17 September 2008

Everyone Please Remain Calm

There’s no need to panic. That’s what I told her. So, what did she do? Panic, of course. Yesterday afternoon, Boss Lady and I returned to Moosalamoo to attempt a different hiking trail. We planned to hike up the Halfdan Kuhnle trail and then come back down the lower section of Sucker Brook trail. Originally, Boss Lady wanted to hike the loop that is Sucker Brook trail, but we couldn’t figure out how to reach that trail head.

The first mile of the trail was a steep uphill climb. Boss Lady expected this, because she’s skilled enough at reading topo maps to know that the closer together the elevation lines (or whatever they’re called) the steeper the hill. Still, she didn’t expect the trail to be *that* steep. We persevered, though, and successfully summitted. I’ve even got proof. See? Cindy’s Summit. Nothing there but a sign, but I’ve got proof nonetheless.

This time note the stick Boss Lady stuck behind the sign so that I would be encouraged to climb the tree. She really does her best to embarrass me.

So, we reached Cindy’s Summit (which wasn’t on the map, but we were able to wager a guess as to where it would be on the map) in pretty good time. Boss Lady anticipated another mile and half before we reached our half way point. We hiked along at a gentle pace. We lollygagged to snap photos. We bushwacked to get the best picture taking angle of a nifty stream.

Boss Lady tried to drown me in said stream.

Let me show you that again in slow motion. This is my head.

This is the waterfall

Yes, I have great confidence that she loves me.

So, round about 4:45 she checks her watch and realizes we’ve been hiking for almost 1.5 hours and we haven’t reached our halfway point. This is a bad sign. She consults the map and realizes we haven’t even reached our first trail intersection, which is about half a mile before the half way point. This is really bad. She’s not entirely sure where we are on the map at this point. It could be as far as another mile before we reach the halfway point. That’s another hour of hiking. That puts us at 2.5 hours of hiking at the half way point. Which indicates about 2.5 hours of hiking out. That puts us exiting the woods at 7:15pm. It’s dark at 7:30 these days. We know from experience that it gets dark much earlier in the woods. Boss Lady didn’t bring a flashlight, or matches, or lighter. Boss Lady is not good at hiking an unfamiliar, rough, rocky trail in the dark or even semi-dark. Boss Lady begins to panic.

Boss Lady’s first determination is that we must begin hiking much faster. No more lollygagging. No more picture snapping, or stick fetching, or investigating of nifty moss covered rocks. No more chasing down flushed fowl. Off we go. Boss Lady continuously reconsiders all her calculations, trying desperately to figure out how she miscalculated so badly. Every 5 minutes she pulls out the map, wildly guessing at where we might be on the trail at that very moment, and then quickly running time and mileage calculations to see when we’ll be out of the woods (literally and figuratively.) She even grabs a long piece of grass to use to actually measure the trail on the map to really confirm the mileage. She cannot find any problems with her initial mileage calculations.

With each look at the map, Boss Lady’s panic was increasing significantly. We were walking the flats at that point, and she was panting heavily. Her temper was short. She was muttering and mumbling and doing a very good impersonation of the mentally ill. Suddenly, she loudly says my name and starts telling me how I need to calm down and not panic. There’s really no need to panic. As luck would have it, our trail goes down the west side of the mountain, which means we’ll have as much light as possible from the setting sun. We are familiar with the last half mile or so of the trail. And, the very last half mile back to the car isn’t even in the woods. We’ll be walking up the access road at that point which means better light conditions, and no worry of losing the trail. There’s absolutely no reason to panic, so stop panicking.

Just a couple moments later, we turn a bend and discover another trail coming in from our right. Boss Lady is ecstatic! This is the first intersection she’s been looking for. It means for sure that our half way point is only a half mile away. We weren’t nearly as far off, time wise, as Boss Lady had worried. She frantically looked around for the sign post announcing this intersection. She didn’t need it to tell her which way to go, but really wanted some proof. She couldn’t find any sign post. She considered this very odd, because all the other marked intersections on the map were properly marked on the trail and there had been no other unmarked intersections. So, for this intersection to be unmarked was suspicious. Boss Lady concluded that it was one of the few mistakes and figured sometimes it just happens. Maybe the sign got knocked down or something. We continued on, still at a good pace, but with much less panicking on Boss Lady’s part. What seemed like a half mile later we did, indeed, encounter another trail intersection. Boss Lady assumed it was our half way point intersection. Until she looked at the sign, and saw that it was, in fact, the intersection she thought we had passed a half mile ago.

