paulawray.com

Middlesworth Hike

At the beginning of the hike, before things went awry.

How Not to Hike

FEBRUARY 21, 2012 | PAULA WRAY
It started out with such promise. Kimber, Garrett, Don, Boomer, and I set out for a lovely day of hiking on a Sunday afternoon at Snyder-Middlesworth Natural Area. But somehow it ended with me stumbling all alone, in the dark, exhausted, on a snow-covered dirt road. What went wrong?

A Sunny Beginning

It was the first cautionary sign that on retrospect should have sent us elsewhere. The roads were so slippery that we could not drive to the start of the hike, but had to walk in an extra half-mile. Of course, the trail was snow-covered as well, but Don was comforted by the footprints that preceded us.

Don's attraction to this area is the virgin timber. While we have much in common, we diverge slightly in our view of trees. My husband is a card-carrying tree-hugger, while I come from a lumber family.

"Honey, explain to me again what is the appeal of the virgin forest."
"These trees have been here over a hundred years; they've never been cut down," he replied.
"But, they have fallen down on their own all over the place...what a waste...they could have been used for lumber," I countered.
"They create their own eco-system," said Don. "Things grow here that you won't find other places."
"Like mold?" I asked.
"Mold, and fungus, and other things."

Aye. I'd rather see a well-made dry sink myself. But alright.

fungus tree

Don's mold and/or fungus

I'm not accustomed to being coddled on hikes, but Kimber and Garrett provided a refreshing change. I don't know if it is my advanced years, poor physical condition, or chronic state of malnourishment, but the kids were very protective of me. I must say, I enjoyed being babied. They would help me over and under fallen trees, and along narrow, slippery paths. Kimber once caught me as I stumbled and nearly went over a steep bank. Don, as usual, was far ahead and out of sight.

Crossing the Stream

I was already quite tired by the time we reached the crossing point. Expecting a bridge, I was dismayed when Don explained that there was none.

"Then how do we cross?" I asked hoping I was wrong in my suspicion.
"By stepping on rocks," he replied as if it were a summer day at the state park picnic area.
"And what happens if we fall into 30 degree water," I demanded.
He laughed, "it's only 6 inches deep."
"What about hypothermia?"

I pondered the irritation of emergency personnel when idiots need rescued from remote areas.

It was decision time. Don laid out our options. We could cross the stream and hike up the side of the mountain. It will be "difficult." The trail was steep and snow-covered, but at the top we would take the "easy way out." Or we could turn and go back the way we came.

My husband is not given to overstatement, so his use of the word, "difficult" got my attention. Without hesitation I made my choice,

"You all can do what you want, but I am heading back!"

But Kimber implored,

"that will be boring...let's go on."

She volunteered that she and Garrett would go ahead and scout it out, then come back and report.

"You stay here, Mom, and don't come down the hill by yourself."

It was a welcome respite. I had a protein bar and a drink of Don's water, and peed behind a tree. Soon they returned with the report.

"It's not scary at all, Mom...the snow on the mountain is crunchy, not slippery."

But I could plainly hear them discussing the stream crossing in hushed tones.

"Mom is not going to like this."

The three of them walked up and down the stream trying to find an easier way for me. That was it. I wasn't going to be the wet blanket. I headed down the hill, and crossed Swift Run with everyone's help. But it could not be done without stepping partially into the gurgling, frigid water. Kimber, Garrett, and I would have wet feet for the rest of the hike which turned out to be much longer than we thought.

crossing over the creek

An Uphill Battle

I'm not a veteran hiker like my husband, but I've done enough to know that the distance to the top of any mountain is about four times further than it appears. Still we started up the snowy incline with the thought that it really wasn't that far to the top, and this "difficult" part would soon be behind us. An hour later I was still puffing up the slope, mouth-breathing, resting against trees, begging water from Don.

uphill climb

"We're almost there...just one more switchback." But the summit was always just out of reach.

We had no idea the trip would last this long. Kimber and I expected about a two-hour lark. I hadn't brought any provisions - no food, water, glucose tabs, glucometer, insulin, extra clothing, flashlight. Don had a few protein bars and water. Now I was bumming a second bar as I felt my energy stores depleting.

The temperature was dropping as we rose in altitude and the sun began to set. Now the protein bar was frozen, but I slowly got it down. Even poor Boomer was shivering after his dip in the cold creek.

Of course I was the hold up. The rest would have made the journey in half the time. Don and Kimber began fretting that the sun was going to set. I thought this preposterous.  For Pete's sake, it's still afternoon, isn't it? But I avoided checking the time. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and complaining more the further we went. When Kimber told me that Garrett had been calling me a trooper, I bit my tongue. But by the time we reached the summit of Thick Mountain, a 550-foot elevation gain, I was absolutely done in.

Darkness Falls

"You made it Mom! It's all downhill from here."

Sure enough, as I gazed down from atop the mountain, I saw a straight, flat, slightly descending road. The only problem was, my legs were no longer in working order. I was walking like Dr. Frankenstein's assistant, Igor.

"How much farther is it?" I queried.

