Day 156 on the Appalachian Trail Miles Hiked to Date: 1710 Hiked yesterday: 14 Trail Miles, Miles left to hike: 473
After dinner the night before, we received a text message from Little Bear who had hiked into the same trailhead as Chipmunk and 3 Second Delay, arriving a little later in complete darkness. He and his fellow hikers were slackpacking and one of their friends picked them up in a truck. He had gotten our phone number from another hiker, called and asked if we could help him out. When he and his hiking partners were picked up by a friend at the trailhead where we staand he had inadvertently left his dog's (Rhino's) pack behind somewhere at the trailhead. Papa Chip told him he'd put his headlamp on and go out and look for it. He returned with Rhino's backpack and I texted Little Bear to let him know we had it and would wait at the trailhead in the morning with it. He thanked us and we went to sleep.
Chipmunk paused for a quick pic here at one of the last road accessible trailheads before the Appalachian Trail splits and heads North and East and the Long Trail continues North to Canada.
While talking with the hikers, we realized that Siren had yet to sign the Chip Mobile. While she signed, she updated us on why she was wearing an Orthopedic boot: she had broken her toe and the boot stabilizes her foot well enough to allow her to soldier on. With the number of days left to hike and summit Katahdin dwindling, she chose not to let a broken toe halt her quest to hike all the way to the end. Go, Siren!
Papa Chip and Siren's friend, Greg, who has been shuttling and slack packing the hikers, talked and compared notes on the end of day meet up spot, which happened to be the same as Chipmunk's chosen spot. That was the case since the road crossing choices offered only 3 options: an 8 mile hike (too short), a 14 mile hike (just about right) or a 23 mile hike (too many miles for a Chipmunk or a Siren with a broken toe).
The meet up spot was known as Chateauguay Road in the AT Guide and Papa Chip showed Greg how Google maps showed it in the right general area but didn't show the AT actually crossing it, only coming close to it. Greg said that he planned to head up the mountain mid-afternoon. He gave us his phone number and we gave him ours, and we agreed to text him updates of what we found. He was a nice guy and only later would we find that we had so much more in common with him than we knew.
Papa Chip and I found a nearby spot to plug in and post the blog and then by 11:30 AM, we started following the Google Maps directions up to Chateauguay Road. With a 35 minute drive still ahead, we already found ourselves on gravel roads. Albeit they were well maintained ... at first. Soon they narrowed to single lane roads with an occasional turnout and houses few and far between. Luckily, we downloaded and saved the directions to Papa Chip's phone because we lost all cell reception about halfway to our destination.
We continued driving ahead and the roads became less gravel and more just good old fashioned dirt. They were narrow and now there were gullies on either side of the road and occasional 6-12" deep ruts in the road, which Papa Chip crossed very gingerly. I'd like to say I'm used to this by now ... but I'm not. I found that my shoulders and neck muscles were squeezed in a tense hold and had to remind myself regularly to relax them.
When we finally turned on to Chateauguay Road (and Evil Vengeful Rosie the GPS also agreed), we felt that all was well. Now all we needed to do was watch for the obvious signs of the trailhead: AT Markers, Hiker Crossing signs, a well worn path into the woods, flattened grass, etc. We drove, inching forward ever more slowly as the road worsened. Finally, I yelled, "STOP!" About 20 feet ahead of us was a stream that ran across the road and made a deep rut, probably about a foot deep ... and running mostly parallel to our tires. Papa Chip said he was pretty sure the truck could handle it but decided to park and walk up ahead and see if there was any sign of the trailhead.
Chocolate Chip and I stayed in the truck. She snoozed while I folded sections of toilet paper and slide them into plastic ziploc bags for Chipmunk's "toilet-ing" in the woods. I managed to fill about 25 bags of it before I finally saw Papa Chip heading back to the truck. He said that he didn't see sign of any trailhead. He didn't even see footprints, indicating where hikers might have used a side trail from the AT to the road. Of course, this was a remote location that offered no nearby hiker services or stores for re-supply. Most thru hikers would probably choose to hike on Woodstock, VT, another 9 miles.
We decided to head back down the road and see if maybe we had missed the trailhead on the way. Papa Chip got behind the wheel and I guided him back down the narrow, muddy road ... a couples activity that often leads to divorce, fyi! Luckily, we ironed out our hand signals for situations like this way back when Chipmunk was still just a baby. Yep! We've often taken the road less travelled and had to "back out".
Papa Chip deftly drove in reverse, checking his side mirrors for my hand signals. FYI, we can not yell commands to one another since the diesel engine drowns out almost every sound (Note to gangs: the '93 Dodge Ram with the Cummins Turbo Diesel Engine is not a good "drive by" vehicle choice!).
Once we had it turned around, we headed back even slower than before and neither of us found any sign of a trailhead. We spotted a couple in the yard at one of the rare residences along that road. Papa Chip pulled over, cut the engine and asked if they knew where the Appalachian Trailhead was. At first, the middle aged man said, "No. There's no trails up here." Then I asked, "Is this Chateauguay Road? (in a mangled way, unsure of its pronunciation). The man laughed and said, "You're not from Vermont. It's pronounced SHA-te-gee Road." I apologized and said, "So, is this that road?" He laughed and said, "Yes. You lost?"
