Day 162 on the Appalachian Trail Miles Hiked to Date: 1794 Hiked yesterday: 17 Trail Miles, Miles left to hike: 389
First, to Tune's mom, Sue ... thanks for the heads up for the hiking/phone reception/weather we'll be facing. Please send our best to Tune ... we all miss him!
Second, to Aunt Carol, thanks for the Haagen Dazs bucks and the Chocolate Chip "gas" wisdom! We'll see if Chipmunk prefers Haagen Dazs over Ben & Jerry's.
Third, thanks to everyone who sent messages of support to Chipmunk after yesterday's blog. I'm sorry if she or I don't reply to each one. We are in a constant struggle to get and use Wifi or to have cell reception as we go further North.
Chipmunk ate her usual dose of "goat"meal, dressed in her hiking clothes, brushed her teeth and said, "I think it's starting to get light out." I peeked out the window, too, and said, "It'll be light enough by the time we re-fill your water supply, pack your snacks and go over the day's hike plan." I asked how she felt and she said, "OK. Not bad, just a little tired." I was glad to hear it after she had put in another long day the day before. I don't personally know anyone who puts in 8-12 hours of physical labor per day, day after day, and still manages to get up and do it again and again, often with a smile. Many of the AT hikers either start their day later and end about the same time as she does OR start their day early, too, and end between 3 and 4 pm.
I reminded her that we'd re-assess her and her day's hiking plan at the first meet up spot. If she didn't arrive by the cut off time, we wouldn't allow her to proceed to a serious climb in the next part of her hike. She hugged and kissed us good bye and posed for a quick photo. Again, Chocolate Chip tried to sneak in on the hike and the picture. Chipmunk told her the bad news and Chocolate Chip "stayed" while Chipmunk disappeared into the woods.
We drove to the midday meet up spot, which ended up being about 35 minutes away by vehicle. We found it easily and parked the truck. Within minutes, it started raining. I asked Papa Chip if Chipmunk had her rain gear in her pack and he said he was sure she did. At first, we sat and chatted about weather and her safety, etc. and then both of us comforted one another with "look what she's done so far" kind of comments. When the rain lifted a bit, Papa Chip decided to go for a run and I opted to clean up the camper. If I stay busy, the time passes quicker.
Papa Chip returned from his run and I suggested that we put on soup for the kid's arrival. I finished washing and drying all the dishes and I put the soup pot on the stove top. Papa Chip took over from there while I played with Chocolate Chip on Chipmunk's bunk. Around 11 am, I heard Chipmunk's voice ... it was a full 30 minutes before we expected her to arrive at the midday meet up. I opened the camper door and found one slightly soggy Chipmunk.
She smiled and said, "See? I'm early." I smiled, climbed down and helped her take off her pack. She said she had gone through some low puddles and that her feet were dry; didn't think she needed to switch to her backup pair of boots. When she got up into the camper, Papa Chip asked why she hadn't put her rain gear on and she said that just putting it on slowed her down; and that she was on a roll by the time she started getting wet. She didn't want to lose her momentum by stopping to put on the rain pants.
She sat down and enjoyed two bowls of Ramen Chicken Noodle Soup while Chocolate Chip sat at her elbow, occasionally looking up at her. Every now and again, she'd lick at Chipmunk's arm and Chipmunk didn't seem to notice or mind it. She said that the trail was a little muddy and the rocks a little slippery but all in all, "not bad." We asked if anything hurt and she said, "No." Once she finished eating, she started pulling her boots back on and I asked, "Are you sure you want to keep hiking in this rain?" She said, "Yeah. I don't mind the rain that much. Plus, if I start now, I should be done about 7:30. We would still have time to go into town."
I looked at Papa Chip with a raised eyebrow and he said, "OK. Just text us your time and location updates. If you get tired or anything happens, stop and camp. Remember, the only 2 shelters are right at the beginning and right at the end. Be careful." She smiled and said, "I always am."
Once she was zipped up and ready to go, she pulled her pack from the hood of the truck. She pulled Big Red on and adjusted the straps for a comfortable fit over her rain jacket. She looked at me and I guess I look worried, because she said, "I'll be fine. I'll see you around 7:30. Love you." She walked across the road and re-joined the trail.
Papa Chip, Uke and I chatted while I blogged and then Uke surprised me by video calling his mom, Doreen. She and I have been "yukking it up" on Facebook and it was great to see her face and hear her voice.
Shortly, we were joined by Mailman and Whisper who were both taking a ZERO in town. We laughed and talked and caught up on what's happening in one another's lives. We all went through the standard exchange of town info: who's in town? where's free wifi? is there a laundromat? where are the affordable but decent "eats" deals? All the while, we tracked Chipmunk's hiking route on the computer and via texts. It was a nice relaxing afternoon and it was great to see our hiking family again!
