Monday, June 16, 2014

Days 107 - 110: Lost & Found

Day 107: Windsor Furnace Shelter to Dan's Spring (12.7 miles) Search Party Day 1
We stayed in bed a bit later than we wanted to but we didn't stress too much since we only planned to do about 14 miles to Allentown Shelter. We started out the day listening to Pomplamoose's Pharrell Mashup and dancing down the trail. We hiked up to Pulpit Rock and drew a hopscotch board on the rocks, just to make the hikers behind us laugh a little. The day was pretty rocky overall, and the going was slow. Around noon, we received a text from Cowgirl saying that Cooper had run off after some deer near Dan's Spring and hadn't come back yet.

We stopped for lunch at Eckville Shelter around 3 and talked about Cooper. He had scurried off before after squirrels and deer, but he had always come back. Just outside of Damascus, Cooper came sneaking up on us out of the woods about a mile from where Cowgirl was camped. All in all, we didn't think too much about his running off. We figured we would get up to Dan's Spring and he would come bounding out of the woods to greet us. 

We climbed up to Dan's Pulpit calling for Cooper. It was slow going due to the rocks and boulders. We the arrived at a blue blaze trail that led off to the east. We assumed this was the Dan's Spring trail since the guide made no mention of a trail between Dan's Pulpit and Dan's Spring. Cowgirl had said she was camped out near the spring, so we headed down the steep trail to meet up with her. 

As soon as we started down, I had a feeling that something was wrong. We were going down too steeply for too long. No thru-hiker would have gone down that trail. I eventually voiced my concern and stopped while The Ramen Shaman continued on down. About 20 minutes later, I got a text from him saying he was turning around. I hiked back up the steep trail and waited for him at the AT. According to the altimeter, we had climbed down over 400ft! What a waste of 40 minutes! Damn you AWOL!

So we start back down the AT and come to the actual Dan's Spring, which is marked with a sign (and definitely more than 0.6 miles from Dan's Pulpit).  It's about 5 o'clock, and we learn from Cowgirl that Cooper has been missing since 10am. I start to worry. 

We try to keep the mood light as Chase walks up and down the trail, calling for Cooper while I set up the tent. It's starting to get dark, there is rain in the forecast and with Cooper no where to be found, Chase and I decide to stay and help Cowgirl tomorrow. We decide that Katahdin can wait. We all talk about hiking down past the shelter the next day to see if he continued the journey north alone. Cowgirl is quieter than normal with her best friend missing in action. 

That night I quietly whispered to Chase all my fears about Cooper being missing as the rain fell softly on the tent. I tell him I would be a wreck. He says that there is nothing on the mountain that is a real threat to him and after thinking about it for a minute, I agree. Bears don't eat little dogs. We haven't heard coyotes. Snakes aren't necessarily a threat unless he stumbles upon them by accident. There is nothing in the woods to get him. 

Day 108: Dan's Spring to PA 309; then to Footbridge just past Hawk Mountain Rd (8.4 miles) Search Party Day 2
None of us slept well and we were all up early. I felt like I heard his little bell outside the tent all night. Cowgirl hiked out of camp before us and we agreed to meet at the shelter in another 4 miles. I decided to leave a note about Cooper on the tree by the campsite to let other hikers who come through the area to know to be on the lookout for a little brown dog. 

We hiked over rocks and boulder fields calling for Cooper. We were still hopeful that he was in the area. When we arrived at the shelter, Cowgirl was there and we took the initiative to call some local animal shelters and post on Facebook about him. She decided that we had done all we could do by putting notices up and calling out for him. She decided that we should just continue hiking north. Again, she left the shelter before us and said she was going to get water at the B&B in another 4 miles. 

The hike to PA 309 and the B&B was easy and hard. The terrain was an old road bed, which made the walking easy, but it was hard to leave the area in which Cooper was last seen. I wasn't sure we were doing the right thing. We crossed the busy highway and hiked for another 20 minutes before I broke down and had to stop. My legs felt like jello and my stomach was in knots. We sat down at a campsite and texted Cowgirl to see how she was doing. She said she felt wrong crossing the road. She came walking up to the campsite a few minutes later and we all shed a few tears and then came up with a plan.

We would hike back to the B&B and get a shuttle back to the Eckville shelter. We would camp where Cowgirl had last camped with Cooper at the footbridge at the foot of Dan's Pulpit. We would hike up to the Spring and back just to see. 

