blank'/> Mirth, Melancholy, and the Mundane: Trailhead This Way

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Trailhead This Way

On Friday, January 22nd, I went to my parents’ house to have lunch with them and help work on a rather annoying jigsaw puzzle that I had picked out for them to do when they finished the last one.  After lunch and some time at the puzzle, dad asked if I wanted to go on walkabout.  I love walking in their woods even in the winter, so I said sure.  I borrowed some boots and a warmer coat from my mom, adjusted my hat and scarf and off we went into the wilderness. 

We were almost back at the house sometime later when my dad, who was surveying the brambles down in a gully asked me if I ever thought about that time we got lost at Limekiln Lake.   My mind immediately went back to that afternoon in 2014…

…it was a gloomy, wet sort of day even though it was July.  I was up camping in the Adirondacks with my parents and my aunt and uncle.  Dad and I decided we were going to go on a hike.  We had a map, walking sticks, some granola bars, and we dressed in layers so we could adjust to any changes in temperature.  We had on good shoes and yet for some reason, we did not bring any water.  Nor did we have a compass or even my cell phone (since there was no signal up there anyway).  It was a good hike – there was lots of cool things to see.  I took lots of pictures as I trudged behind my dad.   It’s one of my favorite things to do, really – camp with my parents and hike with my dad while there.  The trail seemed a little sketchy in places, but we kept relocating the markers and so were more or less doing alright.  I didn’t think too much of one of the bridges being under six inches of water and was more fascinated at the amount of tannin in the water that was making it turn a fascinating shade of orange which made my feet look funny.  I had taken my sneakers off to cross and rolled up my pant legs in an effort to keep them dry.   This would become more significant later.

“Yep,” I said.  He started walking back towards the house again and I took up my usual spot behind him.  He was quiet for a moment and then said, “That was scary.  I have dreams about it sometimes still.”  We trudged through the snow up the rest of the embankment towards the lawn and the house beyond with its burning fire and cozy jigsaw puzzle.

Every once and a while we would stop to figure out where we were on the map and everything seemed to be going well.  Except that we eventually would come to realize that the map and the trails marked on it did not seem to match the trail that we were actually walking.  It was becoming harder and harder to find the trail markers – though we never completely lost them for long.  What should have been a forty five minute walked turned into an hour, and then two, and then three.  We shared a granola bar and the talk that had sporadically drifted in and out of our hike stopped almost completely.  We unconsciously took turns going first, trudging through heavy flora that was thick with rain and mud.  Sneakers and pants could not be kept dry and were drenched up past the knees.  I stopped taking pictures.  We kept checking the map.  We heard dogs in the distance, but they never seemed to get any closer and we dared not stray off the path we seemed to be on.  It felt like dusk was coming.

I didn’t really reply that I can recall, or if I did it was some sort of offhand comment about how it had certainly been memorable.  But his comment started line of thinking that I’ve been mulling over since.  At the time we were hiking, I knew that this was not how the hike was supposed to go and I knew that the map and the trail were not aligning in a way that made any sense.  I had heard stories of people becoming lost in the Adirondack Wilderness, so it wasn’t as if the enormity of the situation was lost on me then.  I knew that our growing silence meant that we were focusing on putting one foot in front of the other and getting to more familiar ground.  But there was something else going on as well…

When we finally came out of the vast wilderness that is Adirondack State Park in a completely different part of the campground from where we had gone in, the normalcy of camping seemed to come rushing back.  It was almost culture shock.  We were filthy, soaked, exhausted, and an evening chill was starting to set in.  My legs ached from pushing through ferns and branches and ankle deep mud.  I kept alternating between warmth from exertion and cool from the sweat drying and the cool breeze kicking up.  We walked slowly back to our own campground to find my mother, my uncle, and my aunt all somewhat frantic.  They had already been to the ranger and were trying to figure out what to do.  My dad’s brother had driven around the campground a few times hoping to see us on some path or coming out of the woods somewhere.  We had been gone a long time.

I know my dad well enough that his comment about dreams and actually saying that the hike was scary was no small thing.  This is a man who had been a soldier.  It took a lot for him to admit fear because it was always easier to keep it inside and do what needed to be done.  What I don’t think dad realizes is that while I respect the enormity of what we experienced, there was only one thing that caused me fear that entire afternoon.  The only thing that kept crossing my mind had nothing to do with not finding our way out or that we wouldn’t reach civilization again.  My only concern was that we would not make it back out before dad became sick.  He’s diabetic, see, and that much physical exertion with little more than a couple of granola bars was the only thing that I felt was out of our control.

Correction.  It was the only thing that I ever felt out was out of dad’s control.  I trudged on step after step and only two things ran through my head beyond how tired I was and how much my back was upset with me…. 

My legs hurt.  My back hurts.  I’m tired.  Watch your step.  Don’t be a klutz, this is not the place for an injury. I’m tired.  Please don’t let the diabetes cause a problem out here.  My legs hurt.  My feet are wet and cold.  I’m tired.  Don’t be a klutz. Please don’t let the diabetes cause a problem out here. Please don’t let the diabetes cause a problem out here. Please don’t let the diabetes cause a problem out here. Please don’t let the diabetes cause a problem out here.  Please don’t. Please don’t. Please don’t. Please don’t. Please don’t. Please don’t. Please don’t.

You see, I knew we would get back to the campground.  I knew it would be okay.  I never had a single doubt that it was just a matter of time.  I didn’t have to worry or be afraid.  I was with my dad.

I was with my dad.



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