The feeling I had on my first 2 night solo hike began with the feeling of being excited and being empowered. My gear was organized and packed well, I had what I needed and was prepared for a cold night. It was suppose to drop down into the 20’s and would be breezy.
I was planning on doing a 20 mile hike, breaking it up into 2 nights, just for the experience of a 2 night solo hike. It would be easy to do with a late afternoon hike, overnight, leisurely walk a full day, and a couple hours for the last day.
On my ride to the drop off point my excitement stayed with me, but added to that were sweaty palms and letting out nervous exhales.
When I arrived at the trail head, I could see 4 young men that appeared in good shape gearing up with what it looked like a day hike. And they are doing leg stretches….really? should I do leg stretches? I never considered that even though I used to run long distance and knew the importance of them, but I hadn’t thought about doing them before a hike. I was already a little embarrassed about my 25+ year old Rucksack, and I hadn’t gotten the hang of gracefully throwing it on my back yet. In fact it was sometimes a struggle. So I fiddled around with it for a few minutes, hoping those guys would start before me. I didn’t want to start before them and have them whiz by me hearing me wheeze up the mountain. My stalling payed off-they took off and to my relief they headed north, I was heading south.
Okay, it’s time to get real, I lifted the pack up on the tailgate of the truck with about all I had. It seems so much heavier to lift than to carry on your back. I positioned myself so I could easily wiggle into the straps and buckle up. Once all the adjustments were made I started across the road to my trail. Since it’s early December there are no leaves on the trees and I could see Brad watching me go up my first swithback. This started the thoughts and memories.
( the above picture I can see I’m concerned and doubting myself by the furrowed forehead)
I thought that first mile was going to be my first challenge because it was going to be an elevation change of 1100 ft, and my pack was the heaviest I had carried yet. (47lbs is too heavy, still working on that with getting new gear)
But, my first real challenge was a mental challenge. I was reminded of when I was a child going to school on my very first day. My mom walked me into class, said our good-bye and she left. I could see her walking to her car from that big window in my new classroom. The next thing I know I’m chasing her as shes driving out of the parking lot. I was petrified. I don’t even remember if she saw me and turned around for me or if a faculty member or other parent caught me. I just know I freaked. I started having that same feeling again, as I saw my ride drive down the road. ~RUN!~ call him to come back, I have made a mistake, I can’t do this!
Thankfully I knew this game. I had played this mental game many times when I was training to run a marathon. I just had to have a long pep talk with myself and besides I had no choice but to continue on, I had no phone service.
I did make it up that first incline easier than I thought and I overcame that mental challenge, so now, I was thinking of what are my next challenges, like who would I meet on the trail, would I be sharing my campsite with other hikers and who would they be. I was beginning to think I had nothing to worry about because I didn’t pass or meet anyone for the first 3 hours. Which I’m not sure I liked that feeling either. Of course when I did meet someone, it was when I was taking a pee break. My pack off, found a good log to semi-hide behind and my belt buckle almost unbuckled when a young fella walked up with a full pack. Awkward!
We chatted for a bit He was meeting friends at the shelter which was another few miles. Since it was now 3:30 pm, I didn’t think I could make it that far by dark and I had already decided I was staying in my tent at a campsite. He went on and I finished my business and then went on.
(Some of the trail)
The next 2 people I met were a guy and gal, In their mid-20’s, they were finishing up a break when I walked up on them, and they started walking just in front of me. I kept up with their pace, and I felt good about being able to do that. They didn’t talk much and I was fine with that. I was just glad to have them close. Its now getting cold and the guy stopped to put on his jacket, the girl was in the lead and just kept going like she didn’t even notice he had stopped. I was behind them so, I had to go around him As I passed him, I asked where they were heading and where they started from. He told me they were on their last few days of their A.T. thru-hike. They started in Maine and met each other in Harper Ferry and walked off and on together from there. I had such a feeling of admiration and was a little envious too.
