Trail Shenanigan's Part 4 (The Search Party)

Day three on the trail began much like our other mornings with the exception of a little less soreness and us trying to scarf down a breakfast worthy of a king to reduce our pack weight.  When you are camping like this, you pack stuff for breakfast that seems like it would be a good breakfast and sometimes realize that, what-the-heck, you are going to have some lunch food too so you don't have to trek it that last 13 miles today.  

Trust me when I say, we did not have a shortage of food on this trail.  They say you should pack emergency supplies for an extra day in case you get stranded or lost out on the trail for longer than you anticipated.  Tony and I had done this trail last year, so this year we decided to leave behind our 10,000 calorie survival food ration brick, and that is really what it is called.  Apparently you cut off slivers of the thing with your pocket knife and it is loaded with enough calories and minerals to sustain you for quite a while.  However, I, being the foodie that I am, decided that gourmet oatmeal packs that I had handmade at the house before we left, with brown sugar, dried fruits and nuts and spices, would be a much tastier way to go this year.  It was the only meal of the day that had some of the comforts of home as we survived on freeze dried just-add-water dinners, and Think Thin bars loaded with 20 grams of protein and some other ingredient that really gave you the craps.   And by that, I mean within 30 minutes of eating the dang protein bar, you were crop dusting the heck out of anyone behind you and then running in PANIC for the nearest tree, sometimes not even having time to dig a hole...man I feel sorry for the wildlife out there.

Breakfast on day three consisted of our gourmet oatmeal packs for me and Tony and some hot cocoa donated by Sarah to us.  Mike had 3 packs of store oatmeal, hot cocoa, and about 8 ounces of dried salted peanuts (which probably lightened his pack by an entire pound), Sarah ended up eating two packs of her Albacore tuna and some hot cocoa and some store oatmeal too, and Nate, the skinniest one of us all ended up scarfing down the biggest breakfast of all...two packs of my homemade oatmeal, a breakfast just-add-water granola thing with blueberries, hot cocoa, some tuna mixed in with freeze dried macaroni and cheese and some coffee.  I thought we were for sure going to have to roll him out of there, but he ate it like it was a piece of toast and sprung to his feet with gusto.

After doing morning routine duties and packing everything up in his pack, Mike was the first one ready to go.   He announced to everyone in the group that he was going to get an early start today that way we wouldn't have to wait up for him so much.  We were slightly hesitant to let him go by himself because we traveled together as a group, but he assured us he would be fine and started out.  Sarah, who was usually the first one ready was moving a bit slower today due to her severely swollen ankle, so she decided to let Mike go on ahead without her and said she would be right behind him.  She left about 30 minutes later and hobbled happily up the trail to meet up with Mike.  Tony, Nate and I stayed back and cleaned up the rest of camp making sure the fire was out, the shelter swept and left a parting gift of a giant pile of firewood to the next person staying at the shelter that night.   I strapped on my pack and left next and Nate and Tony stayed back and made use of the Privy one last time before our 13 mile journey.  

After walking for about 45 minutes, I came to a part in the trail that had steps leading somewhere just off the trail.  Knowing I would be catching up to Mike and Sarah soon, I decided to take the detour and was rewarded with a beautiful clearing in the woods with an overlook that was absolutely breathtaking.  We were on a high mountain and this overlook was the lush forest of changing leaves, valley and mountain views as far as the eye could see.  I stood there for a few minutes and let the cool mountain air and warm sun caress my face.  


Picture from the overlook...and this is only what the camera could capture.

I heard some talking in the trail below and did my "ca-caw" to see if it was Tony and Nate.  It was, and I called them up to take a look.  We all stood there quietly for a few minutes (which literally never happens when Nate is around) and then started our ascent down to the path again.  After walking for about 45 minutes more, we came upon Sarah resting on a stump on the side of the trail.  Fifteen minutes after that, we came upon the same father and son hikers that had offered Sarah the ankle brace on the first day.  We talked with them for a few minutes about their sweet hammock tent set-up and Sarah finally asked them the million dollar question.

"Does your offer for that ankle brace still stand?"

"Absolutely," answered the dad and he fetched it from his pack and handed it over to Sarah.

"Thank you, I didn't want to take it from you the other day just in case you needed it."  

As she peeled off her shoe and sock layer, the dad's eyes got huge as he looked at her black and blue baseball for an ankle. "Looks like you needed it the other day!" He said.

She smiled and put it around her ankle then laced up her shoes again and we helped her up. 

