Last night’s #backyardworkout was to be a nice 3 mile round trip hike/walk in the woods to see the Happy Hill Shelter along the Appalachian Trail in Hartford, VT. It turned into an opportunity for Three Lessons Learned, and then some.
I parked the car in my usual spot for this little trip (see map), and snapped a quick photo of my
victims family before we headed off into the woods.
The trail starts out easy enough as it follows an old logging road still in use by 4-wheelers and dirt bikes as well as foot traffic. We were beginning to get eaten alive by saber-toothed mosquitos, so M decided to run ahead of T and I. I cautioned him that soon the trail would “look as if it wanted to go left, but really you need to go right,” and off he went.
When T and I got to that location, M was nowhere to be seen; all we could do was hope that he’d continued in the correct direction. About 2 minutes later he came running back to us on the trail; he’d made the right decision and was just coming back to check on us. He then turned around and headed back out onto the trail. Perfect.
This would be the last time we saw him.
After about 15 more minutes and some decent elevation, we came to where our trail formed a “T” with the Appalachian Trail (AT). I said to T, “I hope M went left and not right. The shelter is to the left.” We proceeded left toward the shelter and I kept checking over my shoulder for M. About 20 yards from the trail to the shelter we came across an AT hiker who paused to say hello before continuing on his journey. He had trekking poles with him, so later I’ll refer to him as the Pole Guy. Right at the shelter trail was another hiker/runner/creepy dude (HRCD) who cautioned us not to stop “because the bugs are so bad here they’ll carry you away.” I kinda chuckled at this, because, well, that’s just the way things are in the Vermont woods in summer.
T and I started down the spur trail to the Happy Hill Shelter, and just as we got there M showed up; he’d gone the other way, run into “a friggin’ SWAMP” and turned around. He met Pole Guy and HRCD, too.
Because the bugs were bad and T and M wanted to get going again, I just snapped a quick picture and we headed out. At the AT, M wanted to run ahead again, so I said to him, “you’ll come to a pile of rocks in the trail. at that pile, take a RIGHT to stay on the AT.” (Location “A” on the map).
And THAT, actually, was the last we saw of M.
For SEVERAL HOURS.
T and I made our way along the AT figuring that we would run soon run across Pole Guy, HRCD, and certainly M as he backtracked to keep his eye on us. None of these things happened. T and I got to “B” on the map without seeing M. If we were all together, we would have turned RIGHT here, followed a nice rolling downhill trial to the “rock wall”, turned LEFT, and gone back to the starting point. I knew that M didn’t know about this turn, and surmised that he would have kept on going straight along the AT. So T and I continued straight as well, figuring that we’d meet up with M. Nope.
We made it all the way to the 4 way intersection at “C”. No signs of anyone except for a runner heading in the opposite direction. Crap. At “C”, T and I decided that she would go back to the car and see if M had made his way there. If not, she would just wait as I ran along the AT in the direction of “D”.
I ran my heart out to try to catch up with M or Pole Guy or HRCD. While it was great to be running on the AT again, I was careful not to run too hard or fast. I FINALLY caught up with POLE GUY between Elm Street and that little stream on the map near “D”. Odd, I thought, as I should have come across HRCD first. Pole Guy said that he hadn’t seen M since back at near the shelter. That was over an hour ago…(I PROMISE I will get to the Three Lessons Learned).
A little earlier, T had sent me a text saying that M wasn’t at the car, and now I sent her a message letting her know that I hadn’t found him, either. I turned around and made my way back toward “C”, and after a short time heard someone coming down the trail! I looked ahead to see that it was HRCD thrashing along the trail. I stopped him and asked about M, and he said the same; not since the shelter. BUT, he offered, he had gotten turned around on the trail at some point, so he might have missed M. Great. Flippin’ great.
An hour passed from when T and I split up until we met up again at the car. I told her about HRCD, and she started convincing herself that something bad had happened to M at the hands of HRCD, and that’s why he was behind Pole Guy, not because he’d gotten lost. I got to thinking, and thought that the now most likely scenario is that M MISSED the rocks at “A” and kept going straight. This would have brought him out of the woods at “E”. We can drive a car right up to “E”, about 5 road miles away, so that’s what we decided to do. Keeping our eyes open for M along the way, we raced to “E”.
Nope. No M. We walked to the pile of stones at “A”. No M. We decided to continue to “B” rather than return to the car. We were calling out M’s name, and getting nothing in return. Not even echoes. The woods were eating our attempts to locate the young man. Screw you, woods.
At “B” we decided to take our originally intended route to the “rock wall” and head back to the starting point. There is a house near there, so we figured that we’d knock on the door and try to make some phone calls. Before we got there, some guy (Dan!) showed up in a pickup truck. He’d heard me yelling M’s name from “across the valley. you sounded like my bull when it got lost in the woods one time.” (great. add that to my list of 10 things you didn’t know about BigZig). He was very kind and helpful; he drove us around some of the woods roads and back roads looking for M. By now it was around 915. We decided that the best next step was to call in reinforcements to help look for M.
Dan took us back to our car (at “E”). We had 2 dying cell phones in the car: mine and M’s. As Dan was turning around, T called her cell phone (at the house) from M’s phone, but didn’t get an answer. Then the oddest thing happened: T’s cell CALLED BACK. At first she said she thought it was Z, randomly returning the call…
But it was M!!!!! he was home. safe, warm, clean, HOME. not buried in some shallow grave in the woods or chucked over one of the ledges we’d seen on the hike.
We let Dan know, thanked him for his time, and FLEW HOME. Tears of relief and joy flowed. Wine and coffee flowed. Laughter echoed from the walls of our home as M regaled us with his adventure and we compared timelines and locations.
He HAD turned right at “B” toward the Rock Wall. He sat at the rock wall for 15 minutes waiting for us. At this same time, T and I were continuing on from “B” to “C”. He then started, unknowingly, walking toward the Starting Point (the car was still there at this point), but turned around about 100 yards from the car because he didn’t recognize the trail (we’d headed OUT on that trail).
He then went from the Rock Wall to “B”, then to “A”, the to “E” before coming out of the woods onto Happy Hill Road. At this time, T was at the car, and I was somewhere between “C” and “D”. He ran/walked down Happy Hill and Bragg Hill roads into Norwich where eventually he found someone who gave him a ride HOME. He thinks he saw us drive by him while he was in town while we were going from the starting point over to “E”.
FINALLY, at long last, here are the THREE LESSONS LEARNED:
1) CHARGE YOUR PHONES FULLY and BRING THEM WITH YOU when you go on an adventure like this. Yes, even if you think you won’t need it.
2) Use bug spray or bring some sort of repellant with you. Their annoyance can get very distracting while you are trying to find your way in an unfamiliar area.
3) Have a CONTINGENCY PLAN. Practice it. Be ready to use it.
We got very lucky: the weather was good, no one got hurt, we all made it home, and my in-laws still don’t know that I nearly lost their first grandchild in the woods.