Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Tales from the Trail

“We should go down and check it out,” I urged Lisa, who consulting the trail map she carried in a waterproof pouch around her neck (because she’s prepared and cool like that), announced that there was a shelter in the general direction of the campfire smells wafting toward us on the trail.

“What?” Lisa seemed aghast at my suggestion.

“Oh you know what it’s like in those trail shelters,” I enthused. “People gather, swap trail stories, cook up s’mores.  There’s whole communities out here,” I continued, drawing heavily and extrapolating freely from readings of Kerouac novels and certain sections of Into the Wild

“We,” Lisa said firmly, “are not ready for that. I look like I just walked out of a Dick’s showroom.  We’re green.  They’d kick us out.  And besides, we have no stories.  What would we say?  Oh, by the way, someone lost a pee funnel at mile marker 40?”

Most All of this was true.  We weren’t ready for a trail side gathering, if such things do, indeed, exist.  After all, I’d completely forgotten that we were supposed to have Trail Names, which would have made introductions awkward.  And, having been on the trail for less than 2 hours, we had few experiences upon which to draw.  But, if you’ve lost a pee funnel, it IS hanging from a tree near mile marker 40.  It looks pretty much like this.

“Well,” I countered, “it was pretty funny in the parking lot when I got my shirt stuck in my pack and laid there in the back of your car like an over-turned turtle.”

“Let’s keep walking,” Lisa said.

So we trudged along for awhile, our dogs angling for alpha position while we skirted bear poop, dodged misty raindrops, and conquered steep terrain, all while lugging an extra 30 some pounds on our backs.

Things continued on in this way for some time, particularly the uphill grade.  And did I mention the
struggle for Alpha Dog?  Things went indisputably better with the husky at the helm.  But Lisa’s little Belle wasn’t to be underestimated.  Just because she was submissive to her momma—she could actually go sans leash for long stretches due to her special skill of coming when called, the first time, every time (a feature never observed in the husky)—didn’t mean she was willing to submit to my entitled ruffian.  Every so often she’d stealthily sidle past my leashed hooligan in an attempt to take Alpha, which threw an additional upper-body element into my workout.

As the miles racked up, I wondered when the worthy trail stories would begin to surface.  Would we see an actual bear?  Evidence indicated that the place was crawling with them.  Would we get lost? Have trouble with the dogs?  Or would the trudging simply become the tale, the story of our strength and perseverance against the elements? And while we’re on the subject of miles, I would be remiss not to mention that trail miles are not the same as suburban miles, or even miles on woodsy walking paths.  We openly scoffed at the 5 miles Lisa’s trail map indicated for our Day 1 travels.  “Why, I can knock that out in an hour and a half,” I thought, maybe two, considering the backpacks and dogs.  The reality?  At least on our section of trail, a mile an hour is pretty much standard.

So it was well nigh dinner time when Lisa and I crested the final summit into a camp Lisa’s map called “rustic,” but immediately gave the impression of delivering more than promised when a friendly ranger saw us and fell into step with our weary party, giving us “the lay of the land,” as we ambled in through the mist.  Dinner itself was a damp affair, although buoyed by a break in the drizzle and my ability to heat soup with my amazingly efficient backpacking stove.

I then took the opportunity to set up my tent for the first time.  Yes, I understand this was a big faux pas, but I originally did things correctly and it went bad.  By correctly I mean procuring a tent and doing a practice set up in the yard a week ahead of the trip.  By bad I mean, the tent arrived in an enormous disk that not only failed to fit in my backpack, it took the combined efforts of my husband, son, and 20 minutes to get it to conform back to the too-large disk after assembly.  A definite no-go.

The new tent arrived in the heat of pre-trip backing and was taken along on good faith by virtue of it fitting in the pack.  Assembled on-site it looked, as my former roommate suggested via facebook, like it could have been half a tent.  But the artist in me was quick to see the resemblance to the global icon that is the Sydney Opera House.  So I christened it a miniature version of the architectural wonder and just went with it. 