By this time we were beginning to worry about Mike as it had been well over an hour and none of us had run into him on the trail yet.  We asked the father and son if they had seen him and they said he had passed by about 20 minutes prior to our arrival at their camp.  We felt reassured and decided to try and catch up with him.  

After about an hour on the trail and still not catching him, Tony said he was going to go up ahead and Sarah said she would go with him as her ankle was feeling more supported with the new brace on it.  They raced on ahead and Nate and I stayed behind walking a normal pace and "Ca-Cawing" and listening.  We heard a rustling in the underbrush on the lower part of the mountain and took a bit of time to investigate just in case Mike had rolled down the side and was rustling the leaves for help.  When two chipmunks sprung from the bush, we moved on.

Two hours had passed by now and still no Mike.  Worriedly, I got my cell phone out, turned it on and texted Mike in hopes if he did get lost or hurt that he would have the where-with-all to turn on his cell and see the message in his call for help.  

The message read: "Are you still alive?  Where are you at approximately?"

No response.  Next text 30 minutes later..."We walked over the road with the metal power lines and haven't spotted you yet.  Have you gotten that far?"

Still no response.  Next text 30 minutes later..."We went on the trail to the left once we crossed the gravel power line road.  I am turning off my phone again, will turn on in an hour."

Nate and I begin our "Ca-Caw" again and hear a response in the trail up ahead.  We quicken our pace and find Sarah and Tony resting ahead.  We tell them that we have sent text messages to him with no response and then we begin formulating a plan for a search party once we reach the NOC.  We then begin to look for any signs of him on the trail and signs of anything that looks like it could have cleared a path rolling down the mountainside.  

All of us are together now and looking in the dirt for his trekking pole digs, any signs of places where he may have sat, and just generally half joking about the time we went hiking on the AT and our friend got lost on the mountain.  We come to a place that has dirt and dust on the trail and see trekking pole digs that are fairly close together like Mike's and it gives us hope.  Then we see a grimacing smiley face in the dirt with an arrow...finally, just as I have turned my phone back on and I have the next text cued up, "We are worried about you, going to send out the Rangers and Tony and Nate once we reach the NOC," we turn a bend and see him resting on a log.

"Holy crap, Mike...you scared us.  What happened to the slow Condor?" I asked him.

"I felt really good today when I woke up.  A lot less sore, and I had more energy.  I figured if I could leave early and go at my own pace, I would be good today.  That downhill stretch had me almost running and I just used the momentum.  There has only been a couple of hard spots today and I went as fast as I could, knowing you guys would catch up," he said.

"Did you even turn your phone on?" Nate said exasperated.

"Nah."

"Not even after like three or four hours of us not catching up?"I said dumbfounded. "Check your messages," I said.

He turned his phone on and apparently none of them had even gone through yet.

"Dude, we were about to send out the search party for you once we reached the NOC.  We were looking for you over the side of the mountain, and we even thought you hid in some bushes to let us go past you so you could go at your own pace without being harassed by us...which turned out to be some dumb chipmunks." Nate said.

"We're glad you're alive," we all agreed.  

"I am not letting you out of my sight, so don't even think about it." I said in true helicopter mom fashion.  "Besides we only have a few miles to go."

He laughed...and I could tell he was totally bowed up with pride in giving us all a good scare...in all seriousness though, I could tell he was proud of himself for making good time and this was the start of his fitness awakening.  Mike now runs and walks a 5K a few times a week with friends.  His times are getting better and he is generally happier about his "Condor" life.  He said he is training for next year because he wants to do more of the AT, and to tell you the truth, I don't blame him.  It is a little bit addicting and a lot of fun seeing what you are made of and just how far you can push yourself in treacherous situations. 

I just saw Sarah the other day and her foot is healing nicely.  She was in an astronaut boot thing for quite a while, and now she is just in a brace.  Tony is back to doing crazy long runs again and Nate is back to golfing and landscaping.  Me...well, I haven't run since the beginning of November. I have been working tirelessly on finishing up the Ocala Fire Museum project for the community that opened up this past Monday, and I have been prepping all my Shoogie Company Gift Bag Sets for the holiday gift giving season.  

I suspect I will be back at the gym on the stair master with that 25 pound pack in a few weeks or so.  I'd like to increase my trail speed and just maybe be called "The Prospector" instead of "The Ole Prospector" because of my lack of speed...but until then, I will be cooking up some Shoogie goodness in my kitchen and sending it out to others that want to give thoughtful gifts this year.  Check out what I have been cooking up on  www.shoogiecompany.com

L to R: Tony (Speedy), Me (Ole Prospector), Mike (Condor), Nate (Sherpa Nate), Sarah (Hardcore Albacore)


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