Just as we were debating shuttle drivers at the B&B, Dad, an AT hiker who had to get off due to injury and is now offering shuttles in the Hamburg/Port Clinton area showed up to drop off a pack for a guy who was slack-packing. He would take us for a quick resupply and take us back to Hawk Mountain Rd for a reasonable fee. He also offered to stop by the Eckville Shelter and put a note in the log about Cooper. 

We stopped at a little market and picked up some supplies. Cowgirl bought us some hot dogs and potatoes so we could eat well that night. 

We hiked out to the campsite and set up our tents. The forecast called for a lot of rain that evening, and we worried about the scared little dog, all wet and pathetic in the woods. Chase and Cowgirl decided to hike up to Dan's Spring while I stayed in camp and collected firewood. 

I would occasionally call out to Cooper while I worked on the fire and making baked potatoes and hot dogs. They returned around 9pm just as it started to rain. They were both convinced after hiking the terrain again that Cooper would not have come back over all the rocks and boulders. It just didn't make sense. We ate as cheerily as we could and decided to camp one more night at Dan's Spring and search the surrounding woods, just in case he got caught on something. Cowgirl thought that he would be able to get out of his pack in case he did get stuck, but we couldn't be sure. 

It poured all night, and again we didn't sleep well. 

Day 109: Footbridge Campsite to Dan's Spring (3.1 miles) Search Party Day 3
We had 1.6in of rain that night. Cowgirl left camp early again and we followed her up the mountain, calling for Cooper. After coming over those rocks up to Dan's Pulpit, I too felt that Cooper would not have gone back that way. It just didn't make sense. The Ramen Shaman had run to the Eckville Shelter that morning to throw away our trash from the night before and he ran into a hiker we had met in the Shenandoah's named Sunbear. He seemed interested in wanting to help and said he would meet up at the Dan's Spring campsite to help us look for Cooper. 

When we arrived there later in the afternoon, Sunbear was there waiting and Cowgirl's stuff was sitting by the firepit. We waited a little while for Cowgirl to show up, and when she didn't we sent her a text to let her know we were waiting for her and that we wanted to coordinate before wandering off into the woods to look for Cooper. Turns out, she had already wandered into the woods and couldn't get back to the campsite! With our voice guidance, she made her way back. Can you imagine?! Cowgirl and Cooper lost! 

We agreed to have Cowgirl stay in camp in case Cooper showed up, and the three of us would branch off perpendicular to the trail and bushwhack in an effort to find some trace of the little dog.

When you step off the trail, it almost seems to disappear behind you. You can head in a straight line, turn around 180 degrees, and not be sure of the direction you came from. I used my phone to mark the location of the trail where I entered the woods and I made sure I was always within earshot of Chase. 

Walking in the woods off trail proved to be very tiring. And the search seemed very overwhelming. While looking for Cooper, I couldn't help but to think of the hiker Inchworm that went missing in Maine last July. I felt like if I could be 10ft from him or some sign of him and never know it. I felt hopeless. 

Chase and I regrouped at camp and waited for Sunbear. When he emerged from the woods, he seemed to have gone deeper into the woods than we had. He said that the mountain makes a very general slope downward and that there are dozens of deer paths leading into the fields at the base of the mountain. He postured that if he was a little dog, he would head down one of those deer paths and into civilization. Thinking about my experience in the woods, I had to agree. It was a very nice slope down into town. There was civilization not that far away from where we were camped. It was completely possible that he had left the mountain and made his way into town. 

Sunbear left and we all felt a little better, even though we were still without Cooper. We set up camp for another night at Dan's Spring and decided that tomorrow for sure, we would continue north. We decided that it was up to Cooper to get found. 

We ended up camping with quite a little group that night. Reroute, Geared Up, Sisyfus, DaVinci, Dino, and Lady Moose showed up while I was down at the spring getting water. It was a nice night  spent with great people, and I think the company really helped cheer up Cowgirl. 

Day 110: Dan's Spring to New Tripoli, then back to PA 309; Howard-Johnson in Allentown, PA (9.8 miles) Search Party Day 4
Again, Cowgirl was up super early and left before us. We again agreed to meet at the shelter for one last pow-wow. When we got there, we called a few more vets and animal clinics. We felt confident that we did everything we could do. We hiked on to the B&B and decided to get lunch there with the group we camped with last night. 

