Report #20 part 3 (Click LAST to see part 2)
On Wednesday morning, I drove Dick and Rick back to Kent, Connecticut. My plan was to drop them off at the trailhead, check out the boutiques in town, and go home. Their plan was to pick up the hike where they had left off. But a forest fire forced all of us to alter our plans. I drove them nine miles north, a safe distance above the fire, and dropped them off.
Every cloud has a silver lining. I found one that's pure sterling!
Before going to the trailhead, we stopped at the post office where Rick picked up a box of food. That's where we first saw the thin column of smoke in the distance and learned of the fire in the Macedonia State Forest. Approximately two miles of the AT runs through the forest, two of the miles Dick and Rick had planned to hike that afternoon. Someone suggested we talk to the local forest ranger to see if the AT had been affected.
Leaving the post office, I drove slowly along the main street, glancing left and right for a sign proclaiming one of the quaint buildings as the office of the local forest ranger. As soon as I explained my turtle speed, one of the guys pointed out that a forest ranger would work in the forest. But that meant I would have to drive into the forest, and the forest was on fire.
In that instant, I became Zita-Warrior Princess. I raced along Route 341 till we came to a sign directing us down a winding road to the entrance of the Macedonia State Park. A sign for the ranger station led us deeper into the woods-as did the growing odor of throat-burning smoke. The road narrowed through a gauntlet of pick-up trucks. Suddenly, we came to a clearing filled with men in heavy fire gear, women covering picnic tables with trays piled high with sandwiches, tall urns of coffee, and baskets of fruit and cookies. Stacked on the ground were countless cardboard flats of bottled water.
Overhead, a helicopter prepared to drop a small ocean. I whipped the car around.
A man in a uniform and wearing a badge drove up behind me and told me to get out of the park. I assured him I was leaving--but not before Dick and Rick had a chance to find out if the AT had been affected. I pulled off to the side.
They jumped out of the car and headed toward a fireman who was giving directions to the others. The man gave them the bad news. The fire had already consumed over twenty acres and was spreading fast. The park was closed to the public. No estimate of when it would reopen. Rick asked if there was anything he and Dick could do to help fight the fire. I wish I could say that the offer was met with enthusiasm, but that wasn't the case. Instead, the man suggested that Dick and Rick go back to Kent and catch a ride up Route 7 to a spot about nine miles north, safely above the fire, and pick up the trail there.
Driving out of the park, I met a steady stream of volunteer firefighters, their flashing blue lights like beacons of hope. A few miles down the road, I pulled over to the trailhead where I had picked up Dick on Sunday. Rick spread out his maps on the hood of the car. By this time, the once-thin column of smoke had grown wider, much wider.
Driving to Kent that morning, Dick said he wanted me to hike the first few hundred yards with him. That way I'd be able to legitimately say that I had hiked a portion of the AT. I thought it was a great idea, until he told me we'd pick up the trail by climbing a wooden style that straddled an electrified pasture fence. So, while Dick and Rick studied their maps, I walked across the road to where the AT continued. There, on the top step of the wooden style, I found a note in a plastic zipper bag, anchored with a rock. The note was addressed to Every Hiker's Dream. I grabbed the bag and ran back across the street.
The note was from Mike, formerly known as "Just Mike," the hiker who had contracted Lyme Disease. Dick and Rick had last seen Mike on July 14, back in Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania. (See report No. 18). The note said he was feeling fine and looked forward to seeing Dick and Rick again.
With a destination in mind, we piled back into the car, but not before leaving several jugs of water and a bag of fruit, (trail magic) at the trailhead.
I was driving through Kent when Rick shouted, "Hey! There's Jo-Jo!" I pulled over and we all got out. Jo-Jo is a pretty woman with twinkling eyes and a long dark braid. She reported on several hikers, including one who had taken a nasty fall. Jo-Jo had spent twenty years in the Navy. I wanted to interview her, but there was no time. So, after a hasty conversation, we said good-bye and left.
At an isolated spot near North Cornwall, I saw the sign for the AT, and pulled over. Dick and Rick got out and unloaded their backpacks from the trunk. The sound of laughter startled us.
Suddenly, out of the woods came a group of eleven adolescent hikers and three guides who appeared in their late teens. I grabbed my notebook and introduced myself to the woman who appeared to be the leader. Her name was Rebecca Wohl. She and the other two guides, Hillel Adesnik and Dan Shuldman, were leading a group called "Camp Challenge No. 4" from Camp Ramah in Wingdale, New York. They had been on a three-day, south-bound hike and were headed for Kent. We told them about the fire and that the smell of smoke had already blanketed Kent. Dick asked about the water shortage farther north. Still severe.
Since Dick and Rick had already lost so much time, they shouldered their packs and disappeared into the woods. Rebecca's cell phone wouldn't pick up a signal, so I drove her back to a pay phone where she called the group's headquarters and worked out alternate plans. After bringing her back to the trailhead, I drove home.
The fire made the evening news on several stations. I hated to think of so many trees being destroyed, so many animals driven from their homes. But my mother trained me to look for the silver lining. Dick and Rick said that even after they climb Katahdin, they can't call themselves thruhikers until they come back to Kent and cover those nine miles. That means if I start practicing now, I just might be able to hike with Dick after all. At the very least, I can wait at the end of the stretch to see him truly finish the trail.