An Adventure Ends
Day 5: Sunday July 23, 2017
Our last day on the trail—the home stretch. With no way to tell time, we have no sense of what time we head out in the morning. We are tired and take our time to pack up and head out. We are both extra impatient with each other this morning, and at our snappiest (which really isn’t all that bad.) Once we get our morning caffeine in, we feel better. Going down to a stream to filter your water before you can then go and heat it up for tea, adds a whole level of complexity to the morning. I misplaced our measuring spoon, so I make a matcha tea that is way too strong. So strong that Kai gets a belly ache and insists he is incapable of moving. I know it is just the too strong tea, so I reply that I am heading to Ohiopyle—he knows the way.
Both of us, separately, made a trip to the out houses first thing in the morning. On the path coming out of them, is a big information sign about rattlesnakes. We both read that sign—completely. Consequently, for the first few miles of our trip to Ohiopyle, we are on high alert for rattlesnakes. When Kai sees a rattlesnake skin wrapped in a tree, we are on even higher alert. We step carefully over each log or big stone. Kai developes a ritual of tapping on logs with his hiking pole, before stepping over them. And, I swear I hear faint rattles here and there. You know, just like you swear you are hearing your phone ring or your baby cry when you are in the shower. We talk and joke about what we would do with an emergent snake bite, and frequently trade places, so the other is in front, and will be the one to get bit. In between looking out for snakes and talking about snakes, Kai likes to pass the time by talking about Minecraft. Kai has brought up Minecraft many times over the past few days. He talks on and on in elaborate detail about game strategies, books he has read on Minecraft, worlds or things he wants to build or has built, famous Minecrafters he follows, and all the fascinating things that other people have created. For me it is as though he speaks another language, and I am only able to pick up and comprehend bits here and there. So I have gotten into the habit of only half listening when Kai speaks of Minecraft. I am upfront with him that I am not completely listening, but he still chatters on. This morning is different. When he starts in on Minecraft, I refuse to listen. This up, up, and more up is hard work, and my mind wants to be somewhere other than Minecraft. He keeps attempting to go back into his monologue about redstone (whatever that is). I insist that he can speak to me about anything but Minecraft.
Our journey today is only six miles, but a strenuous six miles. Basically, we hike one mile up a mountain, one mile down a mountain, followed by another mile up and another mile down, and then, a two mile home stretch. After conquering our first mountain, we take a small break near a nice stream. Kai plays in the water and gets the wind knocked out of him when he slips, hits his elbow on a rocky creek bed, and just misses a giant rock coming down on him. He is fine, just shaken. I sit and soak in the view, bathing in the calm and luscious valley of trees between two mountains. We are down to the last of our snacks: curried cashews, sesame sticks, Panda red raspberry licorice, and honey-sesame snaps. I have planned our food well, and we have eaten all but a few things and have wasted only two bananas and one avocado.
As we set to climb our second mountain, a storm sets in. This keeps us moving fast and I can barely catch my breath as we go up, and up some more. It feels unnerving to be on the top of this mountain with the thunder and lightning, and we feel good when we start to move down again. When we reach mile marker 2, we think that we will just sail through these last miles. We are wrong, mile 2 to 1 seems to take forever. The rain has ceased, but we are soaked down to our toes and our feet are getting blistered and chaffed from all the wetness. When we finally see mile marker 1, we get encouraged and pick up the pace. Mile 1 down to 0 goes by quickly. As we descend down the last hill, canes (hiking poles) in hand, we see my mother and her friend Bob there to meet us. It is 3:45pm. We thought we would get in between noon and one, so we were much later than expected, but we had storms and mountains to get through.
I have been promising Kai all you can eat ice cream for days. He has visions of having a root beer float, a banana split, and trying every flavor of ice cream they have. I insist that if he can make it through all of that, he can have it, but not before showers. I use a whole travel size bottle of Dr. Bronners lavender soap. I scrub every inch of my body from my ears to my toes, keeping my wash cloth thick with suds, and ending with my hair. This shower is amazing! I can’t even entertain the thought of putting my feet back into my trail shoes, so we head across from the showers to Wilderness Voyageurs Outfitter Store, and buy outrageously priced, comfy, flip-floppy type shoes (the kind made from yoga mats). My feet love them. We see the lovely Ms. Laura from the Waldorf School working at the coffee cart outside the store, and she treats me to a latte so delicious and creamy with real, not powdered, milk. I don’t even need to put sugar in it, it is that good. And then, we get to the ice cream. Kai makes it through a banana split, a root beer float, and a chunk of fudge before giving up on his quest to try every flavor of ice cream.
As we step into our apartment, we can’t help but notice how small the space feels compared to where we have been. It feels strange to be indoors, and we know that this is home, but it feels different. We revel in the novelty of our home and lounge around until we get hungry. It is 9pm and we decide we are hungry for Japanese food, but it is Sunday and all of the Japanese restaurants close by close by 10pm, and by the time we drive there, we won’t have too much time to eat. We don’t want to feel rushed, or drive too far, so we settle on The Cheesecake Factory, because it is close and open until 11pm. Driving down Becks Run Road to the Cheesecake Factory feels surreal. It feels unsettling to be moving so fast in a car, in the dark. I keep putting my foot on the brake to slow us down, but we are not even breaking 30 miles per hour on a road where most cars are moving over 40. It is not just me, Kai feels this too. At the Cheesecake Factory, there are so many choices and we just know that we are hungry. Overwhelmed by our choices, we settle on breakfast for dinner, since eggs and potatoes was one of my trail fantasies. I get two scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese, and an English muffin, home fried potatoes, and a side of spinach. I clean every single crumb off that plate, and order a cherry cheesecake to go. Food, cooked properly, tastes wonderful. We are completely satisfied, and ready to go home to our real beds.
Backpacking with Kai had me move at a slower pace than I did last year. Last year I hiked the whole 70 mile trail solo in 6 days and 5 nights, whereas this year with Kai, we hiked 35 miles in 5 days and 4 nights. Many backpackers taking longer trips can work up to 20 mile days, but they have time to condition their bodies and work up to this. I found that when I am just going out on these short trips, this slower pace is preferable. Going at this slower pace with Kai, had me slow down and enjoy the journey more. We had a really great time and I experienced the trail in a new way. My next goal is to hike the trail in 9 days and 8 nights. And my far off goal is to hike the entire Appalachian Trail.