A Nearly Nine Mile Day
Day 2: Thursday July 20, 2017
We wake oblivious to the time, and eat a rich breakfast of campfire crepes filled with bananas and chocolate hazelnut spread (a healthier version of Nutella). We wash it down with a just warm enough mocha. By the second round, we learn how to get the crepes toasted just right over the hot coals from the night before. We clean up and head out. Kai tries to leave the fire roaring, but with some chiding and help from me, he dismantles the fire. Kai insists that he was being considerate and leaving hot coals for the next campers, but I insist that I don’t want to be responsible for burning down a section of the Laurel Highlands Trail.
Early on into our first mile we come upon a mystical looking grove of red flowers. We have my phone tucked away and off to preserve the battery, just in case we need it for an emergency. We pull it out and turn it on every so often to take a picture. It takes us a few shots to capture the view the way we see it. Kai takes the winning picture. We move on from the sacred grove, and Kai finds a way to amuse himself while hiking. He is on a hunt for toads and snails, collecting them, carrying them for some time, and then releasing them further up on the trail. Sometimes he has only one snail or toad and will release and trade it for the next one he finds. Other times he has a whole handful of creatures. This game keeps him occupied for miles, and he returns to it again over the next few days.
We breeze through our first 3 miles with only quick standing water breaks. We are down to one liter of water for the both of us and need to ration it until our next water source. We start to get sluggish and tired, and thirsty on the next half mile. A grove of wild apples provides us with a tart and juicy nibble. Kai tries to run down a hill and gets a stick jabbed between his toes. Knowing we are close to our resting point, I encourage him on. He pushes through and walks barefoot for a bit. At 3 ½ miles into our day, we come to a road where less than a quarter mile down, not too far from the trail, is the Highland Market. The Highland Market is a little vacation market and café that serves the Seven Springs crowd. It feels so good to enter the perfectly air conditioned store and let down our packs. We quickly use the bathrooms to freshen up and browse the store to find lunch. We order a salad, a hearty quesadilla, and a Reuben without the meat. The salad tastes like the best salad I have ever eaten (when, in fact, it is only of fair quality). Each bite of lettuce, tomato, green pepper, and pickled onion is fresh, juicy, and divine. The Reuben ooey, gooey, and cheesy in all the right ways. By the way Kai wolfs down his quesadilla, I can assume he feels the same about his meal. We follow our meal with an ice cold Starbucks White Chocolate Double Shot (the big can) split between us, and an almond muffin for Kai.
After our meal, we restock our water supply at the market’s water fountain, and put on our packs. Every time we put on our packs, we have to readjust to the weight of them again. Not to mention, resupplying over 146 ounces worth of water is not helpful in that department. Eating heavy meals midday while backpacking usually doesn’t work too well. We didn’t hold back for lunch, so we feel this keenly as we climb back up to the trail, through Seven Springs, and up to the highest point of the Laurel Highlands Trail. Kai and I are both in agreement that this 2 ½ mile stretch is our least favorite. We wish we had had greater restraint when we ate our lunch. This part of the trail has lots of inclines over open fields, hills, and gravel roads. Hot burning sun and steep hills do not mix well. The only redeeming factor is the stunning vistas of rolling hills, yet we can’t muster the energy to take any pictures. The end of this stretch is our next break spot.
We are treated to a water spigot with fresh, cold, potable water. Kai uses his break to jam a rock into the handle of the spigot to keep the water flowing. The flow is strong enough to fill up the brick basin surrounding the spigot and flow down the trail for a good few yards. Kai plays in the flowing water like a free spirited toddler. Chasing the water down the trail. We both let the water flow over our feet and body and use the attached brush to scrub the caked dirt off of our legs and feet. I am not sure if this is what it is here for, but it serves our purpose well. When we are on the trail, with no watch or clock, we lose our sense of time, but after what seems like 20-40 minutes of water play, I urge us to push on. I want to use whatever energy we gained from the refreshing bath to knock out our last 2 plus miles of the day.
The first mile of this next trek, is pretty even with little to no hills. It is such a sweet mile to have at the end of a long day. The following mile is not so sweet. A rocky decline followed by a rocky incline. Being a doula, I explain to Kai that backpacking is a lot like childbirth. The pain of birth starts pretty bearable and increases in intensity. In birth you don’t want to use all the tricks in your bag too soon before you really need them. The same is true for backpacking. I carry a set of hiking poles, yet most of the time they stay tucked into the loops of my pack. I save them for the end of the long days, when the last mile or two feels oh so long, and every rock and stone is felt through my rugged hiking shoes. I break out one pole to use on the decline and incline. The other comes out after we start down the side path to our shelter for the night.
Grindle Ridge is one of the two shelters that has a long walk (about a half mile) from the Laurel Highlands Trail to the grove of shelters. All I can think about, at this point, is reaching our shelter, shelter 3, and laying down this weight–melting into the hard shelter floor. First Kai says, “look at this cool stump; it is almost a perfect square.” I reply that he cannot intrude on my mental pep talk, and that all I can appreciate is that the shelter is close and getting closer. Next Kai says, “There’s a shelter!” “You see a shelter?” I say this with such relief that there is an end to my misery. Kai points to a little fairy size tipi he designed out of sticks and ferns. “You can’t do that to me,” I say in such disappointment.
When I get to that blessed shelter 3, I do all that I desired. Hard floor beneath me. I don’t care that Kai took off to find some stream. I don’t care when I eventually strip naked, peel off the stinky wet layers and bathe in the only way I can, with baby wipes, lavender hand sanitizer, and cucumber face wipes. If anyone comes across my naked self, it is on them to turn around. I really don’t give a care. When I care enough to think about food, I head to the fire pit (dressed, of course) to cook our dinner. On my first backpacking trip, I tried to go without cooking, so I wouldn’t have to buy a backpacking stove. That was a bad idea. After hiking those long 14 mile days, I would hanker for a hot cooked meal. This time I invested in a backpacking stove and was experimenting with cooking pasta more efficiently. Fuel canisters are heavy, so backpackers need to learn cooking techniques that keep fuel use down. I add the little pasta shells to my pot, top it with water to about an inch and a half over the pasta, bring it to a boil, boil it for 2-3 minutes, then take the pot off the stove, and cover it with a lid. I let it soak for several minutes. And, I have perfectly cooked pasta. With cheese packets, butter, and powdered milk mixed in, we have yummy, satisfying Mac n Cheese. Throwing some fresh green beans into the cooking pot adds some nourishing veggies to our meal. Experiment success.
Kai’s exploring at the stream is rewarded with a notepad triple wrapped in plastic and encased within a plastic jar. It is a “fairy notebook” for passing travelers to leave a word or more. Kai is not very enthusiastic about writing in these sort of things, so I write a bit or two in it for us. Kai is getting bored with me writing by myself, so he moves the fire from our outside pit to our shelter fire place and then wanders off to hunt toads. At one point he has eight toads of various sizes. He plops four toads onto my sleeping bag and says, “mom, look!” ” I scream, not in fear, but in indignation. I don’t
appreciate toads in my bed. I guess he is trying to get my attention. So, I set aside my writing to walk around the campsite in the dark, our headlamps to guide us, as I look for the bathroom, and Kai wrangles his toads.