We watched the SPOT GPS online tracking until we verified that she cleared the major peak she needed to clear. She did so just prior to the expected time. Although Uke presumed she would linger at the top and take in views, as many hikers do, I assured him that she would not. She typically takes a few minutes to look around, sometimes takes a few pictures and then heads on down the trail. Considering the weather (rainy, foggy), I knew she'd have limited views and that she'd head on. In a few moments, we refreshed her tracking page and sure enough she did. We continued to refresh the page until we decided to shut down the computer and head up the mountain to the meet up area, albeit an hour earlier than her expected arrival time.
Tumbleweed mentioned that she was going to hitch a ride back to a trailhead North of where we were meeting Chipmunk. We told her we'd give her a ride if she could wait until we picked up broccoli at the local grocery and looped back around. She said she'd be ready to go when we returned.
After the trip to the grocery store, we pulled into the parking lot at the Dunkin Donuts and saw Tumbleweed's backpack but no Tumbleweed. We looked around and then saw her coming out of the Dunkin Donuts with a box of donuts. My initial thought was, "Hikers can and do eat anything they want!" Then Tumbleweed walked up and handed the box to me. I looked shocked and said, "Are these for us?" She nodded and I told her, "You didn't have to do that." She smiled and said, "I know."
Papa Chip loaded her pack into the camper and the three of us squeezed into the cab for the ride up the mountain. As we rode, we chatted about who's on the trail, who's off, who has hooked up, etc. I tell you, Trail Life... I could write such a soap opera!
When we dropped Tumbleweed at her trailhead, we got out and looked at the trailhead signs. In New Hampshire, the AT is a little different. The trails that existed before NH joined the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, remain posted by their original names ... not the Appalachian Trail. Back in Vermont, although the Long Trail runs concurrent with the AT, BOTH are listed on trailhead signs. Here in NH, only the NH names for the trails are listed. AT hikers typically reference their AT Guide for the names of the NH trails that they need to follow.
Also, the white blazes which once numbered between 10 and 30 per mile in other states, now number more like 3-5 per mile in New Hampshire. Luckily, most of the northbound AT hikers really "know their thing" by now and none of this is a problem for them. Also, Chipmunk knows not to wander too far ahead on a trail unless she is sure that it's the correct trail. When she can't see the next white blaze ahead of her, she typically looks back and verifies she's on the right trail by checking the Southbound blazes. She knows to retrace her footsteps if she ends up "off trail." Also, she knows if that doesn't work, she should find water and follow along its downward flow. Water typically flows toward populations ... er, rather, populations have planted themselves close to water in early settling days and those towns grew into our current towns. (As Papa Chip says, "If nothing else, when she gets to the end of the water flow, she can go to the beach!" Oh, Papa Chip!)
After dropping Tumbleweed, we drove back to the trailhead where we were meeting Chipmunk. It was about 6:30 pm but darker out than usual because of all the cloud cover. I was a bit concerned about the darkness but I know she has a high powered headlamp and that she's had a few successful after dark arrivals at trailheads. I tried to relax and just wait.
NOTE: I've always tried to be as honest and up front on this blog regarding most everything about this adventure. By writing this daily update, I open my family and me up to criticism, judgement and sometimes downright hateful messages. At the same time, I know for a fact that many have found not only entertainment in reading about our adventure, but, also inspiration. Along with the "hard to read", we've also received wonderful messages of support and we've made wonderful new friends via the blog that we'd never have known had Chipmunk not decided to pursue this quest.
You, too, may have a strong opinion about how our family is handling this and because we live in a free society, you are entitled to it and furthermore have the right to speak about it. I do ask that you consider before you speak that we are not perfect and likely never will be. We embarked on this adventure with lot of forethought, debate and planning before greenlighting it. Our hope is to help our daughter accomplish a goal she chose while keeping her reasonably safe. We have considered most every scenario we could fathom, all three of us have discussed and are on board with contingency plans and action plans. Chipmunk is aware that she may have to exercise survival skills and for that reason pursued education in that area while she prepped for this trip. All that said ... I continue with how the day unfolded.
When it got close to 7:30 pm, it was very dark and I was more concerned than usual as I watched the trailhead for her emergence. We did not have cell service reception at the trailhead. I felt a slight panicky feeling and then talked myself down, as I promised myself I would. Papa Chip and I discussed if and when we'd intervene. We decided that if she did not emerge from the trailhead by 7:45 pm, that because of the darkness factor, and the fact that she may be quite fatigued, we would take step 1 of our contingency plan.