Papa Chip said, "Well, we're trying to meet up with a few hikers and it looks like the Appalachian Trail comes close to or crosses this road." The fellow now got serious looking and said, "Did you drive up there to where the stream is? There's a clearing about a 1/2 mile past there. That's where all the hikers go for as long as I've lived here." Hmm. We were puzzled. Didn't he initially say there were no trails up there? Nonetheless, Papa Chip thanked him and we drove forward and pulled off on a turnout to discuss all this. Papa Chip said that he did see a clearing about a 1/2 mile past the stream; that maybe he'd somehow missed an obscure trailhead.
We decided to go back up the mountain and make one more check of all of it. It was now early afternoon and the muscles in my neck and shoulders were really making themselves known. Furthermore, it had been a while since we had cell reception and I was concerned that Chipmunk might be trying to reach us. I tried to dismiss my worries and get on with the task at hand. We drove back to the stream and Papa Chip decided to risk crossing that spot. He maneuvered the truck well but the camper "stable-lift" frame definitely dragged and caught on rocks before he was able to get to a slightly better stretch of the seldom travelled road.
We pulled off and walked up and down the portion of the road, checking the clearing again and again. There truly was no sign of a trail anywhere. Ugh! We decided to head back to the land of cell reception and contact Chipmunk with a change of plan. When we reached reception, we stopped the truck and checked all of our messages. Chipmunk sent her typical time/location stamp updates and questioned whether we found the trailhead. Siren's friend, Greg, sent a similar message. We texted both of them with a quick update. While we were checking other messages, Greg texted back and said that he thought he found another road crossing that wasn't referenced in the AT Guide: Blankley Cottage Road. We searched our GPS and Google maps and it looked feasible so we told him we'd try and drive it and update him if we had service. We texted Chipmunk to hike on and that we'd intercept her but that it would not be at Chateauguay Road. I feared we might not be able to meet up with her this day.
We drove all the way back down the mountain and almost returned to the trailhead where we had left from that morning. We re-routed our Google Maps GPS and also Evil Vengeful Rosie the GPS. Both routes seemed to be in agreement so we started driving. Again, with over 30 minutes from our ETA, we found ourselves on narrowing gravel roads. My neck and shoulders were now locked in a permanent pain. I held onto the dashboard with both hands as we went through some muddy, rocky stretches of roadway. I think Papa Chip forgot that we weren't in our old 1985 Jeep CJ-7 and again, I yelled, "STOP!" when we came to a spot I didn't think we could cross. Papa Chip said, "I think I can do it." I reminded him that although we had roadside service, we had no way to call them should he be wrong.
Papa Chip started backing up and I took my usual spot behind, making sure he could see me in the side view mirrors. As he backed into a turnout, a familiar looking truck pulled up. It was Greg. And although we'd only just met him, I found comfort in it ... I'm not sure if I felt safety in numbers or if I was just glad to have someone to commiserate with!
Papa Chip and Greg discussed their map findings and determined that the trailhead was likely one half to three quarters a mile ahead. Since his truck was unencumbered with a po' white trash truck camper, Papa Chip grabbed his "bugout bag" complete with waters and snack bars and hopped into Greg's truck. Chocolate Chip and I stayed with the truck and I ended up doing dishes while I waited. About 2 hours later, I was sitting in the passenger seat of the truck when Papa Chip came riding up ... ON A BIKE!
He told me that he and Greg found the trailhead and that Chipmunk emerged a short time ago. Since the other group of hikers left a few hours after her that morning and were likely close behind, she chose to wait at Greg's truck. She decided to rest there and ride back to the truck when they left the trailhead for the night. Papa Chip looked relaxed and happy, not just because Chipmunk was safe but because Greg loaned him one of his 2 mountain bikes that were mounted on the back of his truck. Papa Chip LOVES bicycling!
We ate dinner, talked and laughed until it was pitch dark outside. Chipmunk said she did get scared that we wouldn't connect and that she'd have to camp alone. She said she was in tears when she didn't hear back from us for several hours. We assured her that we'd always work as hard as we could to find her at day's end ... and that she had all that she needed to get her thru the night until we could meet up with her or she could call her emergency list of contacts for a rescue. She nodded but I could see the fear in her eyes.
I tried to change the mood by asking Papa Chip if he thought Greg and the hikers decided to camp up at the trailhead. He said he didn't know. He decided to lock up Greg's bikes and the camper. If they did come down, they'd likely stop and knock to exchange Chipmunk's backpack and Greg's Bikes. We headed to our bunks and fell asleep. I noted that some time in the last few hours of the day, my shoulders and neck finally relaxed but were feeling "tender". Papa Chip kissed my neck before I fell asleep and I think it kinda felt better.
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)