A Slow Going Six Miles
Day 3: Friday July 21, 2017
We start on the trail this morning thinking we can knock out six fairly level miles, but these miles end up kicking our butt. Instead of flowing through the first few miles, like we did yesterday, at every mile we want to stop for a small break. Today is the day where the rigors of the trail really kick in, and we start to have trail fantasies. Trail fantasies are when you long for the comforts of our modern world. Incredibly vivid images form in your mind. Last year, my hike was more rigorous and austere, so my fantasies were many: very specific hot meals (like spaghetti), a shower, my bed, sex—that order was essential. This time, my first trail fantasy is for a shower. To keep pack weight down many backpackers only pack one item of clothing for each function. I have a pair of running shorts and a yoga shirt with a built in bra as my daytime wear and yoga pants and a comfy top for bedtime and camp wear, as well as a long sleeve layer for warmth. Needless to say, wearing and sweating in the same clothes for days with no shower creates quite a skank. I am a person that doesn’t mind getting dirty, but I do love to clean up afterwards. Going without a shower is one of my least favorite parts of backpacking. Kai relishes the opportunity to go days without being forced to bathe. Dirty is almost always an acceptable state for Kai. His first trail fantasy is about vegging out on Minecraft, uninterrupted, for a whole day and night.
On a backpacking adventure snacks are essential. It feels better not to eat heavy meals while on the trail, but backpackers can burn as many as three or four thousand calories a day, so frequent snacks are the ticket to getting all these calories in. Before setting out on our hike, we went to the Co-op and filled little snack size baggies with things like nuts, dried fruits, chocolate, sesame sticks, and granola. We supplemented this with packages of chocolate covered espresso beans and other packaged items. This was a great idea. It is so easy to get bored eating the same thing, so having so much variety, keeps things interesting and tasty. Everyday I ration out our snacks for the day and put them in the little top section of my pack, along with a light lunch. This way I do not have to open or dig into my pack during the day. Each day, we have a different dried fruit, a couple savory and salty snacks like sesame sticks or nuts, and some sweet treat like chocolate.
The air is thick and muggy. I have a fine sheen of moisture on my body throughout the day. The trail is mostly level with minuscule inclines, but it is incredibly rocky—to the point where we feel each stone acutely. There is one point where we pass through alleyways of giant boulders. We see stunning vistas of the Laurel Highlands. And pass by an ancient graveyard. When we pass by a large group of day hikers, we can’t help but think, “wimps.” And when we see people stroll into camp by coming down from their cars at nearby roads, “cheaters.”
Kai and I have been getting along quite well on this trip. We get mildly edgy with each other when we are setting off in the morning, because we have different flows. I like to get up and go to take advantage of my morning energy. Kai likes to ease into his day a bit. But really, this morning edginess is hardly anything and dissipates quickly as we get into our hike. But Kai gets angry at me today. I said we would eat lunch at four miles in for the day, but at four miles, I push for one more. The map says that there is a parking lot just off the trail with a potable water spigot and picnic tables at five miles in for us. I want to make it to this spot for lunch. Kai tries to sit down and refuse to move at mile marker 20, but I just keep moving. I make it well ahead of him, before he decides to catch up to me. He is a hangry beast until I feed him at the next mile. We deal with our frustration by walking far away from each other. Kai rushes on ahead of me and makes it there first. At the picnic table Kai eats away his frustration, and is soothed by more water play at the spigot. The shelters are only a mile away, so I push us on, eager to be done for the day.
When we get into camp, I unpack the contents of our packs, setting or hanging each item on the hooks and shelf within the shelter. I “bathe,” get into my comfy camp clothes, and set up my bed. I do a session of yoga. Nothing active. Just gentle restorative poses to counteract the movements and tensions of backpacking. Cat-cow, supported bridge, puppy, forward folds, savasana, and any variations that feel good to by body. When we were browsing the Highland Market yesterday, I came across a display of natural beard balms in various scents. I picked up each scent and took a whiff. The sandalwood was so sweet and comforting that on a whim I bought it for myself. Tonight, I rub this beard balm into my tired feet and up my calves, over my sore shoulders and neck, to work out some of the tension. The combination of the scent, the yoga, and the rub down, after three days of hiking has me feeling deeply worn, but relaxed.
