Paulette burst into the room, her excitement bubbling in her every action. “Shirley, c’mon, what’s taking you so long?” she pressured me for what seemed the umpteenth time.
“Calm down, for cryin’ out loud! You’re like a flea on steroids. I’ve told you every time you’ve asked; I have no intention of leaving until I make sure we have everything we need.”
She spun around and huffed out of the room. I wasn’t fazed by her display of temper; there were more important things to tend to. Not that I blamed her for her exhilaration and eagerness because I felt just as stimulated. We had prepared for this trip for a whole year and were now on the brink of having it come to reality and truth be told, I had all I could do to contain myself.
When I stepped into the other room, Paulette was pacing back and forth. She stopped. With hands on hips said, “It’s about……..”
I shot her a look that let her know not to tread down that path at all. “Do you have all your things in the car?” I asked as calmly as I could so I wouldn’t sound demanding.
She nodded. “You want help with your stuff?”
As soon as the car was packed, we headed off to the Adirondack Mountains in New York, but not before we stopped at Dunkin Donuts for a coffee and a muffin, neither of us worried about the calories being as we would burn them off once we started our hike. It was a beautiful spring day in May and all the weather reports we searched, forecast great weather.
We knew the traffic gods were with us because we had smooth driving all the way. Although, I must admit that an uneventful trip can sometimes lead to boredom. Paulette and I tried our best to keep each other engaged in conversation but even we noticed there were periods of stilted conversation and when we did, we laughed and remained silent for awhile. A little over four hours later, we turned onto a narrow dirt road leading to the cabin our friends Michelle and Jeanine had generously offered for us to stay.
The inside of the cabin was dark, the shutters having been closed during the winter and a faint stale smell lingered in the air from having been unused. The first thing we did was open the shutters and windows to let the sunshine and fresh-air in. All the furniture was covered with sheets and it only took a few minutes to get them off, folded and put in the small closet near the bathroom. We unloaded the car and then made some tea and enjoyed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while we made out a shopping list of supplies we would need.
Two hours later we returned with bags of groceries, flashlights, batteries, candles, a first-aid kit and a variety of other items that, at the time, we thought we needed. As we emptied the bags, we laughed at the amount of food and the assortment of items we had bought. Had anyone entered the room at that point, they’d have thought we were going to be there for three months instead of ten days. It was what many men describe as typical when two women get together and go shopping ---- pure overkill. It probably was overkill, but we justified it as the “what in case” and “better to be safe than sorry” scenarios. Besides it really didn’t matter because we were happy and determined not to let anything spoil our vacation.
Tired from the long trip and the adrenalin rush wearing off, we went to bed early. The next morning, Paulette and I were up early and eager to get breakfast and get out on the trail. The directions we had were very detailed for the first mile or so and then became vague so we had to make some quick decisions on which direction to go. For the most part, we did fairly well and only twice had to backtrack to the very narrow path that Michelle and Jeanine called a trail.
The majority of the trail was easy to mildly challenging but by two in the afternoon, the two of us were getting exhausted. We headed back to the cabin with a pretty good idea of where we were going to venture the next day. Our plan was to travel and explore and then the next day go beyond where we left off and explore further up the mountainside.
On the seventh day, we wore warmer clothing and filled our backpacks with essentials and enough provisions for two days. We also added our small tents and sleeping bags because we would be so far up, we wouldn’t make it back before nightfall.
It took us the better part of the day to reach the higher elevation and the two of us were happy for the warmer clothing because the temperature had to be at least 20 degrees lower than down below and that was with the sun shining brightly. While it was still dusk, we heated up some beef stew on the sterno stove. We each had a bowl and devoured the stew along with some thick slices of Portuguese bread and some sharp cheddar cheese. We washed it down with hot tea.
We stayed up for a short time chatting, then cleaned up and retired to our own tents. Some time during the night, a snowstorm moved in. Because the tents were domed the snow slid off so we had no idea it had snowed until we awoke the next morning. The two of us were wearing hiking boots but we still had to make a determination on whether or not to venture higher. We ate breakfast and with full bellies, chose to continue on.
As expected, the going was much slower than the previous days and much colder. About two hours into our climbing, we stopped. The weather had taken a turn for the worst and the rocks were becoming icier and almost impossible to get a sure footing. We opted to head back down.
We were shocked to learn that with the wind blowing steadily and swirling so hard, our tracks and the path were indiscernible. Without saying a word, we glanced at each other as if to say, “I’m calm. We can do this.”
Paulette nodded and I did the same and we started making our way down the slippery terrain. Not too far down, we found ourselves having to negotiate over boulders and tree stumps and it became obvious we had moved in the wrong direction. Paulette suggested we try zigzagging for a while in hopes of crossing something familiar. We agreed the most important thing was to keep descending believing we would eventually venture onto a road or house or something and find our way to the cabin from there.
We were doing fine, even singing some songs to occupy our thoughts as we went along. Then I heard Paulette scream and she came tumbling past me.
