August 8, 2016

i don't want to fight a deer

Posted by meli on Monday, August 08, 2016 in , , , , | No comments
We did it. We're out here. On the Appalachian Trail. In a hut. Just me and the kids. With four other random hikers. It's smelly in here. And cold. And quiet. So quiet I didn't want to disturb our early to slumber bunk mates, so I opted out of blowing up my sleeping pad. As the minutes tick by, I'm realizing just how HARD and COLD the hut flooring is. We hiked 3 miles today. And while that may not sound impressive; it really was.

We got a late start. Very late. We left the house around the time we expected to stop for the night! We were preoccupied watching a black bear all morning. Up in an apple tree. Munching away. For hours. I don't know which was more of a feat... that he could eat apples for hours, or that we could remain completely captivated, watching him eat apples for hours. As such, it took up our entire morning. On to yoga, smoothies, clean-up, fill pack water, and we expected to be set. We flew through the first three, but that last one stopped us in our tracks. Holy Hell! Our heavy, but still pretty easily managed packs became solid bricks. Unmovable. Temperamental. A couple more hours flew by as we adjusted, changed packs, adjusted more, changed packs back, safety pinned, hoisted, rearranged, complained, and then decided to eat a very late lunch.

Fuck packs. Fuck water. Fuck hiking.

We ate. And complained. And ate some more. And after laughing at all of our ridiculousness, we loaded our packs in the van. We're doing this whether they fit or not! One last long, emotional conversation with Nick, and we were finally off!

At 4:30pm.
With an hours drive to our drop off point

Since it was already so late in the day, we picked a drop off point different then what we originally planned. It added a few more overall miles to our trip, but positioned us closer to reaching a hut for the night. It also brought us a mile from Hawksbill Summit, the highest point in Shenandoah NP at just over 4000ft.

We side-trailed up the STEEP summit to check the view. And I do mean STEEP! For us! Shit! Legs were on fire almost immediately. Lungs pumping. Breath labored. Backs aching. Shoulders chaffing. What have we gotten ourselves into?! For crying out loud... we're actually CHOOSING to do this?! For fun?! Why?!

The mile long accent felt more like five!

But at the top... Oooh, it was glorious. The expansive 360 view was nothing short of breath-taking. The sweetest breeze blowing through cooled our sweaty skin. And the adrenaline high we were all riding for having conquered such a formidable (1 mile) beast was empowering.

We soaked in that bliss for a bit, and then decided we really needed to hit the trails to get to our hut, another 1.5 - 2 miles away, before night fall. Nick walked with us up to the summit. Parting is hard, even now. We're apart, separated, heading for divorce - but it is still hard to physically walk away from him. To experience life and form memories without him. To move on. It's hard.

After a few tearful goodbyes, we were back on the trail. We walked 0.7 miles on Salamander trail, a side trail trek that was pretty level and easy going. It felt SO good after that steep accent. We CAN do this! And then there she was. The white blazes of the Appalachian. We all squealed and whooped and roared, and then... walked on. One of us exclaiming, every 20ft, how amazing the level trail felt. Praising ourselves for our decision to hike up to the summit right out of the gate. Now, everything will feel like gravy! We're a bunch of geniuses. And so modest, too.

As we got closer to the hut, we all hoped it would be empty. At least until we settled in and acquainted ourselves with hut life. A slow, calm, conscious breathing in of the experience. With a busy morning, we were looking forward to a slow evening. We rounded the corner, saw the hut, squealed again, and then saw people peering around the building. It was already occupied. Well, there goes that settling in in solitude ... switch gears to party mode. We sauntered up, exchanged hellos, dropped our packs, and hit the ground. Exhausted. Sweaty. Out of breath.

After just 3 miles.

And so began our first hut experience.

