Day 161 on the Appalachian Trail Miles Hiked to Date: 1777 Hiked yesterday: 16 Trail Miles, Miles left to hike: 406
First, thanks to Darlene F. for the generous donation! Chipmunk is already plotting how to spend her Chipmunk Bucks. She asked if you are the same Darlene who sent her the necklace.
Second, Hi to Kathy B.! Soooo good to hear from you! And totally enjoyed hearing that you are hiking and camping! FYI, a little scare similar to the one you described became a catalyst for our lifestyle, too.
It was about a 30 minute ride and we all were pretty quiet as we rode along until Papa Chip gasped and gagged. Chipmunk and I looked at him and then we also starred gagging. We fumbled, unable to get the windows down fast enough. Aughhhh! French Bulldog Gas! ...the worst! I'm sure there must be a way to bottle that and use it against our enemies in foreign lands!!
As the wind rushed in, Chocolate Chip looked at us as if she was offended. Needless to say, the combination of the nasal assault and the cold morning air, left all 4 of us WIDE AWAKE.
We pulled into the trailhead and parked. Chipmunk finished lacing her boots and then gave Papa Chip and me a big hug and kiss before returning to the open truck door to give the same to Chocolate Chip. Luckily for Chocolate Chip, Chipmunk forgives and forgets quickly. She paused for a moment so I could snap some quick pictures and then quickly disappeared into the woods.
Papa Chip and I climbed into the cab of the Chip Mobile and headed towards town. As soon as we had cell reception, we pulled over to check Google maps for a possible place to do the day's blog and found out that the nearest library, McDonald's, Dunkin Donuts, etc., offering free WIFI, was a 35 minute drive away. We debated whether we should just do a double blog the next day or head towards the closest option, the McDonald's.
Once we decided to head towards civilization and wifi, we got a nice surprise. After only 10 minutes of driving, we came upon a rest area that advertised "free wifi" on its exit sign. EXCELLENT! The laptop was fully charged after a night with campground electric so I didn't need to plug in; I got a strong enough signal and got wifi connected from the cab of the truck ... and ... when Papa Chip returned from his restroom run, he had 2 cups of Green Mountain coffee that was complimentary! Woo hoo! Free coffee, free wifi, free parking ... Life is good!
As I posted the blog, we received messages from Chipmunk, confirming that she was making good progress and was in good spirits. I think the "NERO" day at the campground truly helped. I finished downloading pics and writing the blog; then, I connected with a few facebook friends until it was lunchtime.
Papa Chip and I climbed in the back of the camper and I made us some bologna and cheese sandwiches on wheat bread with a smear of mayonnaise on them. Bologna is a comfort food for both of us, having grown up in "less than wealthy" families. We ate and talked about the hike that is still ahead for Chipmunk. I expressed my fears about some of the truly tough climbs she has ahead thru the White mountains, the Presidentials and also thru the section in Maine, known as the 100 Mile Wilderness. Is it just me, or does that have a biblical ring to it? Who knows? Maybe she'll have some revelations from hiking it. Papa Chip assured me that she was a well seasoned hiker now; that she can handle it. I do believe that but I still worry.
As we finished lunch, we heard voices outside. They were discussing the signatures on the camper. As we finished cleaning up our lunch dishes, one of them said, "I'll bet they're hikers' names." When I heard that. I opened the camper door and stepped down, explaining to the group of high school students that indeed they were signatures mostly left by thru hikers who are hiking on the Appalachian Trail this year.
One girl said, "I thought so. I'm from Great Barrington in Mass. A lot of hikers stop there and my dad gave one a ride back to the trailhead. His trail name was TAP because he taps every white blaze and AT sign he sees." I asked if she had thought about hiking the AT and she said she had; that although she's too young now, she's thinking about hiking it after high school and before college.
I pulled out my wallet as I told her that our daughter is 15 and is thru hiking the trail now. I asked if she'd like a business card with the website where she could follow Chipmunk's story and she said yes. I pulled one of the light green (Chipmunk's fave color) business cards out of my wallet and gave it to her. She smiled and said thanks, then joined the other students who were going into the visitor center. I hope she enjoys the story and finds inspiration or some insight for hiking the AT.
