited for his friend Cornelius and another pint after he arrived. Buddy waited at the trail head for Alexa and was eventually told to head home and that the hostel would collect her when she emerged. With this Goateye nods to Cornelius and they said they were heading up to the trailhead to wait because his mission wasn’t over until Alexa emerged from Rt 15 and was safely at the hostel. All this while, he was waiting for Alexa to be safe. Eventually, at 8:15 when Alexa emerged into the Rt 15 parking area, Buddy, Goateye and Cornelius were waiting for her. I can never repay the debt of gratitude owed these fine men. Their code and selflessness is a beacon of light in these days of such darkness and negativity. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
Aftermath … and Trail Name
The next day, Saturday, I hobbled around with Alexa getting her re-fitted with single ultralight tent (thank you Poet at Shaw’s), new cooking system etc … Our tramily arrived in Monson on Friday as well as several on Saturday. We all met up at the Lakeshore House Pub for group pictures wishing everyone happy and safe trails since they all had different goals and rendezvous with family and friends and I was heading home. My trail name? Ribs. The next day, the tramily offered Alexa a ride to the trailhead and then she would be off solo hiking through the balance of Maine and throughout the Whites and Presidential Mountains of NH.
Two weeks since I arrived home (June 19), the ugly twin sisters are healing well, lost the entire baby toe nail bed and that toe is sporting new skin (too gruesome to show). Knee caps no longer match but they don’t hurt. Bruises are faded to shades of green. Rib smarts and reminds me that I wasn’t. Orthopedic doc gave me ankle braces and I’m running up and down stairs pretty well. To keep up cardio I swim hours of freestyle, do the elliptical set on quads and gluts, strength training in gym … lots of squats and lunges and “stuff”. I bought my plane ticket and leave for Rutland, VT on July 13. The “plan”, yes I exist to make God laugh, is to be on the trail on July 14th and hike 10 miles days and then increasing to 15-17 miles before Alexa catches me in Dalton, Mass around July 24th. By then she’ll probably be doing 25-30 mile days … maybe she can practice hiking backward for a few hundred miles … we shall see if we can reboot and make this partnership work.
Alexa aka “Tink”
Tink has been kicking into high gear since our separation. As the remaining Thru-hiker, she is carrying our Hiking For Nonprofits banner forward. She along with all the hikers in New England have been hit with extraordinary and persistent bad weather. She was blessed to find a second tramily and she’s been with them from Rangeley to Andover and through Mahoosuc Notch (Switchback – thank you). Today she left Maine behind (YAY one state down!) and hiked 17 miles to Gorham and the White Mountains Lodge in NH. She’s a fierce package. I hope you don’t mind, even though we are currently separated by miles and mountains, I thought you might want to hear how she’s faring because she remains a part of my journey.
SHOUT OUT TO GOATEYE, Cornelius and his VETERAN GROUPS:
VISIT GOATEYE ON FB: RUCKME 2017 and if you can, please support veteran causes, thank you!
MAINE VETERANS PROJECT: https://MaineVeteransProject.org/
HEALING THROUGH HORSES: http://www.healingthroughhorsesmaine.com/
SHOUT OUT TO BUDDY WARD:
I was under the impression that once in the wilderness, a hiker was on their own. Well, Buddy can deliver supplies every 10 miles or so in the wilderness. Call him if you need supplies, a lift or an extraction.
SEVEN PINES SHUTTLE SERVICE: 207.343.2564
SHOUT OUT TO LAKESHORE HOUSE: http://www.thelakeshorehouse.com
Rebecca (owner), Cary and Chelsea are hiker’ hosts while at the hostel and they are wonderful women! Matt was bartending when I arrived and is hilarious and regaled us with stories of how he got his trail name “Hopscotch”. Matt usually cooks. Amy made the most delicious pizza with holy moly everything different on it! When Alexa arrived at the hostel, the kitchen had already closed, but Chelsea made Alexa the most delish vegan plate of rice and veggies. Thank you Chelsea!
THANK YOU FOR SUPPORTING OUR HIKE:
Alexa/Tink’s Instagram: @HikingForNonprofits
Kate/Ribs Instagram: @Just_Skedaddle
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