As the form of my accommodations was therefore fixed in my mind, I simply threw the rain fly over the whole thing and called it good; later, when mishap dictated a closer review of my instructions, I discovered that the rain fly was intended to fill out the form through organized staking, thus creating the illusion of a full tent.  But what fun is that when you can claim to have slept in a mini-Sydney Opera House on the AT?

We turned in early, and by early I mean before you likely had dinner that evening, which would prove to have been our only option anyway when the skies opened and rained upon us all night long.  This detail further bolsters my version of tent assembly as Audrey and I remained dry all night long.

As wonderful as all this really was, it still felt a bit as though nothing adventurous had truly happened, as though we just took a long walk, got tired, and called it a day.  Not a nail biter as far as trail stories go.

We woke to a misty morning and planned our approach to the trail, eliminating a loop that would require a night in the back country, and would take us straight to the end point camp ground and parking lot where I had left my car, thanks to Lisa’s genius of taking two cars and leaving one at the trail head and one at the endpoint.  Mine was unanimously voted as the end point car due to an unfortunate incident on the way to the trail when Audrey refused to use the rest area facilities and relieved herself all over the front seat of my van.  As no one wanted to travel back to the trail head in my car, it remained at the end of the line.

Even in its defiled state, I was buoyed by the prospect of having my car back to serve as a “home base.” There were, however, nine treacherous miles and a threat of severe rain between us and the vehicle we would need as a getaway car a mere 36 hours in our future, when events would require us to go on the lam.

Stay tuned.

(follow Lisa's version of events on her blog)

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Getting It While Its Hot

It’s fading, all of it, and there’s nothing I can do.

Like the pale rose of a washed-out Pizza Hut roof or the sickly umber of a once-vibrant bumper sticker, summer is, simply, disappearing.

Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say it is being consumed: used up, sucked to the marrow (which I assume to be a reference to a meat eater devouring the offerings of a particularly good BBQ; feel free to educate me on this point). Regardless of whether the season is vanishing of its own volition, or being finished off till its finger-lickin’-good (another meat reference), its nearly over, and I haven’t even had time to process all that’s happened.

For me, “processing” experiences typically means writing about them: detailing the facts (because they fade right along with time), considering meaning in terms of what growth, understanding, or opportunities may have stemmed from events, which I find best accomplished within the structure of a good yarn.

Which may sound like a round-about way to acknowledge/admit/apologize that I failed to keep up with “processing” here on a regular basis, but I’m not going to do that.  It’s silly.  And it’s bad writing, too, calling to mind every diary entry my juvenile self ever penned, all of which invariably began with a heartfelt apology to the journal gods for “not keeping up.”  The apology format has also become a cliché opening for innumerable blog posts circulating the internets.  If you’re skeptical, just click the little “next blog” hyperlink at the very top of your screen and try a bit of “blog roulette,’ as I am wont to do when I’m inspired to scout the nets for new talent to follow.  Go ahead—give it a few clicks—I’ll wait.

If I were a betting woman, which I’m generally not, I’d be willing to wager that you came across at least one post that began with an apology of some variant, and what I’m putting out on the table right now is the question: why all the remorse? What is this compelling need we have to issue statements of regret to our forums when we haven’t been able to “keep up’?  Why is everyone so sorry?

Speaking for myself, sure, I like to keep things current here. But these days?  This is for me.  I am thrilled, of course, when good folks like yourself come along for the ride, but I’ve pretty much given up on the notion that I’ll be a famous blogger.  And while I’m a bit miffed that I wasn’t able to get events out in print while they were in their freshest form, I really don’t have anything for which to apologize. Summer’s days are numbered—they always have been, of course, but we’re pretty much scraping the bottom of the barrel in digits here, and it seems a shame to waste any time regretting all the adventures that have kept me away from my more introspective pursuits.

Still, I’m a writer, and I need my words.  They’ll come, in their own time, probably in a marathon burst the first day things simmer down around here, but until then?  I’m just going to unapologetically savor summer’s swan song.


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