The four other hikers filled up the bottom floor (who knew there was a bunking system in these huts?!). They were all either finished with, or finishing up dinner & bedtime routines by the time we descended upon camp. It was obvious camp "lights" were about to go out. We quickly got our dinner prepared. Soup; homemade & dehydrated, then re-hydrated and heated on our new butane stoves. The picnic table was full, so we squatted on the ground, near the fire pit, probably looking like shifty eyed squirrels as we devoured our rather bland (note to self, add more spices next time), yet triumphant soup. We then hurriedly packed away dinner equipment, stowed our food in the bear canister (again, who knew?), took a potty break, and finally brushed teeth.

The moment bristles hit teeth, a young buck emerged from the woods about 20 ft away. We stared at each other for a moment, his ears twitching, eyes fixed. Skittishly, he began walking toward us. I mean ... RIGHT toward us. No more then 2 ft away at this point. I could have reached out my hand and touched him. His warm, musty scent swirling in the air. My calm, loving, peaceful bliss bubble about sharing space with this beautiful animal quickly turned into a low grade panic as scenes from "Are We There Yet" played through my head. Do we seem threatening? Should we retreat? Will that startle him more? Is he going to charge? Those smaller antlers were looking bigger and bigger by the second. I don't want to fight a deer! But he just looked. Deep and soulful. Right into my eyes. And then, just like that, he scampered off.

The sun set, and our roomies were already snug in their bags. We hoisted our gear up to the top bunk (there are no ladders in these bunking units). Working to be quiet, considerate. I can tell you right now, there is NO way to quietly hoist packs and selves onto top bunks in hollow, echo-ey wilderness huts. There is even less way to roll out sleeping bags and arrange selves & stuff quietly. I was warm at that point, and the bunk flooring didn't feel too uncomfortable, so in a gesture of good hut etiquette, I made the decision to forego unpacking and blowing up my sleeping pad. A decision I regretted almost instantly.

With no insulation on the bottom of my sleeping bag (hello, that's where the pad is supposed to go), my body temperature was dropping rapidly. I was shivering within 5 minutes. My hips and shoulder bones (I'm a side/stomach sleeper) rattling against the cold, hard floor. I slowly, quietly tossed and turned for hours. And I had to pee. Bad! Just then Rylan whispered that he had to use the bathroom, too. Shit! We're on the top. People sprawled out all below us. It's pitch black out there. Hold it! Lets just hold it! Another hour later and I'm about to burst. Rylan working so very hard to forget he is, too.

Fuck it. Move over, roomies, we're coming down. We tried to position our bright ass headlamps away from the hut, out into the wild, but we still lit up the entire shack. Our quiet, considerate decent from the bunks produced much bouncing and thudding, praying we'd miss landing on body parts splayed out. No time, or noise allotment to find our shoes, so we ditched our socks, and tiptoed, barefoot, up the cold, damp path to the privy.

Oooh My God!
Instantaneous bladder relief.
Thank the heavens!

We tiptoed back. Gingerly shimmied our way back up to our bunk (and did I mention it was pretty high? With no ladders?). Rocking the entire hut with each shimmy. Waking every one up. Who then, one by one, crept up to use the bathroom, too (using their infrared light setting on their headlamps. Noted for next time!). I took the middle of the night pee-fest opportunity to pull out my sleeping pad, and blow a few puffs into it.

An empty bladder. A cushioned pad. A warming body. Now, now I can sleep restfully.

And then ...the snoring started. From below.
It's going to be a loooong night.

But ...
We're out here. We're doing it. We're hiking the Appalachian Trail. Fears and barriers be damned.

And it lasted until midday the next day (as opposed to the week we had planned) ;-) . We hiked 5 miles in 3 hours the next morning, which we were boogieing down about in our funky celebratory way. But Owens pack wasn't fitting him well enough around the waist. Causing a constant shifting and wiggle. Blisters were already starting to form. He pushed it as long and hard as possible, but with our support (and bit of Mama encouragement) he ultimately made the hard decision to put our distance hiking adventure on hold until we found him a better fitting pack.

1 day instead of 7.
But we did it.
We hiked the Appalachian Trail.
Together, just the three of us.
A gaggle of badasses.


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