Sunday, April 28, 2013

Quietly Epic Trip

I just got back from a section hike.  I really, really needed it.  Work was extremely stressful for two months (like, taking Xanax to get through the day stressful), and then after those two months of working myself into the ground I got a sinus infection.  Fortunately DeLee got me to go see my doctor.  I had assumed that I would just get better on my own, but apparently that wasn't going to happen.  So one course of Cipro later I felt approximately human.

Human, but still in need of a major brain cleaning.  In my case, that means a long walk.  There may be better ways to turn my brain off, but if there are I haven't found them.

I planned an approximately 100 mile walk through New York and New Jersey on the Appalachian Trail.  When I thruhiked, New Jersey was just so unexpectedly pretty that I wanted to go back.  And the adjacent parts of New York were surreal (but challenging).  I decided that I could probably do about 100 miles in 10 days if I pushed myself a little.  Pushing myself definitely helps with the brain wipe, so I went for it.

The first day was mostly driving up and a short walk to the first shelter, where I met friends for the first night.  It was wonderful to see them!  And nice to be in a shelter, as the weather wasn't that great.  I knew the next day, my first full day, would be hard, so I got up as early as I could.  14.5 miles over tough terrain, with my pack nearly bursting with supplies for the long hike.  I got on the trail at 6:45.  And it was, indeed, surreally beautiful.  And tougher than I remembered.  I didn't make it the 14.5 miles to the next shelter.  I found a flat spot a little before Mombasha High Point and set up for the night.  It was a very pretty spot but I dreamed of bears all night.  In the morning I found a wild turkey racing around, which I'm pretty sure is what got my bear dreams going.  I had to laugh at myself.  At some point during the night either something bumped my tent or I dreamed that it did.  I woke myself up yelling "GRAAR!"  Apparently in my dreams this is an effective way to scare off bears.

The next morning I hit the woods for a potty visit and used up the last of my first roll of TP.  I dug way down in my pack for the fresh roll that I had stuffed down in the bottom.  And it wasn't there.  I checked again.  I unpacked everything.  No roll.  Well.  That put a different face on the morning.  I started hiking with toilet paper on my mind.  Argh!  Here I am going up and down these crazy difficult ridges, and all I can think about is what's going to happen the next time I need to poop.  I formulated a plan.  I had wet ones.  That would get me to my mail drop, which is where my fresh roll of TP must have ended up.  And I could maybe use rhododendron leaves? 

The trail was so steep that at one point I took off my backpack and dropped it because there wasn't room for me to face forward while wearing it.  It was pushing me off the mountain.  I didn't even have room to turn around so I could try to back down.  That was a scary moment.  Both the feeling that I might fall, and the fear that after I dropped the backpack it would fall to somewhere I couldn't get it.  It bounced and rolled a few times but luckily stopped.  I climbed down the rest of the way to it and put it back on, but it wasn't the last time that day that I had to take it off.  Or sit on a rock and scooch my way over the edge, since it was much too far to step down.  Man.  What the hell were the trail planners thinking when they routed the trail?

Missing 4.5 miles of the first day meant that I hit the previous night's planned shelter in late morning.   I decided to stop and make a hot lunch as it was wicked cold out.  I looked in the shelter for the register, and what did I find?  Toilet paper!  One of those teeny backpacker rolls with no cardboard core.  This was one of those instances of true trail magic.  I couldn't have been happier.  I made my hot drink with joy in my heart.

Hitting the shelter at mid morning in the midst of pretty tough terrain meant that I was not going to be making up the distance so I could get to the next planned shelter.  And in fact I never did sleep in another AT shelter on this trip.  I did stay at the "secret shelter" but it hardly counts.  I sleep better in my tent than by myself in a shelter anyway, and I saw barely any human beings on this trip.  So I think that worked out for the best.

Once I got to New Jersey the trail difficulty ratcheted down considerably.  I had been enjoying the views in New York of course.  I had specifically done the extra tough section because I knew it was beautiful.  But in New Jersey I could relax and get my mileage on.  It was a bit of a relief.

Highlights and insights:  Unionville, NY serves gluten free pizza at the little pizzeria there.  My Jetboil is an essential piece of equipment now.  It's worth it to carry the heavier sleeping bag when it's cold out.  (My water froze, and my breath froze on the outside of my sleeping bag, but I slept like a baby.)  I saw NO bears on this trip (compared to 12 last time) and no mentions of them in the registers.  That was a huge relief.  I innovated a pillow attachment for my sleeping pad (elastic attached to both ends of a stuff sack) and it improved my nights considerably.  I innovated an upper body prop for acid reflux nights (daypack/stuffsack strapped under the head end of my sleeping bag by its shoulder straps) and that also improved one of my nights considerably.  My stomach was so much happier on this trip than it ever has been, thanks to gluten free food.  Pain in the ass that it is to shop and plan for, I have to admit that it's worth it.  I actually lost weight on this trip, which never happens on "short" trips.  Not seeing people did not make me feel lonely.  It was a relief.  Sometimes I need to be alone - really alone.  By the time I was done I was looking forward to being home and going back to work, which was exactly the point of the trip.

I finished my trip a day early, meaning that I could take Sunday off for rest.  Which I have done.  I'm eating like a horse (bye bye, lost pounds) and napping.  It's perfect.

I was very happy with nearly everything on this trip.  My gear (backpack, tent, steripen, stove, rain jacket, permethrin treated clothing) all performed well.  I was a little disappointed that I only had the energy for ten hours of hiking per day at the start, which I quickly realized was ludicrous.  Who goes from a desk job to ten hours of mountain climbing with ease?  I loved the music on my phone (played in alphabetical order, which turns out to make a nice playlist).  I loved the sunny but cold weather, and all the raptors I saw, and all the flowers blooming.

Yup.  It was all pretty great.