“Paulette!” I yelled, frantically trying to get to her without losing my own balance.
It seemed forever before I reached her side. Her body was twisted in odd angles and I couldn’t tell if she had broken her bones. “Paulette, can you hear me?” I asked tenderly pushing the strands of her auburn hair from her face. “Please, Paulette. Please say you’re okay. Paulette, please.” I begged her over and over.
I wanted so desperately to cradle her in my arms but I was too frightened I’d make her injuries worse. I rifled through my backpack for my cell phone to call 911 but when I went to dial the number, I had no connection. Tears welled in my eyes not wanting to leave her in such an awkward position.
“Paulette, please open your eyes hon. Please.”
Her eyes fluttered and she moaned.
I choked back the tears and touched her face. “I’m here Paulette. I need you to talk to me to tell me what’s wrong. I know it’s hard, but you have to fight to stay awake.”
Paulette’s eyes fluttered again then opened. She looked at me but I could see she was still dazed.
“That’s it, that’s it,” I encouraged her.
She pushed on the ground with her hand and winced.
“You want me to help you move?”
Very gingerly I lifted her body so she could shift her weight. A couple times she moaned and each time I stopped. Each time she nodded and faintly said, “Okay. It’s okay.”
Once I had the upper part of her body straightened out, I asked, “Can you move your legs?”
She moved her right leg first. When she slid her left leg out from under her, I gasped at the sight of her foot dangling to one side. It was badly broken. Looking into her pain-filled eyes I said, “I can’t call for help. I don’t have a signal.”
Paulette struggled for a moment then reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone. It was broken in a number of pieces. I tried my best to get it working, but to no avail.
At that point, I reached into my backpack and pulled out the first-aid kit. “I have four Motrin. I can give you two now with the water we have left. Will you be able to swallow them?”
“Yes,” she replied weakly and motioned for me to help her sit up and lean against the rock. I gave her the two tablets and poured the water from the canteen into the metal cup.
When she finished taking the pills and I had everything back in the sack, I said, “You think with my help and a crutch you can make it down?”
I could see the tormented expression take over her features while she wrestled with the thought of having to navigate the rough terrain with a broken ankle. Finally, with a forlorn look in her eyes she answered, “I’ll try.”
I immediately set about searching for a branch that would offer the right height, and strength to support her weight. Luckily, I found one in less than half an hour. The absolute look of pain and misery on Paulette’s face when I returned told me she was in a lot worse pain than from her ankle.
“What’s wrong? And don’t tell me it’s your foot. I mean besides your foot.”
“She tilted her head back to look at me. “I don’t really know. Let’s go while I still think I can.”
I handed her the crutch and got on the other side of her and helped her up. “All set?” I asked when I felt she was stable.
“As set as I’ll ever be,” was all she said and we started down the mountain.
Besides being treacherous, our progress was slow and arduous. At different intervals, I checked my cell phone to see if I had a signal but to my frustration, there was none. We made many stops so Paulette could rest and sometimes so I could find the easiest and safest way to proceed. Overhead the sky was turning gray and showing signs of threatening another snowfall, which meant nothing because we could only move as fast as Paulette’s pain would allow her.
Almost five hours later, we reached the end of the snow line and miraculously, I recognized the trail about fifty yards down and to the right of us. “I see the trail, Paulette,” I said with a new found hope in my voice. “We’re almost there hon. Hang in there. We’re going to make it.” Paulette turned her head to face me. I smiled and kissed her cheek. “We’re going to do it, I swear.”
She offered a weak smile and I could tell she was losing her strength quickly. Reaching the path, I tried my cell phone again and got a signal. “I’ve got a signal!” I blurted excitedly.
Paulette squeezed my shoulder and I hugged her closer. I made the emergency call and apprised them of the situation and our possible location. Fifteen minutes later, the paramedics showed up on the path with a stretcher. They helped Paulette onto it and easily carried her down the trail and to the ambulance. I told them I would follow. When we reached the cabin, I went straight to my car while they settled Paulette into the ambulance.
Alone in the hospital waiting area, the damn burst and tears streamed down my cheeks. My hands and legs were literally shaking, not from crying, but nerves and being frightened. Frightened I hadn’t gotten Paulette to safety on time; frightened I would lose her and frightened I had failed her and our friendship.
“Excuse me,” a voice said from behind me. “Are you Shirley Mason?”
“Yes, that’s me,” I answered wiping away the tears.
“I’m Dr. Matlin. Paulette is being taken for surgery as we speak for her ankle and to repair some damage done to her spleen. None of the injuries are life-threatening and she should be fine.”
“I let out a deep sigh. “Thank you.”
Dr. Matlin turned and walked back down the hall.
I moved to the window, my tears replaced by relief and thankfulness. Gazing out at the lawn, I watched as the silver dust of moonlight settled coldly on the night.
Chelle Munroe ©
October 3, 2013