Monday, October 4, 2010


While it was very nice to view from the bald slopes of the mountain, fall foliage never comes out right in pictures so here's a simple flower (my mom says it is a morning glory) near the Mt. Hope cemetery that lives up to its name. Hopeful of life and spring eternal.

Regarding the hike up South Baldface Mountain...
At what point did I know I was in trouble?
It was when I jarred my spine as I fell into a ditch for the second time.

Imagine pitch blackness in the dark Maine forest, a few star constellations far above through the foliage. Silence surrounds you except for the far off sound of a river or brook. You are on the Slippery Brook Trail, descending from the top of South Baldface, rushing because you foolishly left the seacoast too late and now have to make up time before your cell phone dies. Why is your cell phone important? Because you neglected to bring your headlamp and are on your knees searching for traces of the trail in the dark, fumbling down miles of rock and mud looking for some sign of the other trail to the parking lot.

Go ahead and get your catcalls out now because you will be eating your words in a little while. I'm an idiot but not for the reasons you think. It's a hiker's scenario that no one likes to talk about. When you find yourself nearly lost on a strange trail in the dark and you are wet from sweat from a nearly vertical climb to the top and freezing winds stealing your warmth, and you don't know where you are and you are alone...what do you do? Read on and find out.

I thought the trail was shorter but it just kept going on and on as the dusk turned into night and the squirrels slept and the stars came out in their humbling millions. At this point, for the first time in many months, I did not think about my many failures as a man and mistakes with women who might have loved me or might have been loved by me or career paths that are attractive but for the ecological distaste and my father's shortcomings and mother's indifference, etc. No. I thought only of survival. So much that I didn't even think to take a picture of my sweaty, hopeless face as I blundered, yes, blundered down the trail with only the dim flicker of my cell phone illuminating merely two feet in front of me so that to find the trail markers on the tree I had to shine the light directly on the trunk of every tree I passed and then jogged to the next area where I wasn't sure it was the trail or now. Oh, this was bad. The six bars of my cell phone battery became five. Then four. I was moving too slow now after my two old man knees matched the old man of the mountain and crumbled far up on the summit like my grandfather whose knees were shorn from him and replaced with plastic.

Ok, Oggy, think. You have to make it out alive. Everyone would just love to write your obituary as being lost in the wild like that kid McCandless they always compare you with. But you are different. You have passed the extremist test and now just want to make it back to your cabin on wheels. No time to eat and carefully sipping water while walking because every second the cell phone is on brings you closer to complete darkness and absolutely no way of getting out tonight. IS that serious? The Temp was around 45-50. Maybe colder but no blanket or sweater or even a change of socks. Nothing but your damp Arcade Championship t-shirt and '70s era jeans. At least the screws in your boots are holding the soles together.

So, I blundered further and with each trail marker I felt I was defeating death because this was like finding a condom in the pitch blackness of your backseat while sucking your lover's perfumed neck and one-handed unlatching that damn double hooked bra while kicking your shoes off. This took all my skills as a navigator and trail walker and numerous times I lost the trail (remember in the fall the leaves covered the earth and made everything look untrodden) and ended up snagged on a branch and had to retrace my steps to a trail marker and continue forward.

Now, Slippery Brook trail does not go to the parking lot. Slippery brook trail crosses the trail that gets to the parking lot and I knew I would never see the signs since my cell phone only cast a half a candle worth of light in front of my left hand.
Flashback to me driving north..."Oggy, remember to put your headlamp in your backpack. It's late and as long as you have a flashlight then you can get to the summit and down. But if you forget...forget...if you could forget Elena and just hike for ten minutes then you'll be fine, but she has to always perch on the cornerstone of your mind and not give you a moment's peace. I'm insane if I think we could be together. That's her whole plan to set you up so you devote yourself to her and then she can break your heart. That's what you have to forget. Forget Elena's dark eyes and her curly hair and her love of literature and her bewitching smile...forget everything. That damn crimping factory has driven you insane...Look at those red leaves. So pretty. AS pretty as Elena's hands on your knee, her...damn it! Stop thinking of her! Ok, As soon as you get to the parking lot you need to put the sushi in the backpack and go. The day is fading fast..."

Flash forward to myself running into a tree and falling to the side into a muddy trough.
"Oh, fucking hell!" as I wipe the sweat from my eyes.

Onward through the night, would the trail never end? I couldn't hear any cars or voices, only the wheezing coming from my fiberglass lungs. But I managed to stay on the trail until the final ultimate obstacle. I was stopped in my tracks by a narrow but deep river. What the hell. My instincts told me the trail crossed this brook and continued on the other side, but where? I couldn't see the trail markers with the weak cell phone flickering (two bars of battery left!)
How the hell am I going to cross this river in the dark using a cell phone for light? Very carefully.

