Sunday, October 19, 2008
Bailing on the Trail
Maybe we can blame it all on Mapquest. Maybe if Mapquest hadn't sent us on US 129 through the Smoky Mountains things would have turned out differently. Of course, my friend Naj hadn't told us she gets car sick until we began winding up and down the mountains. We met only motorcycles zooming around those hairpin curves and pulled over three times for police cars or ambulances. When we finally sped into the parking lot to meet our shuttle to the trail, Naj jumped out and puked beside the river.
Hmmm. Not a great start. We pulled our packs from Noreen's van and piled them in the trunk of the shuttle. Maybe if we hadn't been in such a hurry, I wouldn't have left my water bottle in the van.
Maybe if the driver, Mark, had not been one of those people who drives with a foot on the brake and another on the gas, accelerating and braking over the mountains, then he wouldn't have vomit on the interior of his Lincoln Town Car. And maybe if we hadn't stopped several times for Naj to throw up, we would have gotten to the Appalachian Trail earlier than 4 p.m.
Maybe if we hadn't started at Winding Stair Gap in North Carolina and planned to hike nearly 4 miles to the campsite, we would have gotten there in time to eat dinner in the light, rather than in the pitch black night. Adjusting packs, stopping for photos, admiring the changing leaves -- those were all part of our plan. But as the light began to fade, we hurried on, worried that our first night would arrive without a campsite.
Maybe if it hadn't started to rain the minute we set up our tents and continued to rain through the night and all the next day. If we hadn't cooked in the dark and hung our bear bag from a tree limb in the dark. If we'd broken down camp faster in the morning and hadn't needed to hike down a side path to filter water.
Maybe if the rain hadn't made the leaves on the path slippery and the misty fog hadn't made the view from Siler Bald disappear.
Mostly though, if our packs hadn't weighed too much and fit poorly and if the trail hadn't been straight up then maybe we would not have left the trail earlier than we planned.
Noreen and Pam hiked ahead with their longer legs while Naj and I lagged behind. The second day was pure misery. The rain fell. A blister swelled on my heel. And a thick fatigue settled on my shoulders. I felt like I couldn't go another mile. So when I pulled myself up to a gravel logging road and found Noreen and Pam there, I was so relieved when Noreen said, "I know what you're thinking because I was thinking the same thing."
Thank, God! She knows we need to leave the trail, I thought.
But then she continued, "I thought after all that climbing the trail would level off."
Behind her, wooden stairs were built into the mountain to continue the trail toward Wayah Bald.
"Wait! That's not what we were thinking! We were thinking we need to get off the fucking trail!" I said.
I rarely use the F-word, but I thought it was appropriate at this juncture.
The problem was that we needed to hike 27 miles in four days. Something we'd imagined was manageable. We had all run marathons in the past, going nearly 27 miles in less than five hours. How could we fail to go the distance in four days?
But, at 2 p.m., we had to face the fact that a day of constant walking had gotten us only four miles. We were eight miles from the beginning of our hike and we had nineteen miles to go.
"Let's get to Wayah Bald and set up camp for the night."
That would put us at 10 miles from the beginning. We couldn't imagine we could go farther. Too exhausted.
"But we're wet and cold. We can't sit still for 15 hours," Noreen protested.
So we located a road where someone could pick us up. My husband, disappointed in our choice to leave the trail, called around and found us a ride. We hiked two miles in an hour and met the car. We were going home.
When my 12-year-old called out in the middle of the night and I comforted him before climbing into my bed and snuggling against my husband's back, I thought, I'm so glad I'm home in my warm bed and not out on the cold, wet trail, changing positions on the hard ground.
Does that mean I won't go backpacking again? Well, not anytime soon. And not with my boots that are too small or a backpack that doesn't fit right. But I do have a date with the woods later this month when we go ziplining through the Hocking Hills.
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