We had lingered at the visitor center parking area long enough and sent Chipmunk a message, letting her know we'd be driving to the end of day meet up spot. We took Chocolate Chip for one more walk and then the three of us piled into the cab. We entered the coordinates shown in the AT Guide and drove to the trailhead. We parked in the dirt lot and decided to take a walk for some exercise.
The weather had warmed up substantially and I shed my fleece pullover and wore just my long sleeve cotton top with my capris. Soon enough I'll have to switch to long pants, socks and enclosed shoes. For now, I'm still wearing sandals. Papa Chip wore his standard uniform: a t-shirt and knee length baggy shorts.
As we walked, we got a phone call from Chipmunk saying she "stepped in quick mud." I asked her what she meant and she explained that although the mud on the trail didn't look deep, when she came upon a section without a rock or tree trunk, she had to step in the mud. Like quick sand, her foot sunk quickly and it felt like she was being pulled downward. She used her free foot and pole to pull the stuck leg out, which had sunk up to her mid-calf. She shook most of the mud off and hiked on. She told me that she'd likely need to clean her boots up when we met and possibly switch to her back up pair for the next day's hike. I told her I'd have her dry pair ready.
After our walk, we waited at the truck for Chipmunk's return. I had approximated that she'd be in around 5:30pm. Papa Chip and I reviewed the next few days' hiking sheets and again, my love/hate relationship with road crossings reared its ugly head. Based on where the AT intersected roadways, we realized we'd have to convince her to add 2 more miles to the end of her current planned hiking day because if not, the next day's hike schedule offered 3 unattractive options. She'd either have to hike a very short day thru milder terrain, just under 10 miles (pushing a Katahdin summit further back), OR hike a very long 19 mile day, 1/2 of which includes a 3000' ascent over 6 miles. The last unattractive option was if she were too exhausted to finish at the 19 mile meetup, she'd have to stop at the only viable shelter which is located on the steep descent side of the mountain. She's not fond of shelter stays.
Although we've allowed Chipmunk to choose her hiking plan for most every part of the trip, we knew we had to push her to grind out a few more miles, get a good night's rest and then tackle a 17 mile day tomorrow. Doing such would pave the way for a better possible end result for the following day.
At about 6:30 pm, Chipmunk emerged from the trailhead, looking tired, dirty but with a small smile on her face. Papa Chip approached her first and quickly explained the situation. The smile faded from her face as it registered that her day's hiking was not done. She didn't say much as she looked at the AT trail guide sheets and just shook her head.
She re-buckled her backpack and sullenly said, "See you in 2 miles." We hugged her and reminded her to put her headlamp on before it got dark. She nodded and walked toward the trailhead. There wasn't much pep in her step and I worried that it would be dark by the time she arrived at the final meetup.
We programmed Evil Vengeful Rosie the GPS and were shocked to see that it was a 25 minute ride to the next trailhead. We drove the long "U" around and thru some very small towns before finding the turn off towards the trailhead. It was a dirt and gravel road about one and a half cars wide. We began scanning the road sides for signs of the trail. We hadn't gotten any cell reception since leaving the last trailhead so I wasn't able to take the usual "checks and balances" approach to finding the trailhead by cross referencing Google maps with Evil Vengeful Rosie. We drove nearly the full length of the road, passing a couple walking their dogs, without seeing any sign of the trail.
We decided to turn around and look again. As reluctant as Papa Chip is to ask directions, he agreed to stop and ask the dog walking couple if they knew where the trail crossed the road. They were quite friendly and said that it crossed about a mile up the road, "just past the dip". We drove slowly forward and finally spotted it. There were no white blazes visible from the road so Papa Chip parked and walked down the path a short distance until he spotted one.
He returned saying, "Yep. This is it. Guide me into that little clearing." I got out and positioned myself so he could see me in the side view mirrors and then gave him the hand signals until he was in off the road but there was still enough room to open the camper door. It was nearly dark then.