I kneeled closer to the river with the cell phone and could only find one or two passable areas. The sound of the water bubbling over the rocks drowned out all my thoughts as I stepped onto a rock that instantly turned and left me on my knees in the ice cold water!
"Fucking hell!"
But I raised the beacon of cell phone technology to the sky to keep it dry and stood up and jumped onto a log that was as wet as an otter's asshole. I clung to it with one hand reaching forward with the light, hoping to see a trail marker. (One bar of battery left) only to find nothing. Just trees. I scrambled over the log and onto dry land and hunted up and down for a sign of a trail. Nothing. Just leaves piled on leaves, all blue in the white light of my cell phone. I stumbled down a fox hole and over a log cutting my face on branch. Where was the trail! I didn't want to die out there in the forest! I hunted and could not find it and more importantly was becoming disoriented in the dark. Was the river on my left or right. It should be on my right facing down. But which way was down? I was in a hole. Now, where was the original trail? Fuck. I had crossed the river and could not get back to the last trail marker. Now I was very close to being seriously lost in the dark with one bar of battery left.

I did not panic. They tell you not to panic but advice like that is useless. Either you will panic or you won't. I did not panic. I considered my option. I was about to become completely engulfed in darkness near a strong current brook not on a trail on the side of Baldfaced Mountain. The temperature would make life misery for (I checked the clock on my cell phone) the next 11 hours. I'd probably survive based on the fact I had sushi and a scarf and my wool hat. Yes, I was wet and already shivering from sweaty shirt but I would probably live. But, the survivalist inside me wanted to find a way off the mountain as soon as possible. I didn't want to wait for dawn. Maybe the trail took an abrupt right turn at the river and didn't cross it at all. So, I recrossed the river and managed to find the original trail marker. Then I thought I found another trail marker but it turned out to be a rectangular splotch of fungus. Oh, what would become of Oggy? Here's a picture taken when I thought I had all the time in the world. It was freezing on the summit and Gordon's windbreaker was all that kept me from dying.

I hunted up and down the other side of the brook for the trail but couldn't find it. Misery! But I knew it would be on the other side so again I crossed the water with one hand holding the cell phone over the rocks I was trying to step on and my walking stick keeping me steady with the other. Man, I crossed that river three times looking for the trail but I could not find any trace of it or any trail marker. I ended up on the original side of the trail under the last trail marker as my cell phone dimmed to the point I couldn't see anything. This was the dying light of Oggy's last lunatic parade. Curses! Everyone was right, I had brought my own deadly destiny to myself, I'd run my last mile, hiked my last peak. I'd freeze to death on this trail without knowing where the next trail marker was.

My options were not attractive. I could:
1) Blunder down the river in the dark, keeping it always on my left until I found the route 113 somewhere down below...hopefully.
2) Blunder across the river again and just go in the direction of what I thought might be the trail to the parking lot. Ha~! I considered this pure insanity because I couldn't walk five feet without falling on the rocky terrain. I would have to crawl for two miles in a perfect line to my van and most likely I would crawl for 11 hours in the wrong direction.
3) Curl up in a ball and watch my breath for 11 hours.

As my cell phone died completely I decided to look in my pack for an apple or a piece of sushi and cheese and it was at that very moment that I realized something...
At the bottom of my pack, where it had stayed since I removed it from my bicycle in Venice, CA, was my bicycle headlight, an incredibly bright halogen flashlight that I'd stashed there for...emergencies! How could I have forgotten~!


I plunged my hand into the pack, dug past an extra pair of sneakers, an old bus card from Santa Monica, a blues harmonica, a combination lock, a forgotten emergency space blanket (that would've come in handy) and found my flashlight. Would it work after all these months?

Let there be light! I turned it on and instantly flashed it across the river and found a trail marker about seven feet up where I'd never look for it. I literally stood up with my arms raised in triumph. No McCandless destiny for me, not this time. And there was a neat row of rocks across the river that I hadn't seen before. I hoped across and began to job downhill because I knew the batteries would be my only hope. I flew like a deer possessed, like father Elk, like the elder Bison down the hill, skipping over roots, following the trail markers painted on trees like the yellow brick road to my van. It was still a long way to the trail intersection but once I found it I knew I was home. My knees were sore and my pants wet but I crossed the empty street with the sky full of constellations and felt a moment of peace as my fate once more blended into the comfortable known.

So, I'm an idiot for forgetting the headlamp. Yes. But somewhere in my mind I had forgotten it because I knew I had the best flashlight I could want already in my backpack. So I'm an idiot for forgetting that I had packed my flashlight already. The lesson is to be prepared. And if you aren't prepared at least know what you are carrying!

Visited the old homestead in Sanford. See video for more details. The van and Mt. Hope.

Somehow found time to hike Mt. Agementicus on the way south. My soul migrated with the speckled hawks to their oily home to the south. Returning to the shackles of ion implanters is a rusty stake in my heart.
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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.