Cowgirl spoiled us by buying us lunch. We ate and drank merrily and eventually decided we should get hiking if we were going to make it to the next shelter before dark. We crossed PA 309 with no regrets this time. We told ourselves that he would be picked up by somebody in town and we would get a phone call in a day or two. 

We hiked about 2 miles to the New Tripoli campsite and started hiking up and over some boulders. Cowgirl's phone rang and we all stopped to look at her. The look on her face told us that she didn't know the number and our hearts leapt. 

"Hello?" She said, followed by "Are you kidding me?" She started crying. Chase and I cried out and started crying and laughing. Cooper had been found! He had wondered off the mountain into someone's garage! Just as we had suspected. :)

We sent Chase ahead to meet the guy, Josh, who was graciously driving out to drop Cooper off at the B&B. Cowgirl broke down a lot on the way back. She had been holding back for 3 days and was finally letting herself feel all of the stress and emotion. 

We got back to the B&B just as Josh and his family pulled up. Out jumped Cooper the dog, looking a little thin but very happy to see his mom! We told Josh the story of our past few days and took down their address to send them a thank you. We looked it up later and Cooper had traveled about 6.5 miles from the campsite at Dan's Spring! What a crazy little dog! We all felt so incredibly fortunate to have him back. 

We celebrated with a few beers and called Dad. We thought we should go into town and rest. Cooper seemed to be a bit shell-shocked and we knew hiking out wasn't an option. He ate and drank a bunch, and curled up in his mom's lap, happy to be safe and sound.

Cooper has been back on the trail for over a week now. He's made it through another state in that time! 

We received a lot of negativity from the Internets about being irresponsible owners and some just plain mean comments regarding Cooper and bringing a dog on the trail in general. I stand by the fact that hiking the AT is not for every dog and not every hiker could handle the responsibility that comes with bringing a dog. Sheila and Cooper are having the time of their lives out here and they remain the number one priority on our hike. We know our dogs can handle it and that we can handle it. But mistakes were made and accidents happen. That being said, if you do choose to bring your dog it is important to prepare yourself mentally for the possibility that your dog could be lost in the woods. It's just another thing on the long list of considerations one has to make regarding hiking long-distance with a dog. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Days 101 - 106: Enter Rocksylvania

Day 101: Clark's Ferry Shelter to Campsite on ridge (11.8 miles)
This was a hot and humid hike! We intended to get a little further, but a 2 hour lunch break impeded our progress. We ended up camping with a section hiker couple from Jacksonville, Alll Right and Half Left. They were pretty cool to talk to. Talk about a small world where we meet people from Jax in Pennsylvania on the AT! There was no water at this campsite so we ate cold and went to bed early. 

We had spoken to a ridge runner at the Doyle in Duncannon who said that the rocks really start north of there. He wasn't kidding, but the rocks seemed like the type of rocks you find on top of any ridgeline in Virginia. I was skeptical. 

Day 102: Campsite to Spring, Campsite just before Rausch Shelter (12.8 miles)
Well, so much for an early morning! We finally got up around 9 or 10 and headed down to the spring at the bottom of the hill for brunch. We were done with this short & sweet day around 5pm when we set up camp next to Rausch Creek, which we learned is too acidic to sustain trout populations. To combat this, engineers installed these "filters" which diverts the creek water into a flow-through cistern filled with limestone so as to raise the pH of the water. The result is just a change of 1 or 2 pH units, but it allows brown and spotted trout to thrive downstream. The "spring" next to our campsite that fed into the stream was very rust-colored. We weren't sure if this was from too much iron in the water or some sort of nutrient imbalance. Anyway, we ended up camping out with Pooh Bear and Twizzler, and Cowgirl pushed on past the shelter. It was a quiet night. Still no horrendous fields of rocks. 

