Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Deception of the Mountains in Spring

Spring is definitely making itself known in northern New England. The last snow patch beside our driveway should be gone by suppertime.

My urge to be up in the mountains is powerful but it will still be a few more weeks before the trails are ready for visitors.

Last year about this time, Ethan and two of his friends decided that they wanted to backpack during the week prior to their college graduation. Their plan was to hike the Mahoosuc Range. They drove up from Massachusetts late the night before their planned hike and somehow Archie convinced me that he should be able to skip a few days of school and go with them.

The Mahoosuc Range is a 30 mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail from Gorham, New Hampshire to Grafton Notch, Maine and the 1 mile stretch through Mahoosuc Notch is considered the most difficult mile of the entire 2000 mile trail. The boys woke up early and drove themselves to the trailhead with my promise to pick them up 3 days later in Grafton Notch. C had researched the trail conditions on line and warned them that there was still 3 feet of rotten snow, blowdowns across the trail and raging river crossings due to the snow melt. Young men between the ages of 16 and 22 are not easily deterred but I wish that I had exerted parental influence over the one of them that was still a minor.

So, they set off on a Monday morning. I had a busy work week but had my cell phone with me and on all the time. On Tuesday afternoon, it rang as I was in a meeting. I left the room and heard Ethan's crackling voice say "Mom, the trail is really bad and Archie's in trouble."

To understand the impact of those words you would have to know Ethan. He is the oldest of four siblings. He is the most responsible brother in the world and he loves and fiercely protects his mother. He would not have told me something that would scare me to death unless things were really bad. Ethan had little battery on his cell phone and poor reception but he told me that they all had inadequate clothing for the terrible conditions and that they were all experiencing symptoms of hypothermia. He was looking at the map and hoped to be able to get off the ridge before going through the "Notch."

My helplessness and terror in the face of that phone call was only balanced by my belief in Ethan's ability to take care of everyone. They did manage to get off the ridge the next morning and were picked up with warm clothes, blankets and soup by my father while I was in court with a mother who was surrendering her parental rights--there's irony there, I'm sure.

The story of that harrowing experience is for him to tell and I hope he will write about it soon on his new blog.


The Texican said...

Great piece and good lead in to Ethan's blog. Enjoy your Spring. It is almost summer here. 97 is the predicted high. Pool time.

Jayne said...

I was gulping midway through your paragraph. What a helpless feeling. So glad all turned out well. Whew... motherhood is definitely not for wimps.

Beth said...

Texican, thank you--pool time indeed--97 in May, where does it go from there?

Jayne, you are right on that assessment of motherhood. It's so hard to balance independence with safety. I'm not always very good at that.

beckie said...

You are never so helpless as when your child in in danger and there is nothing you can do. Giving them their independence while trying to keep them close and safe IS a fine line. I look forward to Ethan's blog. If he writes half as well as you...

rach :) said...

I think the irony of where you were while the boys were rescued by your parents is as telling as anything. Parenthood is not for the weak of heart; you need a certain strength to navigate the twists and turns through which children lead you. Without a support system for the parents, sometimes I wonder if surviving that trip is nigh on impossible. I am eternally grateful for the people who help me raise my children, for without that help, who knows what could happen.
There but for the grace of God... it could be my child collapsing hysterical in a stranger's yard.

TheElementary said...

Wow. That's a terrifying story. I felt sick in my stomach when I read "Archie's in trouble."
My mother stays awake at nights when my brother is out somewhere new and unfamiliar.
He doesn't live with her anymore. Neither do I, and she never stops worrying.
On this occasion you had a most definite reason to panic. The fright you got comes across in your words even a year later. I for one will be checking out that blog.

Beth said...

Beckie, you are right it is a helpless feeling. I heard on NPR tonight about a mother whose son accidentally pushed up against his cell phone in a firefight in Iraq and called home and when she came home she had a message on her answering machine but it wasn't an intended message but the sound of the firefight--talk about feeling helpless.

Rach--you are right about the support people in our lives--I don't know how people make it without the safety nets we have.

The Elementary--I guess the worry never goes away. That's why kids should take it easy on their mothers and not put themselves in danger!

andrea_frets said...

Oh yikes! Being caught in the high peaks in poor conditions is not fun. I'm glad he made it back and a year later is starting his own blog!

I keep looking at the texican's comment and rereading 97. No fair!

Anonymous said...

In college I hiked the Mahoosuc Range and I can attest to the rigors of that trail!

During the same time period, I attempted to go winter hiking/camping up Mt. Blue on a below zero day during Christmas break. (We had a heard there was adbandoned cabin we could sleep in.) With the wind, it was brutal. Lucky for me, I was hiking with a trusted friend who took charge when I experienced the symptoms of hypothermia. Just as your older son watched out for Archie, I luckily had respect for the buddy system and wasn't alone. It's these adverse expericenes that sometimes teach the most important lessons.


Nan - said...

I went over and read your son's account. Harrowing, and not easy for a mother to read. I told him that his account is why I don't hike. :<) My daughter is out visiting in Colorado, and she called yesterday to say she had climbed Pike's Peak! Well, I don't think all of it, but I don't know - six miles up maybe. She was exhilarated. I was glad she told me afterwards. :<)