I opened my eyes to the sounds of Dave, our persistent 2-½ year old black cat who has become my personal alarm clock of sorts, pawing at the doorknob. After our morning meet and greet, Dave followed me downstairs for breakfast and a lot of attention grabbing rolls on the floor. With Dave’s needs no longer an issue, it was now time to start our day. Try as I would, I couldn’t totally escape from doing work but that’s the life of a Realtor. I answered a few text messages and a few emails but luckily didn’t have to answer too many calls.
Breakfast was on our minds, so we stopped at Panera Bread in Smithfield for a quick but delicious bite to eat. I could spend every dime I have in that place, which is unusual for me because I don’t normally like chains, but this place does it right. I especially like the bottomless coffee for those mornings that you just can’t get going. Not to mention the dozens of baked goods they display so temptingly behind that single pane of glass. It’s like they’re daring you not to buy something. It’s a challenge that I fail every time. With our bellies full it was time to hit the open road. Arcadia here we come.
I’m going to give you a number: 14,000. That’s how many acres Arcadia Management Area spans over 4 townships in our state. Exeter, Richmond, Hopkinton and West Greenwich all contain federally protected forest that make up an incredible network of winding trails that seem almost too numerous to ever complete. The forest also extends into a healthy portion of Connecticut, though these areas aren’t considered state park. We had been for a hike here last year that we really enjoyed and were eager to continue our exploration.
As with any hike, we started out by going to the headquarters in order to collect information and chart a good trail. Being a Friday – oh, did I mention it was Friday the 13th? - We spoke with Dave who piqued my interest with talk of American Bald Eagles down by a place called Beach Pond. Say no more - this was our destiny. I thanked Dave for his help and he wished me a happy birthday and off we went, never to see him again…or at least I thought… but more on that later. I was practically dancing to the car, filled with the excitement of possibly seeing my first ever American Bald Eagle in the wild.
We arrived at the parking area for Beach Pond and noticed a DEM vehicle parked off to the side. Still not completely sure of which trail to take, I thought I’d ask for further assistance. At the exact moment I got out of the car I looked out over the pond and noticed two birds in flight. The lead bird was almost all brown and slightly smaller than the other; I would later learn that this was the eaglet. I quickly focused in on the second bird and instantly realized that it was the prized American Bald Eagle with it’s distinctive shining white head and tail feathers and massive wing span; there was no mistaking it for a seagull. I was elated. Apparently, I like birds. So with this milestone checked off the list, how could our day get any more exciting?
We were lead up to tall rock formations and down to water level muck but nothing could compare to the exhilaration we both felt when we came upon a cave. Not a huge, get-lost-for-days-wandering-in-the-dark cave, but it was most certainly home to something wild that wouldn’t appreciate us poking around. I decided to take the zero. I’m gutsy, but I’m not stupid and what would Melissa had done if I were attacked by a pissed off coyote? We stared for a bit then went on our way.
Further down the trail sitting at the southern tip we found the area known only as the “Lookout” because of it’s position over the pond. For whatever reason, I didn’t head up to the top but looking back I wish I had - maybe next time. We continued on now starting on the northern leg of the yellow dotted trail and back towards our final destination, the car. It wasn’t long before I noticed two trees, one laying in the water the other leaning toward it, which had been eaten by a beaver. I could actually see the teeth marks in the trunk. How big does something have to be if you can actually see its teeth marks?
Are you ready for the fun part?
Ok, well you may remember that I mentioned the relatively rough terrain, the rocks, the hills, and the brush or maybe you don’t, because I never really did. But trust me it’s there and I have the sore legs to prove it. In fact, Melissa fell victim to this very landscape. She pulled a muscle in her leg. This may not sound like a big deal but when you’re in the middle of the forest and you don’t have a very good map and aren’t sure what lies ahead… then yeah, it’s a kind of big deal. Guess what previously foolish tool came into play now? If you guessed the walking stick, give yourself two points. I told you it would pop up again. Prepare as we do before a hike, nothing can get you ready for an injury. So now all the decisions are made with the injury in mind.
