When we begin to feel the yearning for something more, we must go back to the simplicity of life.
I arrived at the trailhead in the early evening. I planned to cover six miles that night and seven in the morning. You would think that I would be unfazed yet I found myself anxious. Was I prepared? Did I have enough food? Would I encounter a bear? I began walking- the only solution I had when doubt entered my mind, was to move forward. The crunch of the fallen leaves filled my ears and my doubts began to slip away. My busy mind raced along until I began the four mile climb towards the ridgeline, 2,500 feet above me. This was what I knew how to do- movement. Two miles in, the blue sky turned dark. The chances for scattered rain was low but there it was. A couple drops here and a few there until it was a steady rain. My rain jacket protected me from the rain but it trapped in my body heat. The steep terrain and insulated body heat left me drenched in my own sweat. As the light of day slowly disappeared, I realized I forgot to account for sunset when I set my six mile goal. I would have to set up camp and make up the mileage the following day.
I came to a large overhanging boulder with the remnants of a tiny fire. A perfect spot protected from the wind and rain. I looked off into the pink, orange sky above the valley. I had ten minutes before sunset and then maybe thirty more before darkness. I looked at the campsite and felt an unease. The thought of stopping 2.5 miles short of my goal and sitting in my tent prematurely, waiting for the long night to end gave me a visceral reaction. I decided to continue on. Whether it be the adrenaline, endorphins, or my own insanity, I needed to keep going. I weaved in and out of the rhododendron groves as I switch-backed up the mountain. I’d pop out of the bushes and closer to the edge of the mountain grasping the remaining light of the day. Then I’d stare into the darkness of the woods as I weaved back into the rhododendrons. I refrained from pulling out my headlamp. I didn’t see a need for it yet. I felt the terrain with my feet and trekking poles and examined the intricate shadows in the low light. The rain subtly stopped and the night sky opened to a field of stars. The halfmoon held a halo of light around it and gave me enough light to continue on without a headlamp. I kept a steady pace as I surged on until I heard an, “Oh shit!” and found two men camping next to the trail. They couldn’t see me in the darkness but heard the rustling and heavy breathing of my presence. They thought I was a wild creature until they saw me. Slightly amused but exhausted I gave a quick hello and continued on.
I had soggy feet, drenched clothing, and a sore body yet all I could do was stare into the field of stars above me and say thank you. I was above the valley floor and it was silent. There were no animals rustling about and no hikers around in the rainy weather. It was me and the stars, the moon, the creeks, the trees. I pulled out my headlamp for the last mile and watched my breath fill the air. The temperature was now dropping and the cold became a serious concern in my drenched state. Movement was my gateway to warmth. The tunnel of light, directed from my headlamp, caught glimpse of a wooden sign above my head on a tree. It read, “Big Tom.” I reached my six mile destination and giggled with satisfaction. It was a perfect camping spot with plenty of flat ground, water nearby, and most importantly, a view!
Uphill to the trail, I cleared a flat spot under a tree, careful to keep an eye out for widow-maker branches, and set up my tent. The glorious part of the evening was now upon me! I stripped my soggy clothes off and reveled in the warmth of my dry ones. I grabbed my food and wandered barefoot back to the main trail to cook my food. I mixed rice and mashed potatoes together in a puddle of olive oil and waited for them to hydrate. The fire from my stove warmed my heart. I sat in the darkness and stared into the flames. When I turned my headlamp back on I saw a multitude of orange salamanders crawling through the leaves around me. A few friends to keep me company. I consumed half a chocolate bar and finished my meal before retiring for the night.
The clang of my pot hitting a rock broke the silence of the morning. Did I dare look or continue sleeping? I reluctantly left my tent and shone the light beam from my headlamp into the darkness. My pot sat on a rock with a trail of my other possessions close behind. My food bag had silently been ripped open and the food contents stolen. I was grateful my stove, pot, and toiletries were still present although the silent disappearance of food presented an eerie feeling. A tiny claw mark was the only evidence of the perpetrator. A raccoon, squirrel, or opossum? It would suck having to hike out famished but I felt even worse about all the trash that would be torn apart in the woods. The seven miles went by slowly but the views did not disappoint. The sunrise would have to be my nourishment.
I exited the last bit of trail and walked backed into civilization. My heart had been rejuvenated.