It was supposed to be a leisurely little hike on a beautiful afternoon.
Instead, it turned into an hours-long ordeal in which a New Brunswick woman got lost in the woods, her pleas for help going out on a dying cellphone and a community of Facebook group members — one of them in particular — rallying to her aid.
Andrea Saulnier’s Sunday started out pleasantly enough.
“I just wanted to go on one of the trails, get some exercise,” she said in an interview from her home in Weldon, in southeastern New Brunswick, the day after her misadventure.
She’d heard about the trail system at nearby White Rock Recreational Area in Hillsborough, so she headed over, took a photo of the trail map and started hiking.
“I went up one way, then I thought, nah, I’m not gonna go up there, it’s getting too muddy. So I turned around, went down, went up this other path, and I thought, OK, this looks nice and straight. … I’ll take this one.”
As she made her way, she ran into a couple of people who said they were “going around in circles” and had decided to turn around. It didn’t seem portentous at the time, she said.
“I thought I’d just keep going. So I’m walking and it keeps going uphill and uphill and uphill, turns and twists. After a while … I said, ‘Holy frig, how come I’m not getting anywhere?'”
A plea for help
By this time, Saulnier admits, “panic started setting in.”
“I’m out of shape, I’m overweight, I’m thinking, this is not what I was planning for the day,” she said.
Saulnier decided it was time to reach out for some guidance. Using her cellphone, she posted a plea on a public Facebook group, Keepers of Rte 114 NB:
“Okay folks. Need some help. … I’m in Whiterock on the Start Me Up trail. How frigging long is it? I’m running out of steam and cellphone running low.”
Almost immediately, dozens of group members started responding:
“Each way is just under 4 km.”
“Take a screenshot of your location using your maps app and post it here in case your battery dies.”
“Are you in distress?”
Said Saulnier, “When I found out it was four kilometres, I just about died.”
By this time, she’d been out on the trail for more than two hours. Her hip was beginning to hurt badly and her nerves were starting to fray.
“I was just panicking a bit,” she said. “I was running out of steam, my cellphone was dying, I was running out of water.”
Meanwhile, in nearby Hillsborough, Dan McIntosh was just about to make dinner when he checked his Facebook feed and saw Saulnier’s plea for help.
“I know that trail well,” he said. “I knew pretty much exactly where she was.”
He joined in on the messaging, thinking Saulnier was just asking where she was.
“I sent her a series of encouraging messages: ‘You’re almost at the end there. You got this. Just keep going, you’re doing good.'”
But as evening approached and the messages continued, McIntosh started to worry.
Within an hour or so, it would be getting dark, he thought.
I was just panicking a bit. I was running out of steam, my cellphone was dying, I was running out of water …– Andrea Saulnier
And it was clear that Saulnier didn’t know where she was.
An experienced hiker, McIntosh knew the trail she was on can “kind of keep you going around in a circle,” and he knew how easily that feeling of disorientation can turn to panic.
That’s when he decided to go and get her.
“I live minutes away,” he said. “So I just messaged her: ‘Stay there. I can be there in two minutes.'”
Couldn’t find Saulnier on the trails
When he arrived, he messaged Saulnier that he was there to pick her up.
He got out, trekked around the trails several times, but couldn’t find her. He circled around again, messaged her again and then suddenly, there she was.
“She was just coming out of the trail,” McIntosh said, and “limping pretty badly.”
Saulnier had finally made it back to the parking lot. But she was at least one mile away from where she had parked her car.
“Poor lady,” McIntosh said. “She was pretty sad. I think she felt disappointed, but she did such a good job. … That’s a pretty good trip for someone who’s never been hiking.”
Saulnier says the feeling of finally getting to the end of that trail and seeing McIntosh there, waiting for her, was overwhelming.
“I was so relieved to see him pull up, I was in tears,” she said.
She said she’s “extremely grateful” for the swift response of the Keepers of Rte 114 NB group, who gave her advice and kept her calm along the way.
And she’s deeply indebted to McIntosh for literally going the extra mile.
Saulnier said she plans to keep in touch with him on Facebook and has already sent him “a very big thank you” message.
“Honest to God, it was so nice that he stopped what he was doing just to make sure that I was [all right],” she said. “I was just overwhelmed.”
HAPPY TRAILS: TIPS FOR STAYING SAFE
Dan McIntosh, a dedicated hiker, and Hiking NB offer these safety tips for anyone thinking of hitting the trails:
- Bring water.
- Bring a bear whistle.
- Wear comfortable hiking clothes and boots.
- Take a picture of the trail map.
- Make sure your phone is fully charged.
- Make sure you know how long the trail is.
- Hike with a buddy if you can.
- If you go alone, let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back.
- Know your limits. Don’t be afraid to turn around and go back.
- Get a first aid kit and learn how to use it.
- Buy an LED headlamp and extra batteries.