Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Dancing Down the Mountain

On Monday, September 29, 2014, Liz and I and our five year old granddaughter Juliana climbed Mt. Elmore, in Elmore State Park, about a half hour away from our daughter Jane’s home in North Middlesex, VT.  We walked up the Fire Tower Trail, which on the trail map is marked at 1.25 miles.  When we got to the park, a little before noon, a whole school, the Wolcott Elementary School, was coming down from the top.  When we got to the top, the views were spectacular. 

In order to make a loop, we had decided to return on the Ridge Trail, labeled as 2.2 miles.  The trail up had some challenging steep climbs over rocky territory, and we heard from someone on the top that the ridge trail also had some challenges, but that there were also numerous stretches that were fairly level. 

It was somewhere between 1:30 and 2:00 when we started down the ridge trail.  We expected to get back to the trailhead in a couple of hours.  There was a sign that told us that the Balancing Rock was a half mile along. 

Well, for me it was mighty slow going.  There were lots of ups and downs, and my legs were getting tired which made me very slow.  Because of my neuropathy I take very cautious small steps on terrain like that. 

I think we had been going about two hours when we got to the Balancing Rock – I was dismayed, that it was taking so long and here we were less than a quarter of the way.  As it got close to 5 o’clock, Liz decided that she should go ahead to call and let Jane and Scott know that we would be later than we expected.   It's lucky she did.  Juliana stayed with me, and we kept plodding onward.  I began to get concerned as the sun sank lower and lower and visibility got more and more difficult.  I realized we had a long way to go and thought that it was possible that darkness would overtake us.  Juliana was getting tired and anxious to be home and see mommy and daddy and Amanda.  I told her that we just had to keep going and we would see them when we got to the end.

Meanwhile, as Liz discovered that it was farther to the bottom than she expected she realized it wasn't a matter of saying we would be late, it was a matter of calling for help.  As it happens, we had left our cell phone back at the house (normally it would have been in the car -- we're just not cell phone people.)  So she had to find someone who could call.

As twilight was coming on, a young couple caught up with us and I asked them whether they had a flashlight.  They did, and I anticipated joining up with them and continuing onward.   And then, a woman came up the trail towards us with a dog.  She was Nikki (I’m don’t know how she spells it) and Liz had encountered her as she got to the bottom.  It had taken Nikki about 20 to 25 minutes to reach us from the bottom.  She thought there was about a half hour before sunset.  Nikki told me that she had called Jane  and that emergency had also been called, so I knew help was on the way.   The other couple proceeded on down.

I told Nikki that I wanted to keep going and not wait for help to arrive.  With Nikki’s aid I negotiated some fairly rough terrain, some of it sitting down and sliding along.  Nikki was on her cell phone to both the state police and later to the Elmore Fire Department, which functions as a rescue squad.  As we went along, Juliana was doing pretty well -- she's a game girl.  Nikki was watching out her for as well as guiding me.

Finally, the Fire Department arrived, and things changed.  I don't know what time that was, but it was sometime after 7, perhaps as late as 7:30, because it was pretty dark.  I didn't realize it, but along with the fire department was a state policeman. 

The firemen asked me if I wanted to proceed with my walking sticks, or whether I preferred to have two guys sort of walk me along.  I told them I wanted to use the sticks, and I wouldn’t mind having people beside me at the same time. 

From that point on, I was surrounded by the firemen.  When I described the setup to her, Liz said it reminded her of the 14 guardian angels in the Evening Prayer from Hunperdinck's opera, Hansel and Gretel.  She's right, it was like that.  I’m sorry that I remember only two of my guardian angels' names – Zach, who was on my right and Joe who was on my left.  For most of the next two hours, Zach walked backwards or sideways, holding on to me as I inched along.  It was as if we were dancing, slowly, down the trail.   Joe was also gripping me on the left, but he was mostly walking forwards.  It had taken them about twenty minutes to get to me, but I took 6 times that long to  walk out.  At the outset, the state policeman and Nikki were behind me with Juliana, but after a while they went on down ahead so that Juliana was reunited with her parents and Amanda.  I’m told that Nikki was carrying Juliana piggyback, but I didn’t see it.

This neuropathy is a real drag  – I can keep up a pretty good pace when I get moving on level ground – slowed only by the old knee injury and my limp.  But on uneven ground I’m slow and on severely uneven ground I’m agonizingly slow. 

I’m very grateful to Zach and Joe and the others for tolerating my slow pace.  Coming down that trail in the dark was a real ordeal – what I was most aware of at the time was my slowness.  At one point someone on the radio asked from the base if there was anything we needed that would help.  I didn’t hear what answer the guy on our end gave, but I said “How about wings,” Zach and Joe said they liked my sense of humor.  In fact I kept my spirits up the whole way.

When we finally got to the end, I was relieved to see and hug Liz and Jane.  They had been waiting a long time and the waiting was in some ways more of an ordeal than I had experienced.  For me. it was just a very slow walk out.  I was doing something -- walking -- the whole time.

Liz and I rode down from the trailhead to our car in the assistant fire chief’s truck – I don’t remember his name either.  Jane and Amanda walked down (it’s not a long walk and it’s on a fire road so it’s easy) and Scott and Juliana, who was by now sound asleep, rode in the emergency vehicle.  The girls got teddy bears that the Vermont Teddy Bear Company donates to the fire company to give out.  I think I deserved a teddy bear too, but no one thought to give me one.

Jane drove Liz and me back to the house and after we went in the first thing Jane gave me was a big glass of wine.  By now it was 10:15 and too late to make supper so I went to bed on crackers and cheese and grapes.

I’ll never forget slowly dancing down the mountain with Zach holding me the whole way.

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