Friday, June 27, 2008
50 States in 50 Days--The Abol Slide
A man named Mike Haugen is attempting to reach the highest point in each of the 50 states in 50 days. He began on June 9 in Alaska when he summited Denali. From there he flew to Florida and then began the 48-state driving portion of the trip. He is sponsored by Coleman and has a two person support team helping with the driving and the logistics. Some of the state's summits are drive ups but not the one he tackled for #27.. On June 25, he conquered Katahdin. For those of you who know Katahdin, he went up the Abol Slide trail in TWO HOURS and came down it in 1 hour and 10 minutes. My ankles ache just thinking about it.
On Memorial Day weekend 2006, I was hiking up the Abol Slide trail with Archie and a few of his friends. Well, we started hiking together but after about 25 steps, the boys said, "Do you mind if we go ahead?" and that was the last I saw of them for many hours.
Using the word trail for any of the ascents of Katahdin is really a misnomer. Trail implies walking--upright--I've never done that on Katahdin--it's hands and feet scrambling for most of the way. Abol is no exception. It is the most direct route to the summit and ascends straight up a slide which tore off the south side of the mountain in 1816.
After the boys left, I kept up my slow, steady, cautious climb. I felt very isolated and alone in the slide that day, but I was liking it--I was starting to get to a place in life where I realized that I could do the things that I enjoyed whether I was with someone or not. After several hours of clambering over the boulders on the steep slide, I heard a voice from above me say, "Are you alone?"
Briefly, I considered that it might be God and this was some sort of Saul on the Road to Damascus moment, but I squinted up to where the voice was coming from and instead of God I saw a man sitting on a boulder with a baseball cap on his head. I said "Yes" and felt kind of annoyed that he had interrupted my solitude with such a stupid question. He shouted down, "This is a dangerous trail, I'll wait for you and we can hike together." I was totally annoyed now, who was this guy implying that I was too helpless to hike alone? But, annoyed or not, I'm a polite person so I climbed up to where he was and smiled and thanked him and we began hiking the rest of the way together. It turns out he had been hiking with his daughter and her friends and they had run ahead--as it turns out they were on the summit enjoying meeting up with my son and his friends.
As we neared the summit, my son and his friends met us on their way down. They seemed to be having a good time and I suggested that they have supper ready back at the campsite when I made it down. My new hiking companion's daughter and her friends were waiting for him on the top. We briefly ate lunch and all started down. Well, I hadn't gone 1/10 of a mile before I stepped off a rock and twisted my ankle--badly. I have NEVER done that before or since and the fact that I did it on top of Katahdin when by all rights I should have been all by myself--leads me to think that God might have been involved in this after all.
My new friend helped me down and it was a very very long and difficult process. I couldn't put any weight on my left foot and scrambling down those rocks was worse than going up them. Of course, the reality is that my son and his friends could have carried me down without breaking a sweat but they were long gone by the time that I hurt myself.
Anyway, I never even learned the man's name that helped and hiked with me that day but I often imagine that he was a guardian angel perched on a boulder in a baseball cap.