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Hey everyone,

Did I mention in my first blog that I’m a teacher? Well, I am. And for the most part I’ve managed to avoid instructional, um, let’s call them “tendencies,” so far during my summer off.

I’ve only backslid twice. The first was when I asked a kid on Mt. Washington why Antietam was important. Call me unfair, but I say if you’re wearing a t-shirt promoting a major Civil War battle, you ought to know its significance. (FYI, Lincoln needed a Northern victory as leverage to sign the Emancipation Proclamation into law and Antietam did the trick. Never mind that mandate only applied to Northern states, where slavery was virtually nonexistent.)
The other time- maybe I should say- “times” that my teacherly ways persist are when I give myself a daily grade on my “sherpa-ness.” That is, I decide how I performed my support crew duties and I give myself a grade from A to F. (Daily grades, by the way, are something I give to my sixth graders, primarily to reward the kids who’re doing what they’re supposed to, even if they’re not the sharpest tools in the shed.) Well, for the first 5 days, I gave myself straight A’s. I woke up at 4:15 to climb Katahdin with Jen; I made sure she forded streams safely; I cooked dinner for her and set up the tent; I found the correct roads in the 100-mile Wilderness; I even brought her special treats like fresh-baked pizza and Diet Pepsi.
My daily grade average was off the charts… until the Stratton-to-Rangely hike. It started normal enough. We talked the night before about my meeting her at 11am on a road about 15 miles down the trail. Neither of us had our data books, and until this point, I’d been relying heavily on the atlas and gazetteer that our friend Warren Doyle lent us, on which he’d already highlighted the AT and the appropriate road crossings.
Jen woke at 4:30am to hike from Horns Pond to ME27 near the town of Stratton. I woke up 3 hours later, ate a Clif bar while breaking down the tent, and reached the Stratton highway at 9:30. Jen left a note on the driver seat saying she’d made it down safely and would see me in a little while. I figured I had plenty of time so I called Jen’s parents to let them know she/we were safe (they’re probably reading this now and losing all faith in my abilities. Oh well, sorry, Mrs. Pharr. The bubble had to burst eventually.) After that, I drove to a grocery store to pick up some hummus, peanut butter crackers, and chips and salsa.
Jen said I should be at the trail no later than 11:30, but I still thought I had plenty of time since it was just after 10. I drove 35 miles on meandering highways, then north on gravel and dirt logging roads for another 10 miles. Problem was, when I got on the logging roads, the trail was impossible to find.
I tried to orient myself using the gazetteer but the forest was too thick to see any mountains. I tried to use the streams but they crisscrossed too much for me to discern where I was. And worst of all, there were three or four different “roads” that were all equally rough. I’m talking, like, an ATV might be able to navigate these, but I had to twist and turn the Highlander constantly to keep from bottoming out. After wandering for over an hour, taking three different turns, and eventually deciding one of them was correct but that I hadn’t gone far enough, I found the trailhead around 11:40. For the last 15 minutes I honked incessantly, hoping Jen would hear me and would wait, and probably scaring the local fauna half to death.
Once I got there, I was relieved to see that Jen hadn’t arrived. I checked the data book, thinking she would have been there by then, and then it hit me… I’D DRIVEN TO THE WRONG ROAD. The intended rendezvous was only five miles down the highway from where I’d come out on the trail that morning.
At that point, I had no idea what to do It was 12:15pm and Jen had been expecting me no later than 11:30. She’d said she would wait for me “no matter what,” which was the first time she’d used that phrase on the trail, so I knew it was an important drop. The thought of her sitting there for hours made me sick. I considered running the nine-mile stretch of trail back to her but I realized that I’d have to climb a 4000 foot mountain, and that the likelihood I could run to her in less time than I could drive to her was slim. Ultimately, I decided to hedge my bets by leaving a note and some supplies in a Gladware container and driving back around.
I don’t know what happens to you when you get stressed but I get a big lump in my throat. Well, the lump stayed there from about 10:45 that morning until 3:45 that afternoon. The road Jen had intended wasn’t marked well either and it, too, was washed out and difficult to navigate. I had to run the last half-mile to the trail to retrieve her note, which said she’d waited til 11:45 before pressing on. I felt better knowing she hadn’t sat there for two hours, but I still felt like I’d let her down.
I drove back around to my road, which Jen had crossed at 2:50, only fifteen minutes before I returned. She’d gotten some food from another hiker, and seemed upbeat in her note, but I knew her too well to trust that. I drove to Rangely, hiked back in and met her at 7:15pm. She was beat down and dirty, but healthy and understanding. She hiked 38 miles that day from east of Stratton into Rangely. For those familiar with the AT, you know how amazing this is. For those that don’t, I’d guess there are only three or four men alive who’ve done that stretch as quickly.
Jen and I were both apologetic and willing to take our share of the blame. Neither of us was really wrong, it was just one of those lessons we were bound to learn. The moral of the story is, when it’s late and you’re going over the next day’s rendezvous point in your tent, say the name of the road rather than just talking about the mileage. And then say it again in the morning… and recite it as a mantra occasionally throughout the day.
So what was my sherpa-grade that day? The night of, I decided to give myself a C-. I figured that even though I screwed up with the rendezvous, I did leave supplies for Jen, hike in to meet her, splurge for a hotel that night, and “cook” some mean freeze dried lasagna for dinner. But later on, I decided to be more forgiving and focus on the end result. Aside from wasting time and gas money, I really didn’t lose anything in the process. Jen had plenty of food and water and most importantly, she finished a MONSTER day of hiking no worse for the wear. So now I’m thinking I’m going to give myself an unconventional A… and hope that Jen never reads this blog to dispute it.