Thursday, October 18, 2012

Getting to the Slide

Earlier, I knew exactly what I needed to tell you about tonight.  The story was practically telling itself.  Now, my mind is a total blank.  I hate when that happens. 

So, I'm going to have to tell you about the spring hiking trip.  Can you tell that it was years ago when this happened, the spring of 1988?  With the Explorer Post, we'd gotten into a lull of membership.  We decided that was okay, when we had more adults than Explorers on trips, that we could still have a good time.  It worked.  What happened then was that the one or two kids that had gone on a trip told their friends they'd had a great time and the next thing we knew, our trips were packed again.  It didn't take much for our cars to get filled up. 

Funny, I don't remember any parent involvement back then.  I eventually bought a Blazer so that I could fit both kids and gear.  That helped a lot, but still there was one trip when parents had to buckle down and drive us to our destination, Slide Mountain Loop.

Slide Mountain Loop is in the Catskills.  I went there twice. 

The first time I went was a couple of years earlier, the fall in 1986.  This is the place that Mike recommended for me to hike when I told him I was going solo. That was back before we were really dating.  Do you remember when I told you about how we had a rocky start?  Somehow, during that in-between time, I wanted Mike to think about how much he'd lost.  Oh, I was going solo, I told him.  I was an independent outdoorsy kind of girl.  The problem was that I really didn't want to hike alone, so when I arrived at the loop, I got a slow start.  I stopped to talk to people when I could.  I ended up walking in a few miles, then turning around to get back to my car by nightfall.  Sleeping within arm's reach of your front drivers-side tire is not camping.  I put my keys under my pillow.  It was my first and last time camping alone.  I didn't care for it.  I felt incredibly vulnerable out there by myself.  I never did tell Mike how little I'd hiked that weekend.  He might have suspected it when I couldn't describe the slide, which he said was the best part.  He didn't press me though. I always did like that about Mike, that he didn't compete when it came to adrenaline sports. 

Here's the funny thing - I never did make it to the slide. 

A couple of years later, we decided to hike the loop for a spring trip.  What a good idea, I had thought.  That way I could finally see the slide and stop feeling like a fraud.  You probably already know by know that I really am a fraud most of the time, though it took me long enough to admit it.  

For this trip, Mike and I were the only leaders and we had two and a half car loads of kids.  We started out at the trailhead and the weather quickly began to look a little sketchy.  We couldn't pop The Weather Channel up on our iPhones back then.  In fact, we didn't even have cell phones though I remember making fun of someone who did and expected to be rescued if he got lost in the woods with his phone.  We plunged ahead on our trip.

What an adventure.  What was supposed to be a spring backpacking trip quickly turned into winter camping expedition.  We hiked through fat flakes of snow that accumulated quickly.  It was pretty but it got to six or eight inches deep in no time.  Before long, Mike and I realized we'd have to rethink our plan.  What this entailed was me looking over his shoulder at the map while I let Mike decide what to do.  Oh, I'm good at map reading, but I wasn't confident about deciding what the safest option was.  Mike really did have more experience than I did.  Remember, I was the one who's parents encouraged her to hand feet baby bears in Tennessee and who hiked behind them on a glacier in the Rockies even though we could hear water running underneath us.  A fraud, remember? 

Mike decided to shorten the trip.  As it was, we were post-holing with every step.  With drifting, the snow was knee deep in places.  The trail was strenuous even without dropping down through the wet snow with every step.  We were not going to make it to the slide.  Damn!

So, we bivouaced for the night in the best spot we could find, a wide slope that dropped down toward a low cliff, only about ten feet high.  As we set up tents, Mike told me he didn't want me in a tent by myself.  Maybe he could see that I was nervous.  Maybe he wanted to keep me warm.  Or maybe it was that he wanted to hold me while I slept.  Sorry, guys, this is G-rated, truly.  I don't mean to be boring, but that's what we did that night, sleep. 

Then next morning, noises outside our tent were muffled and the whole thing sagged around us.  We had gotten a lot more snow.  We popped our heads out and saw that all the other tents were still standing, though they sagged under the weight of the snow too.  It was going to be a good morning for a quick breakfast. 

As we got our bearings, we noticed that one of the tents had slid fifteen feet or so down the slope toward the drop-off.  It was a lot closer to the cliff.  Wow!  When the camper stuck his head out of his tent, his face went white, then he started laughing.  There's nothing like waking up too close to the edge of a cliff. 

We all warmed our hands on hot chocolate and oatmeal and packed up.  Going back down was even trickier.  The knee deep snow was now thigh deep in most places.  Not knowing the guideline against blue jeans for camping, I got totally soaked.  We were all working together though, watching for hypothermia among other things.  This is a group of kids, most of whom had been with us for enough trips, including a seven day canoe trek in the Adirondacks.  We were a cohesive group.  We loved these kids.

At one point, the youngest guy turned to me and said, "You should grab that tree."  He was very calm.  Then my legs went out from under me as my boots hit ice.  I landed on my butt, but I had a good hold of his tree.  Below me, the snow camouflaged a steep drop.  I'm telling you, this was the kind of boy who would have made a good pilot, careful and calm in an emergency.  If it had been me trying to warn someone, I would have yelled something incomprehensible and he would have gone down and broken something. 

Though we were only a few miles in, it took us all day to hike out to the trailhead.  By the time we arrived, we were an hour late, it was past dark and we had struggled with the mix of cold, deep snow, and flashlights in the dark.  It was a relief that this time, we'd overflowed when it came to kids in the cars.  Enough parents were there waiting for us that we didn't have any trouble getting our own cars dug out of the snow.  The parents were relieved that we were all okay.  

It seems like the most difficult trips become the best adventure stories.  The next time we ran an outing, we were overflowing with enthusiastic campers. 

Thank you for listening, jb

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