Red lights flashed in her head. Panic buttons sounded. Boss Lady all but sat down to cry. We were farther behind than she thought. Frantic calculations ensued. Considering all the rest of the trail was flat or downhill, it wouldn’t take as long to hike out as it did to hike in. We’d been hiking faster for the past mile, and would for the rest of the trip out, so that would cut our time further. We also had refrained from all lollygagging and playing, which accounted for probably almost a half hour of the time in. If everything went perfect, we’d be out of the woods just before it got really dark. We continued on.

Up until that point, I had been off leash. Boss Lady felt that the area was remote enough that it was safe for me to run off leash. At this intersection, though, Boss Lady put me on leash. Our halfway point was actually a trail head. And trail heads mean access roads, parking lots, and potential people. She didn’t actually expect to see people, but she didn’t want to take any chances.

What felt like a half mile later, we encountered our half way point trail head, which was unmarked. She was pretty sure which way to go, but there was an extra trail that wasn’t marked on the map. She finally noticed a sign a little way down what she knew was the wrong trail. We went to check. Sure enough, we were in the right place and we had been going to right direction. There was simply an extra trail than the map showed. Boss Lady wasn’t going to worry about that at that point. She was just glad to know we’d reached the half way point and would be turning back. As soon as we turned the corner, she began looking for our next trail intersection. This was a key intersection as taking the correct trail would mean the difference of adding another half mile to our trek. At this late hour, any added hiking would be a major problem.

We encountered an intersection, but the signs did not match Boss Lady’s map. The signs also did not clearly indicate a nearly invisible trail which was the trail we actually needed to take. After several moments of extreme panic, we headed in the correct direction. The previous trails had all been fairly clear and looked traveled. This trail was very overgrown, poorly marked, and looked rarely used. Boss Lady returned to her impersonation of the mentally ill. She started to let me off leash again, but then reconsidered. We had reached the hour of deer watching. That is the point in the evening when deer tend to do their evening feeding. And if deer feed at that hour, what other wild animals might. Boss Lady was envisioning an encounter with a moose (it is called Moosalamoo, after all) or a bear (remember all those blueberries) or any number of other dangerous wild critters. I fed this fear by constantly trying to run off the trail through the woods after an otherwise invisible something. Boss Lady was much relieved that she had kept me on leash, as she just knew if I’d been off leash I’d’ve been gone.

Realizing that panic was really detrimental to our progress, Boss Lady did her best to calm me. She verbally went through all her time and mileage calculations again. She pointed out that thus far the map had been correct and she could feel confident basing her calculations on what it showed. She continued to feel confident that we would exit the woods while it was still daylight. Surely, we wouldn’t encounter any bears or moose or anything. To be sure, she randomly and regularly clapped her hands loudly and whistled. I looked at her blankly. The woman really is nuts.

The rest of the hike really went rather smoothly. All expected trail intersections were clearly marked. No unexpected trail intersections appeared. We reached the end of the trail while it was still light. And the only miscalculation Boss Lady had done was to think our hike up the road to the car was longer than it actually was. When the car came into view through the trees, Boss Lady told me she would do a happy dance when we got there. She didn’t do a happy dance, though, because when we did reach the car, we discovered a couple had set up a tent in the middle of the grassy space where Boss Lady had parked. We felt rather like we’d walked into someone’s bedroom unannounced. The important thing, though was that we had successfully reached the car before dark. Boss Lady did miss her meeting, though. That probably pissed her off them most. She really wanted to go to that meeting.

Boss Lady consulted the map once again when we arrived home. She measured the distance one more time and concluded our hike was about 4.5-5 miles. It took us nearly 4 hours to hike it. So much for our 30 minute mile. I don’t think I can handle this sort of thing again. Seriously, would somebody please volunteer to be Boss Lady’s two-legged hiking partner and take the pressure off me? I’m just a dog, I’m not cut out for this. The abilities to read a topo map and use a compass would be a definite bonus.

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