Back Country Bruises – Part 1

by Randy Pierce

This weekend’s hike was a fantastic experience for me personally, though it came with a significant impact…literally.

We loaded up our packs for a Friday night stay at a campground near the trailhead, to both test our new equipment as well as ensure an early morning departure. Time is typically one of my biggest challenges due to my need to hike more slowly than most. So, with slightly heavier packs (my pack, at 48 pounds, was barely the most heavy), we set out on the Avalon Trail. Roughly .5 miles into the hike, we were enjoying gentle trails – then an error on a plank bog bridge made our hike a bit more difficult.

Typically, Quinn leads me by half a dog, meaning I’m walking beside his right flank. He stops to signal warnings when his subtle body positioning cannot have me evade things entirely. Sometimes, Quinn and I need to go single file, due to a narrow pathway or bridge. While single file, when Quinn stops for an obstacle, I have to estimate the distance to his front paws, ask him to ‘hup-up’, and then find the edge of the obstacle. When we hit a plank bridge that was too narrow for us to walk side by side, Quinn did his work well – and Tracy, with a very good understanding of our process, alerted me that there was a deep space between the plank and the stepping-stone off the plank. Unfortunately, I did not hear Tracy’s warning, nor did I catch Quinn’s extra hesitation as he stepped off the plank to the rock. My wet boot partially reached the stone step, but then it slipped. I fell between the plank and the rock and banged my knee solidly against another rock. The swelling was significant and immediate.

Our Wilderness First Aid training came in handy, as a quick evaluation of my situation found my mood strong, thoughts coherent, and bones not broken. We walked to the junction of the A-Z trail (Avalon – Zealand) and then made some decisions. We would ice my knee, using frozen steak tips for that night’s dinner, wrap it, and carry on – with me periodically giving my status to the hiking leader, Carrie.

We had lunch at our last water source, which was a mossy, old-world-feeling forest with sunlight streaming through forest breaks. The spot was beautiful and we were proud of having made such good progress despite the setback. While filling our water containers, I listened as folks described the area. The air had been chilled by the stream gorge, and I delighted in the day. We had heard of sparse views on Mt. Tom, but we found many worthy views of the Presidentials. My companions were marvelous about sharing things with me, including details of a spider building a web off trail.

We made good time, and at the Mt. Tom spur, we stashed our packs off the trail to make the spur trip without the weight of our packs. The summit had better views than promised, and thanks to Steve Smith’s book on the 48 from the Mountain Wanderer, we knew how to find the ‘secret bench’ views. We laughed much and reveled in our accomplishment. The group was excited – and the luxury of hiking without a pack really makes a difference when you’ve been lugging all that weight.

We walked back to our packs and found some previously used campsite off the trail. Carrie and Kara went for water refills while the rest of us set up camp. A marvelous feast and great camaraderie whiled away the evening. Sure, we could have pushed onward, but staying closer to the water source and savoring the trip was more important. It was a great decision, and we are all closer and happier for that evening together on the top of the range.

Some of you know I’m a bit of a Pats fan, and as such I’m well familiar with the instant replay. Day 2 of our hike featured several of those, both good and bad: great trails, hard work, marvels of nature, water concerns… and yet more practice with the Wilderness First Aid training.

To Be Continued…

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