I finally came to a small but nice looking camp spot….flat ground for my tent, good fire ring with even some wood piled up. It was getting late, already 5 pm and I had to set up camp, have dinner and hang up the bear bag, preferably before dark.
The Bear Bag.….ugh, my next challenge. It sounds so simple, but I haven’t found it simple yet. I looked around for a good tree and there wasn’t really anything around, or I should say far enough away from my tent. I finally found one and it’s now almost dark. After many, many, attempts to get my line up over the branch, and fighting other small limbs that kept snagging my rope, I finally got it up and over. Perfect! Now, I just have to pull the bag up so bears or other critters wouldn’t get my food. And I’d be done. As I am pulling the line, the limb breaks and almost clonks me on the head. Just great! Lesson: make sure the limb isn’t a dead limb. I was getting frustrated with this whole system by now, but I do see another limb about 50 ft away and walk over. I go through the whole thing again, slinging the rope up and over, fighting with the other small limbs and brush that snag my line from going over, and I finally succeed. I remember I left the black food bag on the ground just 50 ft away. It is now dark and I can’t find the dumb bag with my headlamp. I was about to give up and just hope that nothing would steal my food or coffee and come sniffing around my tent looking for more. I just happened to glance down to walk back and there it was!…now just find my rope hanging in the tree. Among all the other vines dangling around. OK it’s all up and hanging just perfect and off to my tent for bed. Too tired to start a fire and it was getting cold. Lesson: put reflective tape on your food bag!
I got into my night clothes, and put on my clean dry socks, I even doubled them up, I like warm toasty toes when I sleep. I could hear the wind picking up making it a noisy night. I was tucked up under my sleeping bag head and all, and I’d hear a noise and I’d stop breathing so I could hear better then realize it was my own breathing I heard. The woods are full of noises at night. An owl kept me company for a while. Or at least I told myself it was an owl. I’ve read some people use ear plugs to block some of that noise out. I’m not sure I would want to do that. I think I want to hear if something is creeping around. Any thoughts on that?
Sunrise finally came and I put my shoes on and walked to get my food bag so I could have my oatmeal and coffee. It was suppose to be down in the low 20’s, that night but it was around 31/32. I had breakfast and totally enjoyed my coffee. I decided to leave my sweat pants on and put my fleece jacket on, and started to tear down camp. A few hikers passed me as I was breaking down camp, we exchanged hellos, hows it going, good mornings etc. One couple said good thing you stayed here last night, the shelter was packed. There were 12 people at the shelter and a few in tents. Which to my surprise was less then 1/2 a mile away..meaning I hiked 9.2 miles in just 3 1/2 hours carrying 47 lbs. I was pleased with that.
This will be short, basically after 3 miles into my walk I felt like my socks were folded over or something in my boot and it was getting sore. I should have stopped at that moment to change socks, but I was going to wait till I was going to have to pee too. So 2 more miles I cold hardly walk on my foot and I took off my socks and I had a hot spot the size of a half dollar on the pad of my food just below my little toe. I had to decide if I wanted to go on, 5 more miles with 3 good inclines or cut my hike short and call for a ride home. Since I had a few hikes planned in the next 2 weeks I chose to call home. I felt disappointed and let down but very pleased with what I accomplished. I could have made that 5 miles in a few more hours, and I’d be camping at the end of my hike just to camp. Which would have been fine, but my hot spot would have been a bad bad blister by then. Oh I passed another couple that were eager to say hello and talk. I asked where they were headed and he said tonight or finish at? That enticed me so I went with finish? He said Maine!!! My response was “You’re just leaving now? the beginning of winter? Going Northbound?”… wow…is all I can say, Their trail names are Bonnie and Clyde…
Biggest Lesson…I didn’t change my socks from my sleeping socks, they rubbed and caused friction. Secondly, I should have changed socks immediately when I first noticed the discomfort. That could have been a bad lesson to learn if I didn’t have that cross road right there to call for a ride.