It had been too long since I spent the night on the trail. Everyone knows that John Muir quote, “The mountains are calling, and I must go.” But for me, it is sort of a compulsion. I get antsy. There’s something wild in me that has to go back to the woods, have that challenge of climbs and rocks and sweat, and the quiet of sleeping outside, the bugs and feeling of off-balanceness, that uncertainty of not knowing what will happen next. Will there be people at the shelter? Will I make it all the way? Will I see a bear? Will it rain? Will I be hungry? All things I can manage, but situations I like to put myself in.
So I went. I spent Friday and Saturday with my family at the lake. I waterskied Saturday, which made for some interesting sore muscles as I set out hiking. I wasn’t sure that I’d make it to the trail. The universe seemed to be conspiring against me. First I was too tired to get up early for my 20 mile section (40 total). Then I decided I had too much homework to do that anyways. Then I did (most) of the homework and found somewhere else to park, making it 11 miles. I started driving, pulled over for gas, and realized I’d left all my money and cards at home. I turned around on 2 gallons of gas and tried again.
But I made it. I held a steady 3mph for the first two hours, then started slowing. My feet and knees were still swollen and not particularly happy to be hiking again, although the rest of me was ecstatic.
The mouse car is gone!! A mouse-free car waited for me a Devils fork gap.
I stopped at Jerry’s Cabin Shelter. I’d thought about cowboy camping tonight, but there were some friendly LASHers and section hikers here, so I stopped for the night. Besides, there was a privy and a fire and a spot in the shelter.
I have to say, though, I do miss the privies of New England. They were spacious and airy (generally; some exceptions) AND they had toilet paper. That was clutch.
It’s weird being back to hiking in the south, though, and for such a short trip.
MVP: jalapeño chips
I woke up early. Actually, I’m not sure I was asleep at any point in the night. The old guys kept the radio blasting until some time past midnight. It stopped suddenly and I almost cried with relief.
What didn’t stop, though, was the symphony of snores.
I must have slept. I know all the men did. But the alarm went off at 5:30 and I was up at once, holding child’s pose for a few seconds like I always do, then deflating my pillow, then stuffing everything away. I grabbed my backpack and carried it away from the shelter before I stuffed everything inside. I left my food hanging on the bear cables, knowing I’d be back before the men left the shelter and the cables would wake them up anyways.
I set out with my headlamp, silk blazing. The air held the chill of fall– I’d slept in leggings and my pullover, and even put on my new down vest. Fall is coming, and I was excited.
I made it to Firescald knob as the sky was just turning orange in one corner. I sat down, wishing I had some food. I’d dreamed I had a snack in my fanny pack, but alas, that was a dream. I guess I’d slept some after all.
I didn’t think about anything in particular. I’d meant to ponder my future or evaluate relationships that maybe weren’t worth my energy or consider life’s mysteries or do some other *deep thinking* but in the end, I just sat on a rock and thought about nothing. L’art pour l’art and sitting for sitting, I guess. We’ll call it “being present in the moment.”
I made it back to the shelter as the men were still eating breakfast. They hadn’t heard me leave, and were a little surprised by the whole thing. I ate some food, said goodbye, then headed north to my car.
It was still early, and the meadows I walked through had my shoes soaked with dew. I felt blisters forming, but it was only 7 or so more miles to my car, so I figured I’d just go on.
I passed a woman heading south. She asked how much longer this mountain went on. I was pleased with myself that my time up north had made me classify that “mountain” as more of a prolonged bump when I took it uphill. We chatted for a while, since it was her first solo section and she had that sort of panicky “what in the world did I get myself into” feeling that I had had on my first section.
I next passed a man and his dog going the other way. He asked if I’d seen any bears; I said no.
And then, a few minutes later, I felt a sharp, stinging pain under my sock. I reached down, thinking a thorn had worked its way under my sock. Nope, just 5 yellow jackets, all furiously stinging me. They left my sock and went for my hand and my arm and then finally left, amid shouts and curses and flailing limbs.
I ran the rest of the way back to my car. Except when I stopped to look at my poor stung leg and curse some more. Sorry mom. There was a lot of cussing.
It wasn’t my best hike. My legs hurt more than they should have. My wet shoes blistered my feet up. Stupid yellow jackets. No sleep. But…but…as Big Critter (remember him? I met him in the Smokies back in March?) once said, “a bad day on the trail is better than a good day out there.”
And he’s right. Standing on Firescald knob, the sun just spinning fire into the sky, puddles of fog still settled into Hot Springs below me, wind carrying the smell of fall and campfire and stars into my hair…well, I can’t help but feel like everything will work out. Like there’s no point in thinking about my problems, because life has a way of solving them (the trail provides).
Of course, back at school, there are problems a plenty waiting for me…but I’ve made it this far. I only have to survive until May and I’m done. It’ll work out and I’ll make it, just like I’ve always made it before.
Trip total: 23.2