Kai’s ritual is to discard his pack on the shelter floor. He runs off to scope out everything and see if any goodies have been left behind. He usually finds something to excite him. Yesterday he found mini bottles of wine stored in the run (we just let them be). Tonight, he finds a newspaper with some comic strips he enjoys reading. Then he gets straight to collecting kindling and firewood and starting a fire–his favorite part. Last year, I was too tired to deal with fires, so I only had one on a night I shared it with two guys. This time, I have been getting a fire or two every night without having to do anything for it, thanks to Kai. This grove of shelters is a packed house. Two solo backpackers, a group of three backpackers, a trio of “cheaters”, a father and son set, a man with two wee daughter, and two dogs. We are curious as each new person or group who rolls in. We talk to the solo backpackers and trade tips, tricks, and advice. Kai sees that the dad with two daughter’s is struggling to start a fire, so he brings them some kindling to help out. When we see people at shelters we interact minimally, mostly keeping to ourselves.
Dinner is a fail. It fills our bellies, but is wholly unsatisfying. I try to cook angel hair pasta using the soak method, but it comes out with a strange gummy texture. The sauce, that came in a great little pouch, doesn’t have much flavor. The only part that works well are these little packets of fresh mozzarella balls that have managed to stay fresh for these past few days. Leftover s’mores act as redemption for such a pitiful dinner. Our dinner ritual is for Kai to start a fire at the outside fire pit closest to our shelter. I cook our dinner close to the fire. I carefully unpack and set up all the items I will need to make dinner, and place the fuel canister on the most level surface I can find. I screw the small backpacking stove (a burner with four fold out pot supports) into the fuel canister. Then I proceed to cook whatever is on the menu for the night. After dinner, I wash our dishes and pots with natural, unscented baby wipes. I have found this to be the most efficient way to clean them, because washing in streams is harmful for the environment and water is a chore to find and filter. Then, I carefully repack every item, nestling items together as compactly as possible. We burn our leftover food and any trash that is acceptable to burn. The shelters have bear proof trash cans for the rest of our waste. Dinner usually takes a while, and Kai and I enjoy this time of talking and relaxing.
After dinner we brush our teeth, using only small amounts of water. I hang our food between two opposing hooks on either side of the shelter. Bears are really rare on the Laurel Highlands Trail, but the mice have learned how to raid the food stashes of campers. This is one reason we cook and eat outside the shelter. I like to head to the shelter to write, and then, slowly fall asleep. Kai likes to linger at the fire, until he eventually gets tired and decides to start a second fire in the fireplace attached to the shelter. I do insist that Kai at least wipe down his muddy feet and legs before climbing into his sleeping bag. He does this reluctantly, or will say that he is too tired and request I do it for him. Sometimes I do, knowing his version of clean is not up to my standards. Sometimes I don’t, knowing he is capable of doing it himself. I also usually have Kai set up his own bedding and pack up his own pack in the morning. Learning to pack and unpack your backpack and set up camp everyday is an important part of backpacking. It is important that you pack your pack in such a way that your essential items don’t get wet, the heaviest weight is in the middle against your back, and everything fits. There is a bit of an art to it. Kai is impatient with this process. He would prefer to just push everything into his pack and have it done with, and not to deal with blowing up sleep pads and rolling and unrolling sleeping bags. Every morning he tries to shove everything in, only to get frustrated when everything doesn’t fit in his pack and it won’t zip up. Then he has to start again to pack it properly. He does start to get the importance of doing it right the first time, but he still just doesn’t want to deal with it, so every morning he gets irritable.
Tired, we sleep well tonight.