At 7:45 pm, Papa Chip grabbed his Bug Out bag, complete with water, snacks and emergency shelter. He put his headlamp on, kissed me goodbye and I whispered in his ear, "Bring my baby back." He nodded and ran into the entrance to the trail. I prepared for step 2 of the contingency plan: Identify exactly where I am, in case I should go for help. First, I marked on my AT Guide the spot where we were parked. Then, I approached the Trailhead kiosk which has maps and information sheets under plexiglass. I took pictures of the trailhead name, which was differently named than what the AT Guide called it. The AT Guide refers to the numbered Route and the towns that border it; the kiosk refers to the locally named intersection of trails. I wanted all the names it is known by so that local officials could quickly locate us by whatever name they know it by. FYI, taking a picture eliminates verbal mistakes that can be made under stress.
With that information stored in my phone, I moved ahead with the original plan, which was to allow a full hour for Papa Chip to locate Chipmunk and bring her back to the trailhead. If at 8:45 pm, I had not heard from them, I would proceed to the next step. Until then, I followed the original plan: stay busy with things that are helpful. In this case, I prepped dinner. I cleaned and cut up the broccoli and started steaming it. While it was steaming, I pulled an empty soda box from beneath Chipmunk's bunk and used a large Sharpie marker to write a note.
Next, I stepped outside and pulled one of our camp chairs from the outside storage. I set it up where the trailhead opened to the parking area. I hung the storage bag on the back of the chair so that the carry strap would create a way to secure the soda box sign to it. Our truck camper was the only vehicle in the lot and I think that made doing all of this that much better. I didn't need to answer strangers' questions about what I was doing nor let their input take me off track with what I was doing.
I returned to the camper and checked the time. It was about 8:20 pm, so I continued to prepare dinner. I set the broccoli aside and prepared the Lipton Sides Noodle dish. It was fully ready about 8:35 pm and I added the broccoli to it. I turned off the gas, covered the pot with the lid and moved it to a back burner. Then, I decided I'd better move it to a cabinet so that it wouldn't fall off the stove, if I should have to drive.
With about 10 more minutes until the next step of my plan, I found my stomach clenching up and I decided to try something that wasn't part of our plan. I went to the cab of the truck, started it and aimed the headlights at the trailhead. I thought it might be helpful to have some lights to follow to the parking lot. I also blew the horn a few times, thinking it might be helpful to also have a sound to follow, in case either of them were off trail.
When it hit 8:45 pm, I put the pre-written soda box note on the camp chair, securing it under the carry bag strap. It said: "Jay/Neva It's 8:45 pm and I'm driving towards town for help. I will be back. Stay here." I got back into the truck and connected my phone to the charger so that I'd be able to find it in the dark and keep it "at hand" as I drove down the mountain. Earlier in the day, I noted where we had reception and where we lost it. (I do that whenever we are driving to trailheads, just in case.) I glanced toward my phone as I approached town and pulled over as soon as I saw a signal.
I put the truck in Park and left the headlights on but turned the engine off so that I would be seen along the road and heard on the phone. I decided, in the moment, to dial 911 since I didn't know how many of the contact phone numbers from the kiosk I'd have to call before finding the right one for our trailhead. When the emergency operator answered, I said, "I don't know if this an emergency yet. My daughter is hiking the Appalachian Trail and is an hour overdue at the trailhead. Can you connect me to the local police office for this trailhead? I have a tracking signal which will show her exact GPS location." The 911 operator took some basic info, put me on hold and then transferred me.
When the next operator got on the line, he quickly realized that the call was mistakenly transferred to his station but that he could tell from tracking my phone call that my situation was best helped by a nearby station. He took my phone number and assured me I'd receive a call right back from that station. I hung up and waited about 90 seconds before my phone rang. I answered it, putting the caller on speakerphone. He was already acquainted with my situation and my location and told me how to drive the short distance to his station.
I pulled in to the police station and parked. I grabbed my laptop out of my book bag and opened it, starting it up as I walked quickly toward the small building. When I walked in, I found one officer who introduced himself as the Chief of Police. I shook his hand with my free hand and said, "If you have wifi, I can quickly pull up a page that will show her exact location." He offered me his desk and I put my laptop on it and quickly connected to WIFI. He asked a few questions while my fingers flew across the keyboard. First he asked, "Thru hiker or section hiker?" I said, "Thru Hiker." Then he asked, "North? or Southbound?" I said "Northbound." He said, "Good. We never have to rescue Northbounders; they all know their stuff by the time they get here." It was reassuring to hear.
Within minutes, I had the SPOT GPS page fully loaded and we both saw that the tracking showed that she had arrived at the trailhead. I was so relieved. I even felt butterflies in my belly. My baby was safe. At that point, I presumed that Papa Chip was with her and that he, too, was safe. I turned to the Chief and said, "Thank you very much. I'm sorry if I jumped the gun on this." He said, "No, not at all. Truly, Better safe than sorry. How about I drive up to the trailhead with you to make sure they both made it there okay?" I agreed as I shut down the laptop and headed towards the door.