Once in the camper, I opened the taco dinner kit and sampled one of the broken shells. As we had expected, they were stale. We had purchased several taco kits that were on clearance a few months ago because they were nearing their expiration date then. (At 63 cents each, 4 out of the 6 were great; the remaining 2 still had taco seasoning and sauce that were good and would have cost more to buy separately.)
I pulled the spaghetti pot out and started boiling water for "Plan B": Macaroni and Cheese with taco meat. As I worked in the kitchen, I glanced out the back door towards the trail. After a few looks, I thought I saw a white light moving. I told Papa Chip who was outside and he hollered her name with a question mark at the end of it. We waited quietly and then heard, "Dad, it's me."
Within minutes, she arrived. She was breathing hard and I could see streaks down her face where I can only guess she'd been crying. She removed her pack and I hugged her, saying "good job" in her ear. We all climbed into the camper and Papa Chip took over the cooking as I helped Chipmunk out of her muddy boots and sweaty, dirty socks. She didn't say much until she suddenly said, "I KNOW I need to put big miles in. Everyone tells me this all the time. You guys, everyone on facebook. I'm really trying even when I'm really tired." I sat down next to her and wrapped my arm around her shoulder. I didn't say anything, just let her get it all out. She continued, "I hike almost 12 hours a day; sometimes more. And when I'm done, I seldom get to take a hot shower. I just eat and go to bed and get up the next day and do it again and again. I work really hard." Both Papa Chip and I nodded in agreement. I really don't know how Chipmunk and the other hikers do it. It is truly a test of one's physical endurance and inner strength.
When she stopped talking, she slumped over on me. I held her and gently rubbed her arm and shoulder. I saw tears drop from her cheeks to her lap. Papa Chip turned back to the stove and then back towards us and said, "Do you feel like some Macaroni and Cheese? It has taco meat in it." She looked up and faintly smiled. She nodded and without missing a beat, said, "Can one of you get me a Dr. Pepper from the cooler, please?"
I stood and pulled the soda from the cooler and dried it off. She dragged the back of her hand across her cheek, her tears creating a clean spot. She opened the soda, took a sip and then set it on the counter. She turned sideways in her bunk and pulled her fleece blanket over her legs which were now visibly shaking. Papa Chip offered her a steaming plate of the gooey warm mac n cheese concoction. She immediately took a bite and said, "Oh, that's good."
Soon Papa Chip and I squeezed into our spots and began to eat, too. Then, Papa Chip told Chipmunk some funny things I'd said and done during the day, after which Chipmunk laughed and said, "That should go on Twitter!" They both nodded while I protested. And with that, the air was cleared and we easily fell back into being a family.
The evening was no longer about hiking or managing miles or worrying. We were just a family laughing and poking fun at one another. Chocolate Chip settled in between Chipmunk and me, looking back and forth at us to see who would cave first and give her a treat. Chipmunk declared she was full and feeling a "little sicky; probably ate more than I should have" and gave her plate to Chocolate Chip. I finished eating my dinner and asked Chipmunk she'd like a footrub. She said, "No. I just want to read a little before I go to sleep."
Papa Chip locked up the truck and I cleaned up the kitchen. It was after 9 when Papa Chip and I climbed into our bunk. Chipmunk turned off her overhead light and we followed suit. Then I said, "I love you" in the dark in the direction of Chipmunk's bunk. After a few seconds, she said sleepily, "I love you, too; both of you." Papa Chip said, "Love you, too. Sleep well." We fell asleep to the sounds of the forest.
If you enjoy reading the story of our adventure, and you’d like to send some “Trail Magic” to Chipmunk, click on the “Donate” button at the upper right corner of today’s blog post. Chipmunk maintains a twitter account: @openlymtngoat where a common hashtag is #GoChipmunk . She (or we) will try to answer any questions you may have about her hike and this family adventure.
Thanks again for all your support,
Mama Chip, Papa Chip, Chipmunk and her dog, Chocolate Chip
(Tammy, Jay, Neva and Coco)