Hounds alerted their owners in the distance as I woke, stiff and sore. Multiple gunshots went off, I knew a hunter was having a good morning. However, it disheartened me for I knew each time I heard gunshots a life was ending. I pushed the thoughts aside and convinced myself that I wanted to leave the warmth of my sleeping bag. After about ten minutes of halfheartedly packing things up, I got to business. I had an additional mile to walk today and my body felt weaker than the day before.
With everything packed up, I thought to check the bladder to make sure nothing had leaked. I pulled it out of the pack and there was one liter in it. I did a double take and looked closer. Yep, there was a liter in there. I was dumbfounded. The night before there were three liters in there! Where did it all go?! I thought to myself, “Am I going crazy? I swear there were three liters in here last night.” None of my stuff was wet. There was nothing wet when I packed up my sleeping bag. Everything was out of the tent and nothing had been wet. What happened?? I wasn’t even mad, I was just confused. Finally, I looked inside the tent and there the mystery was solved. A giant, two liter puddle was in the middle of the tent. “How did nothing get wet?” I questioned myself with thankfulness that nothing did. I drained the water out of the tent and began flipping and squeezing the bladder to try to find the source of the leak. Nothing. Nothing was leaking but how? My best guess was that there was a small, slow leak at the mouthpiece over the course of the night. With precious daylight burning, I had to eat breakfast and continue moving. The rest of the day I would have to be in water conservation mode. I had one and a half liters of water to last me twelve miles until my next reliable water source.
Around 8:00am I finally started hiking. I got on the trail and there were fallen trees that I had to dodge and hurtle over. There was a turn I almost missed and then there were more gunshots. I nervously walked along the trail with my neon orange safety vest wrapped around my pack. The trail was leading me towards the gunshots. “Make lots of noise and move fast.” I thought to myself as a crunched the leaves underneath me with every step. It was a solemn morning and three miles into the day I realized I was missing something. “Where was my bear spray?” Disappointment ran through my body as I reached for the side pocket it had been resting in. “How did this happen?” I mentally retraced my steps and thought about the last time I had seen it. “I had it this morning… Right?” “It must’ve fallen out when I was hurtling over the trees.” I wanted to go back and look for it but I was in a time sensitive situation. I was quickly losing sunlight and I couldn’t afford to lose an hour or two looking for it. A couple things bothered me about losing the bear spray. The disappointment I knew my father would hold crushed me more than the disappointment in myself. It had been given to me as my source of safety and I he had warned me to find a way to safely to secure it. I had not heeded his warning. The other thing was my increased state of vulnerability. In the coming days, my trail notes warned me of areas to watch out for dogs. I was now at the mercy of these dogs.
The only interaction I had with another human was a hunter and that conversation lasted maybe thirty seconds. The few people I had passed the day before were indifferent to my existence on the trail. There was zero interest on where I was going or what I was doing. I guess everyone was out there to get away from other people. This was why I was so excited with my thirty second conversation. I finally ran into someone who didn’t shy away from my hello! I found out that there was a guy hiking about a day ahead of me and I wondered if I could catch up to him. The hunter told me that the guy had been planning to hike thirty miles that day. THIRTY MILES!!! My chances of catching up to him were slim to none but the idea helped give me motivation to keep moving through the throbbing I felt in my hips.
I found myself racing the sun as I tried to reach camp before the shadows engulfed me and the forest around me. Just as the last light disappeared, I found camp, Phelps Primitive Camp. It was a great relief but this time I was truly alone. Glimpses from horror movies popped into my head as I looked into the forest with watchful eyes. “Was I going to see eyes reflecting back at me?” “When I turned around was there going to be something waiting for me?” I tried to focus on the task at hand and currently that was dinner. This campsite was complete with a designated tent spot and then a fire pit. It was nice and secluded among the trees. My thoughts for the day surrounded mostly the disheartening morning but I tried to find something positive out of the events. I realized how fortunate I was to not have had anything get wet from the water leak and then how losing the bear spray technically made my pack lighter. The universe gave me the opportunity to experience a drastically lighter pack without the consequences of death bearing over me. The water that leaked from the bladder did not get anything wet which mean’t I could still sleep warm. The loss of water itself was not a huge deal because I was travelling in cooler weather and could manage with less water. Overall, those events led to important learning points.
I worried about the next day. My mileage increased yet again but this time I had twenty miles of ground to cover. Logistically, I wanted to be reasonable and give myself realistic goals. I decided that I would wake up at 5:00am and begin hiking at first light. I told myself I would see how the day went and then adjust accordingly for future events. I had to will myself to have more mental fortitude than physical. My body was hurting but I knew what needed to get done.