Day 103: Campsite to 501 Shelter (17.6 miles)
501 Shelter is famous for a few things. First and foremost, you can order pizza delivery. Secondly, there is a shower. These are the things that really matter to a thru-hiker. We left Rausch Gap a little later than we intended but the hiking was pretty easy. We crossed an old iron bridge at one point and made a tough climb up to the top of the next ridge. The mountains in Pennsylvania are really just parallel ridge lines, so the AT will follow one for a while and then jump to the next, resulting in easy hiking dotted with a few steep climbs and descents. This next ridge, Blue Mountain, was completely covered in poison ivy. Chase and I have never had a reaction to poison ivy, but the fear remains! Once we reached the 501 trail crossing, we jumped the gun and ordered some wings and a chicken parm sub. We waited at the parking lot for our food and ate there. We then carried our trash up to the shelter with the expectation that we would be able to dump our trash there. Alas, when we arrived we found a sign that welcomed pizza boxes but said pack out your own trash! We would have to carry our greasy styrofoam container with us into the next town. 

Day 104: 501 Shelter to Eagle's Nest Shelter (15.1 miles)
We saw a timber rattlesnake! That was the only exciting part of the day. The rest of it was rocky and awful. The trail so far in Pennsylvania seemed to be either sections of nice, flat, rock-free trail, or large boulders that you have to hop across, or small, sharp rocks that stick up out of the ground stabbing your feet to death, or a combination of small and medium sized rocks that slow you way down and annoy you to no end. The rocks are really supposed to start getting bad after Port Clinton. My feet hurt a lot even with just this measly amount of rocks and I was worried that my overuse issue was coming back. We were excited about Port Clinton and the Cabela's to look for new footwear. The camping at the shelter was really nice, and we spent the evening bullshitting with the old guys; Gwalker, GreaseSpot, and Banter. 

Day 105: Eagle's Nest Shelter to Port Clinton, PA; Microtel in Hamburg, PA (9.0 miles)
The started out with me being annoyed at the lack of landmarks mentioned in the guide. Then we had a really steep descent into Port Clinton. A lady with 8 kids ranging in age from 5 to 19 asked me about Sheila and her breed. I told her if she wanted an aussie that they are great dogs but they need a lot of exercise and attention, and also she should consider rescuing one. She said they tried that and had to put the dog down because "it was crazy." I hope she never gets a dog. 

Anyway, Cabela's came to pick us up and take us into Hamburg. That place is HUGE. We were expecting something the size of a Dick's Sporting Goods, but dayum! We then walked across to the 5 Guys Burgers and Fries to have lunch with Cowgirl and Pooh Bear, who had arrived in town the previous night. We then all went back to the Microtel to check in and have a beer with Cowgirl before she hit the trail again. One beer became a chorus of "una màs!" several times, and it was clear Cowgirl wasn't leaving town that. She ended up ordering The Ramen Shaman a pair of Ariat boots to hike in because she swears by the brand and also because she was drunk. Pooh Bear came with the two of us for a steak dinner, and Cheez-it picked out some new shoes; Merrel Moab Ventilator lowtops. Sleeping in a bed and having a shower is always awesome. 

Day 106: Port Clinton to Windsor Furnace Shelter (5.7 miles)
We were supposed to be out of town much much earlier, but Cheez-it decided her new boots were too narrow in the toe box. That's the trouble with these things; you never know how those shoes are going to fit until you wear them for a good long while and take them on the trail. I could tell just by walking across the street that they were too narrow. So it was back to Cabella's as everyone else hit the trail. After a few hours, I decided on a pair of Salomon XRMission trail-runners, and so far they have been great! We then had lunch at Cabella's and had to wait around until 2:30 before getting a ride back to the trail. We wasted more time at the post office in Port Clinton sorting through the dog food and sending home a few things. We actually started hiking around 3:30p. 

The shelter was a little creepy. There were a few people sitting around, but none of them were planning to stay. We set up camp and started making dinner when we heard something crashing through the woods near camp. I saw a big black thing walk across the trail and quietly told Chase, "I think there is a bear over there." He got up while I held onto Sheila and chased it away, yelling and throwing sticks. I'm sure it was just going down for a drink of water at the spring. Regardless, we bear-bagged for the first time since North Carolina that night. 

No rocks just yet, but that would soon change!

The next 4 days were spent searching for Cowgirl's dog, Cooper. This was a really intensely stressful and emotional time for us, so I would like to do it justice by speaking about it in a separate post. We've been trying to keep our mileage up to stay on schedule for finishing at Katahdin by the first week of August, so I haven't had much energy to write but I will do my best to work on the next post throughout the week. 

Thank you to all our followers for your continued support! Be sure to check out our Facebook page for more regular updates!