Don studied his trail GPS as he did whenever we asked this question.

"Probably another mile...mile and a half."

Wait a minute. Isn't that what he said about a mile and a half ago? And hadn't he said the same thing 3 miles back? Kimber leaned in to see the image on the screen.

"It looks like a long way."
"Honey, doesn't that thing tell you how far we have to go" I asked.
"No, it only tells how far we've come."

Hmph!

Kimber asked if this was the hardest hike I'd been on, and I replied with a resounding "YES!" Don disagreed. He thought the hike with Brad and Diane was just as difficult.

"ARE YOU CRAZY? That was nothing compared to this."
"Well, except for the climb," Don responded.
"EXCEPT FOR THE CLIMB? Well that's like saying..."

The appropriate analogy escaped me in my exhausted state, but I'd like to submit now that it was like saying the electric chair isn't bad except for the AC current.

I noticed Boomer was still shivering, so I asked Don if he had any extra clothes in his backpack. He pulled out a fleece vest and put it on him.

Boomer wearing vest

As I moved down the hill very slowly,  Don urged me to pick up my pace saying that it would soon be dark. I explained,

"You know how it feels when you lift weights until your muscles just don't work anymore? That's how my legs feel."

Kimber said she was cold, and looking at Boomer in the vest, I faced a Sophie's choice. I pulled my car keys out of my pocket and called her over.

"You and Garrett go ahead to the car and get warm. But DO NOT  drive over those icy roads!"

As she started off, Boomer tripped over his vest and Don pulled it off. I called after Kimber,

"Do you want a vest?"
"No thanks."

Down to three of us, I plodded slowly on. I hadn't sat down since we started however many hours ago, and when I spotted a tall, flat rock, I slowly lowered my butt into place, anchored my ski poles in the ground, crossed my arms in front of me and laid my head on them.

"Come on, Dear, we have to keep going if we want to get back before dark."

Usually loquacious, I had no energy or interest left in discussing anything.

"Just give me five minutes so I can walk again."

After a silent few minutes, I rose and continued onward telling myself to just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

After about a mile we came to a long-awaited intersection where we made our left turn. And stretching out before us was more road as far as the eye could see. I said nothing, but plodded on.

The tire tracks were icy, forcing me to the deeper snow in the middle of the road. Unaccustomed to my silence, Don offered,

"From now on I will only take you on hikes up to two and a half miles."

I had no reply, but imagined grabbing his GPS and throwing it into the white oblivion. On we continued for what seemed to be mile after mile. And finally, Don spoke again,

"I'm going to have to go on ahead of you, get the car, and drive back to get you. It will be dark soon. Do you want to keep Boomer or should I take him?"

I knew right away I didn't have the strength to hold on to his leash.

"You take him."

I watched them move out of sight as the sun began to set. I wasn't walking in a straight line, but staggering like a drunk. One foot in front of the other. I hoped Kimber would disobey me and drive the car to get us. But as it grew dark and time passed, I began to wonder if we had all been on the wrong road and nobody had found the car.

Once in awhile I would stop and listen for the sound of a car. Nothing. No headlights. What about wild animals? Nah. If anyone drove up to me at this point, even Bubba sporting a mullet and holding a beer can, I would gladly get in his ride.  Was that a cabin in the woods? It was hard to tell. Should I break in? No, it was nothing.

My life had suddenly become very simple. I would put one cold, wet foot in front of the other until I collapsed. Then I would fall asleep on the side of the road until Don came to get me. I wasn't scared. I wasn't angry. But I was a little concerned about what had happened to my family.

Rescued

When Kimber and Garrett struck out on their own, they discussed the situation. My future son-in-law, an Eagle Scout, pointed out all the ways we had NOT been prepared for this hike. When they came to the intersection, they couldn't remember if Don had said to go left or right, so they took their best guess. Thank heavens it eventually led to the car where they warmed up.

But they were worried. The sun had gone down and there was no sign of me or Don. They decided to give it another 15 minutes then head back out to look for us. With 5 minutes to spare, they saw Don running toward the car, a look of distress on his face. Kimber was frantic!

"WHERE'S MY MOM?"
"I didn't think she could make it...I came to get the car and pick her up."

Fortunately the drive up the icy hill was without incident, and soon they came upon me waving my ski poles. Kimber wanted to know why I didn't keep Boomer with me. Garrett, an avid hunter familiar with these woods, pointed out that the coyotes would have gone after Boomer before me.

After a short drive, we all schlepped into Rayauda's Restaurant, covered in mud and looking like something the coyote dragged in.

I wish I could tell you how far we actually walked, but the batteries in Don's bleeping GPS ran out before we finished. My fellow hikers estimate that they walked about 6.5 miles, and I only did 4.5 to where they picked me up. Of course it was the climb rather than the distance that did me in.

Then it was home to the hot bath I had dreamed of much of the day. By the time I laid down on the couch at 9:15 as red as a boiled lobster, Don was already asleep on the recliner, and there we slept soundly all night.

log lift

The fit 3 of our group feign lifting a log from the trail.