When we stepped outside, I asked if he would go ahead of me to the trailhead since my truck is slower uphill. He said he would and then told me to drive carefully. (In the moment, I wondered if he spied the dent in the front bumper and the patch job on the roof camper and somehow knew I wasn't the best of drivers.) I followed him out of the parking lot and followed pretty closely until we were beyond the town limits and the road turned upwards. His tail lights got further and further ahead of me as my old Dodge chugged along. When I could no longer see his tail lights, I continued up and around the mountain until Evil Vengeful Rosie correctly alerted me that the entrance to the trailhead parking area was only 2/10ths of a mile ahead.
I turned into the parking lot and as I came around, I could see both Papa Chip and Chipmunk standing in front of the police cruiser. They were talking and laughing with the Chief. It was so very good to see them both. I carefully parked in the same spot we'd been in earlier, put it in Park and climbed out of the cab. I fought the urge to run up and grab them both. I had kept my panic in check to this point and I wanted Chipmunk to know that I could and would stay calm if ever there was an emergency. I walked up and hugged her and she was smiling. It was almost 9:30 pm. She'd been hiking since 6:30 AM and she was smiling.
When she arrived, he told her to sit down next to him and turn off her headlamp, to conserve the battery. He put his arm around her and she said even though she was getting scared she kept saying to herself, "I know if I just kept taking steps, as long as I kept moving, I'd eventually get to you." As they sat in the dark on the rock, resting, Papa Chip and she joked and talked. After a short time, he said that they should get moving. They turned on their headlamps and resumed the trail, Papa Chip led the way, since he had just hiked that same path. When he accidentally got a little off trail, Chipmunk quickly pointed out the correct way. He said he was impressed at how "in tune" she is with the trail.
As they hiked that last mile, he asked if she had thought about her TED talk. Her voice grew more confident as she shared with him all the ideas she had. She was recently asked to give a TED Youth talk. If you are unfamiliar with TED talks, check out: http://www.ted.com/talks According to their website, "TED conferences bring together the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes or less). By the time they arrived at the trailhead, Chipmunk was relaxed but still a little tired from her long day.
They easily found the sign I left and Chipmunk sat down in the chair it was attached to. Chipmunk sent out her "I'm OK/Arrival" message from her GPS device and then dug her cell phone out of her pack and pulled up some fan fiction to read while they waited for my return. Once the officer arrived and confirmed all was well, he headed out shortly after I parked. I thanked him again for his help and he said, "No problem. Have a good night." Nice man ... a good level headed and experienced Police Officer.
She laughed and said, "Someone left a bunch of beer in the stream where we had to cross. Papa Chip spotted it and said, 'do you want to bring that back for Mama Chip?' and I said, Yep!" I smiled and admittedly a few tears rolled down my cheeks. Not because Rolling Rock is not one of my favorite beers but because I was glad to have my daughter and husband safely back together with me.
I carried the beer back to the camper as Papa Chip and Chipmunk grabbed their gear. I told them that I'd get dinner warmed up while they changed into dry pj's. Within minutes, we were eating hot pasta and broccoli in a parmesan cream sauce. We talked and laughed and to the outsider, it would seem like just about any other day in our lives. It was actually a day that put our emergency plans into action and each of us followed them pretty well and the outcome was good.
As I drank the beer, I said, "I think we all need a ZERO tomorrow." Chipmunk agreed, saying that now that she was done for the day, her body was aching and she was very tired. Plus, the weather forecast for the following day was not good: rain, thunderstorms, lightning mid to late in the day. We all agreed and turned off our alarms on our phones. I hugged Chipmunk one last time before crawling into my bunk. I, too, found myself feeling exhausted and a little drained. I snuggled up next to Papa Chip and asked, "Are you okay with how I handled all this?" He kissed my cheek and said, "Yeah. You did everything right; we all did." With that, I said, "I love you. Good Night" and he said the same. Chipmunk was already asleep.
Before I drifted off to sleep, I thought about all the things that could have gone wrong. Chipmunk could have stumbled and twisted an ankle (or worse) in the dark; Papa Chip could have, as well. Either of them could have gotten lost. I tried to put the thoughts out of my mind and remind myself that we made the emergency and contingency plans for just such a situation. Like the Boy Scout motto, it pays to "be prepared." In the end, we did what was right for our family in this situation. We don't expect everyone to be comfortable with, or even fully understand, the choices we make for our family. But then again, we don't presume to know what's right for others, only what's right for us.
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)