Saturday, June 17, 2017

Trail Intermission Thoughts

Taking a Trail Intermission

I have been home now for about ten days or so.  We have already started talking about getting back out there to hike some more.  We no longer need to go out for the long duration.  A week or two here and there until we decide to go back to work will suffice for now.  It is hard to stay "off trail".  

Relaxing in the backyard in the hammock

Once you get back to the Matrix and do the things you have been missing, your mind keeps going back to the Trail.  You wonder how your Tramily is doing.  Where they are on the Trail.  How their hike is going and why you aren't out there sharing the experience yourself.  

As the memory of the pain subsides, the urge to get back out there gets stronger and stronger until you start making firm plans to get back "on trail".  That's what we are doing now. 

We most likely will get back on at Rockfish Gap and head North through Shenandoah.  I also have an alternate plan that I cooked up several years ago to do some hiking south followed by an Aqua Blaze back north in a nice little loop that could be a great adventure if properly planned.  We haven't decided yet, but should be back out on the trail in early July.  Hopefully we will see some of our friends who will by then be ready to finish Virginia.  

As I continue to plan, I thought I would discuss some of the topics I have been thinking about a lot since I got off trail.  

Total Immersion into the Hiker Culture

I thought that over the last four years or so, that I had been fully immersed in the A.T. Culture. What I found out after being on the Trail for a while, is that I was nowhere near as immersed as I thought. During that time, I could do other things. I would spend lots of time dealing with, being on or planning for the Trail, but I still had time to do other things like work on my garden, do things with the kids and dog, play on my computer, watch TV, etc.

I realized true immersion was waking up on the trail, packing up and spending the whole day either walking or getting ready to walk to that day's destination. Eat, sleep, shit, repeat. That was it. There is very little time to do anything else. Your whole day is spent being truly immersed in the Trail and its Culture.

Being totally committed to walking all day, every day was part of what made it easier for me to get off trail and head home for a break. I would get up and walk for several hours only to realize that I'm only halfway done with the day's miles and I have to do this all over again until I can take a nice comfortable seat in my hammock. It would niggle at my mind as I walked along. It would make me resent the "work" I had now found myself doing. I was becoming that person who doesn't like his job and is constantly checking the clock all day long, counting how many more hours until he could go home. I didn't like what the hike had become. I would forego breaks, because if I stop walking and take a break, then it is now that much longer until the work day would be over.

I know now that doing the hike that way, was not the right way to do it. I should have taken the breaks. I shouldn't have started obsessing about getting the miles in each day. I shouldn't have let it become that unliked "job". I have a saying out there. "If you are only out here hiking your miles, then you are only out here hiking your miles." I now really think it is important to not worry about the miles. Take the time to smell the roses, enjoy the view, just sit down (or lay down) and take a break from the day's work. Hopefully this is one lesson that I will take to heart and alter my behavior the next time I get out there long term.

Wild Roses

Total immersion is being out there on the trail for days on end. Partial immersion is great, but you really learn what true immersion is when you are out there for a long time.

Sit here and enjoy the view

The clean smelling Muggles don't understand. They know that a shower, running water and a home cooked meal await them when they are done with their day's hike. The rest of us will wake up on the trail, pack up and walk, until that day's destination is reached.

(sorry I used the word immersion so many times)

Lessons Learned Every Day

Although the hike started out pretty much just as I expected, (pain, exhaustion, exhilaration, joy),  I quickly realized that each day was showing me new things and teaching me valuable lessons. 

I wish I had kept track of all of the lessons that the Trail and Mother Nature kept teaching me.  I thought about writing down these lessons each day, but never actually did it.  

I was happy each time I realized that I had been taught a new lesson.  I would make a mental note to take heed or risk the consequences.  

Here are some of the lessons I learned on the trail.  This list is nowhere near all inclusive, since I didn't write them down, I have already forgotten a lot and will most likely relearn them again one day.

1. Bacon bits pretty much can go on anything.  Put them in your mashed potatoes, your peanut butter and jelly tortilla or anything else you eat.  

PBJ and bacon

2. I really have a lot to learn about identifying the plants and birds that are out there.  I loved seeing new flowers or hearing a new call, but I wish I had some sage naturalist with me who would have told me what that plant or bird was.  

3. Sometimes you have to shorten the day and get out of your wet clothes and into your dry down.  Just do it.  Your body will thank you.

4. Having all of your socks wet is not a good way to manage your feet.

5. Your feet are your most important body part. Take care of them.

6. The People are the Trail.

7. Mashed potatoes are really easy to make when you are tired and hangry.  

8. An organized pack with a place for everything and everything in its place is a great way to go.  

9. Altering where you put things as your experience grows, is important to do.  I was constantly changing where I put things as I learned how to be more efficient.

10. Practicing patience is really hard sometimes.

11. Being an Outsider can be an uncomfortable experience sometimes. 

12. Sometimes wearing two pairs of socks is great, other times means you will have two very wet socks at the end of the day.  

13. Socks take a long time to dry.

14. Keeping your ass clean(ish) is very important when the rest of you is pretty dirty.

15. My hammock seat is the most comfortable seat in camp.  

The list goes on and on.  I loved learning new things every day and expect to continue to do so every time I go out.  

Dealing with the weather

I have another saying that I use all the time both on trail and off.  "I take each day as given".  I also used to say "There is no good or bad weather.  It is just the planet doing its thing." I still strive to take each day as given, be it beautiful, rainy, windy or any other kind of day the Mother gives us, but I now know that some types of weather make me a little happier that other types.  

My weather nemesis has always been wind.  I don't like how it steals your heat leaving you shivering and unhappy.  When you throw some rain into the mix, the conditions can actually become dangerous.  

I found that when the weather is dry, not too hot or cold and at least partly sunny, than I could hike faster and was a little more happy.  When the rain fell, especially if it was heavy and occurred when we were walking, it would beat me down some.  I really tried to embrace the suck and keep my morale high, but I learned that after about four straight days, it starts to wear on me.  The suck would win and I would loosen my embrace and start to resent it.

Trying to stay dry during lunch on day two

I still will affirm to take each day as given. I now just a little more or less happy depending on exactly what that day is giving me.  

As always, your gear choices should help you to deal with the elements.  My cheap Frog Toggs jacket did its job, but after a while it would start letting water through, but still keep the wind at bay.  No breathable jacket will keep you dry forever.  They all get compromised eventually.  I took this as it was and just dealt with it. 

As the summer advances, heat, humidity and thunderstorms becomes your new conditions to deal with.  It is just the planet doing its thing.  

Other Things

We are now headed to Philly for Father's Day then will spend a few days down in Cape May hanging out at the beach and doing touristy things.  After that, the planning will be firmed up and before we know it, we will be walking down that Trail, with packs on our backs. Doing what we love.  Hiking the Trail.  

A beautiful sunrise at Icewater Spring Shelter in the Smokys

EarthTone and LoGear

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