You might be asking yourself “why didn’t you just turn around”? The short answer is that we had already been over pretty rough ground that covered about a 3-mile span. I ran ahead to see what we were up against and noticed a dirt road that was fairly level and would be much easier for Melissa to walk on. This is when I decided that we’d continue on… besides, this road led back down to the water which is where we needed to be. We walked for a short while and came upon two homes that sat on the water’s edge. I stood between them staring at the bridge that would lead us back to the car - in fact, I could see the parking lot. But at this point I didn’t feel like anything was really wrong, or that we wouldn’t be able to get to our destination.
After looking for passage through the brush near the houses and realizing that there wasn’t one, we decided to double back in search of a crossroad that might lead us down to a main street. On our way up yet another hill, a Jeep Wrangler was coming down the road. I think both Melissa and I felt a little more at ease at this point. But whatever comfort we felt disappeared quickly when the driver of the Jeep, a lone woman and her child, passed us as if we weren’t even there, despite my waving her down. I understand why she didn’t stop - but what if we were really in trouble?
On we went. We shrugged off the snub and made our way back onto the same yellow dotted trail we had followed from the beginning. Back into the woods for a short time then out to another dirt road. This time the yellow trail went left and my internal GPS told me it was the wrong way but with Melissa’s leg causing problems I didn’t want to take the chance of leaving this trail and possibly missing a crossroad. After all, the Tippecanssett was the one path that was pointed out to us when we began our day. I did, however, run for about a half-mile down the road that I wanted to take, only to be met by another offshoot of a road, which made me apprehensive. I headed back to meet up with Melissa and we continued down - you guessed it, the yellow trail.
We would later learn that we had walked clear into Connecticut, about 2-miles into North Stonington to be exact. Surprisingly we still had cell service and I called information in hopes of getting someone from the DEM on the phone to tell me which way to go. In theory this is a simple idea. Not so much in reality. I was transferred to another person who then gave me a number of someone else to call. Did they not understand that we were in the middle of nowhere with the sun going down and one person with a bum leg? Finally I was put in touch with someone who could help. And help they did.
After a brief conversation it became clear that we would need help getting out of our predicament. The DEM Police snapped into action and immediately dispatched someone to come find us. This was a good feeling, even though I knew if push came to shove, I would have gotten us out of there. One of the few moments of levity came when the team leader for the DEM wanted to triangulate our position using GPS coordinates. He had us call 911 and ask for the coordinates. As you can imagine, the 911 people were a little confused by such a strange request. Melissa handled the conversation like a champ. In fact when she was asked by the 911 technician if she was “in peril”, she calmly explained our situation and thanked the tech for his help.
It wasn’t long before the DEM had our position pegged and was on their way to “rescuing” us. While we waited, I joked with Melissa about gathering wild berries and boiling up some pine needle tea (thanks, “Man vs. Wild”!). About an hour after we placed the initial call we heard the sweet sound of a siren wailing. Just around the bend from where we sat waiting, up pulled a white quad cab pickup truck. As we walked near I noticed a familiar figure. Do you remember my friend Dave from the headquarters? Well guess who picked us up? One of the first things he said to me after he made sure we were all right was “happy birthday”.
Dave brought us back to our car but not before pointing out that if we had in fact taken the road that I had previously run down we would have come out on route 165 and back to the lot. Hey, Gut Instinct… next time I’ll listen.
We were greeted by no less than a dozen DEM Police who were assembled and ready for a major search if need be. Luckily this wasn’t the case but I can’t tell you what a relief it is knowing that these people are at the ready 24 hours a day. As Melissa and I got out of the truck, a few of the guys started wishing me a happy birthday. And with all serious situations avoided, that’s exactly what it was. Thanks.
Williams & Stuart Real Estate
870 Oaklawn Ave
Cranston, RI, 02920
Work: 401.942.0200 ext 28
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