The plan was for her to come to my house right after work and get on the road. That would put us on at the trailhead at about 9pm. We would sleep their that first night, then get up early on Saturday and head out and get a good 11 miles under our belt and sleep at a shelter our second night. We would then only have 9 miles left for the last day and would get out at about 3pm (maybe even before).
This is not what happened.
We did leave at about 5:30 - great! Traffic was actually going great! We were expecting it to be slow getting out of Boston, but then sometime before Concord, we slowed to a crawl, i.e. we went less than a mile in 45 mins. We did not get to the trailhead until 11pm.
As we were moving things around and getting things ready to bed down my companion looks at me and says, you have not by any chance seen my hiking boots? The answer was, "No." Although we both were pretty certain of this answer we both did a search, "just to be sure." I might have asked her at one point, "What shoes do you have on your feet." in a desperate hope that the answer was not, "These cute ballerina flats and instead, a pair of sturdy running shoes." Because it it possible to hike in the later but not in the former. She was wearing ballerina flats.
There was a moment when I thought, we are sleeping here tonight and going home in the morning, there is no way around this. That is when she looked at me and said, "This is not a problem that can not be solved by money." So the plan was made. We would get up in early in the morning drive into town and purchase shoes. This is what we did. So instead of getting on the trail between 8 and 9 am we were heading out at 11.
I immediately began to change the rest of the plan. We would aim for a closer shelter which was at a little over 9 miles from the trailhead, we would then do the 11 miles intended for today tomorrow and we would get to the trailtail in the evening instead of late afternoon. There was a possibility that we would not be home until 8 or 9 pm, but it was, O.K.
The hike was beautiful. The Vermont woods are wonderful. My friend and I talk a lot when we hike, we talk about everything. All the things we are thinking are said to each other, our struggles, our joys, our fears, our hopes our dreams. This is what we do, we talk for hours, and then we are silent for hours. We take turns being in the lead. We know when each other needs catch her breath leaning on a tree for a minute or three and when we should just sit on a rock or log for five. We eat small snacks throughout the day and took two, maybe three longer breaks for food, water, and rest. Our hiking relationship is really symbiotic and works for us.
At one point we were making really good time, I thought that the further shelter and 11 miles was actually in the cards for us. Accomplishing 11 miles before dusk, having started at 11am and covering three peaks would have been quite the accomplishment. But. alas this was not what happened.
Coming up the first peak I developed a hotspot, I retied my shoes and went on. At the top, I put bandages on the blister I did get and went on. At some point I twisted my ankle coming down a peak and retied my shoes several times as it swelled a little and apparently began to change my gait to alleviate pain.
By the time we came up to the shelter at about the 9 mile mark, I was hobbling quite a bit, my ankle was sore, I had a blister on each heel and I had done somthing when I changed my gait and some of my toes now hurt. I was a hot mess. I sat down at the fire and pulled out my maps and copied pages from the trail guide. I was not sure exactly how far I could walk, but did know that I NEEDED to walk out, I had no choice, there was nothing else that could be done. It looked like there was a road about five miles up the trail, I thought maybe we could find our way to a town from there. A man across the fire assured me that it was nothing more than two tire marks in the woods. We started making plans for taking our time the next day, calling our spouses when we had a cell signal and perhaps staying an extra night in the woods, if need be. We had a plan and a contingency plan.
The swelling in my ankle came down before I went to bed and I was feeling better about hiking the next 11 miles. We thought that we would get up early and get on the trail right away, but we did not wake up as early as we thought we would and did not get on the trail until 9, which is not late but is not "early" when you have a good 11 miles ahead of you on hurting feet. Luckily my ankle was feeling better and some ibuprofen went a long way with helping with the series of minor foot pains I was experiencing.
It was a pleasant day for hiking and the trail was great. My feet were doing fairly well and we were making pretty good time, we were talking about coming out of the woods at 6 or 6:30 that evening, which was much better than the contingency plan of staying another night.
But then we heard a car. We knew we were coming up on the "road" but had been assured by someone else that it was not the kind of road that cars drove along. But then maybe five minutes later, we heard another one. The sound of a car, even a distant one, is a pretty noticeable thing when you have not heard any man made sounds outside of voices and footfalls for twenty-four hours. That was two cars going along a road, not too far from us. I wanted to pull our my map to see if there was a road that we paralleled for a while that I missed. Then something amazing happened. We came out on a legit road. Not a hard topped road, but a good solid dirt road, the trail turned down the road for 250 feet before it crossed and continued back into the woods. I knew this I had looked at the map and read and reread the trail book. I even knew there was a place to park your car here, but that does not mean people, that does not mean "civilization" that does not mean easy way out of the woods. Roads are meant for cars and hiking along a road could be grueling, cars go straight up and down hills like they are nothing. People, especially people experiencing foot problems, not so much. So we thought nothing of this road as we began walking down the little hill and around a bend, that is until we crested that bend and saw the parking area. This was a popular parking spot for day hikers and this was Labor Day weekend at about noon. There were people milling about and there were about twenty cars here. THIS was a way out.
We stopped, sat on some rocks and collectively agreed that we should not finish the last 5.5 miles we had scheduled for that day. We were going to use this parking lot as our way out and back to our car. I stopped a couple who were heading off the trail heading toward their car, we had passed them earlier and had just come down the road from the trail, how far town was and if they thought we could get a taxi to come get us. They told us that there was another parking lot 1/2 mile down the road that had a name and that it would be a better place to be picked up. And that is exactly what we did.
We aborted. We still had a peak ahead of us and half of the miles we planned for that day and perhaps we could have done it but, taking the chance that we would slow down and we would be coming out of the wilderness in the dark and then having to get to our car and find our way home, was not worth it. We called a taxi, he took us to our car and we headed into town had a nice warm lunch and were both home in time for dinner. We both feel we made the right decision. We will pick up our hike at that parking lot next year and include the peak we did not hike this year in our hike next year. Because, we really do love backpacking, even when things don't go as planned.
Sometimes you persevere and keep going no matter what, you change the plan, you buy a new pair of shoes, you do what you need to do. At other times you change the plan and save something for another day. Both decisions were the right decision at the time. Both decisions were made with thought and with what was best for all involved in mind. This was the trip where were learned to change our plans, to make new plans and to be flexible and responsible. When it became clear that we should not, or perhaps realistically could not accomplish the goal we had set, we changed the goal. We used caution, perseverance and wisdom. And we did not fail. We adapted and changed and that was the "right" thing for us to do. In all the ways that mattered we succeeded. When backpacking, as with so many other things in life, destination is not the point anyway, but that the journey is. We had a fun and interesting journey, and besides it makes a good story.