Friday, December 16, 2011

Backpacking, Or How to Kick Your Ass, and Like It.

When I overheard two husbands of my best gal pals discussing an upcoming backpacking trip, I said, "That sounds awesome," and they said, "You should come with us," in that way you say, "Do you need a ride?" to the stringy-haired girl left standing on the curb after everyone has gone home, thinking the whole time, God, I hope she says no.
 Boy, were they surprised when I jumped at the invite, and inserted myself into both their trip and the world of ultralite backpacking with equal abandon.

The next weeks were spent gathering information, buying necessary equipment, and basically rewriting my Christmas list to read: tent, boots, down sleeping bag, mattress pad, backpack. ( Thank God I sleep with Santa.)

 The plan was to finish another leg of the Appalachian Trail, from Hog Pen Gap to Unicoi Gap. There were maps and weather ratings, blogs and possible packing lists to exchange and mull over before our departure on the 9th. I kept telling myself, this was the south. It doesn't REALLY get cold. ( This, from a girl who grew up around lake effect snow that fell in feet, not inches and once, delivered papers on ice skates.)

Will and I drove up to the mountains on Friday... using GPS readings that turned out a little bit "off."
 But hey, we found THIS ROAD. It was pretty much like a rollercoaster ride.

 At some point, I saw this peak and suggested that was our Saturday night destination: Blue Mountain. Will said, "Damn, I hope not," then called Chad who was waiting at our ending point at Unicoi Gap to ask how much beer he had.

We left Will's car at the end point and took Chad's car to a campsite they had found by accident on their last trip. It's perfect, they assured me.  When we saw how high the water in the FIRST creek was, they didn't seem as enthusiastic. "Hmm. Sure rained a lot, didn't it?"

(The Chevy Malibu takes on the challenge.)

Two creeks later, we pull off the dirt road. "See, there is it!" They say pointing. You mean, that nice flat, open spot ACROSS this deep, fast running brook? I'm thinking. But, I say, "You're right. It's perfect."

After a few discussions and a bit of a walk on the wrong side of the creek/brook/stream, we determine the best thing is to wade barefoot across and dry off and reboot on the other side. It's getting late, and we need to get a fire started and pitch tents, so, I quickly strip off boots and socks, roll up long johns and pants, tie my boots together and string them over my neck. The water is ice cold and calf deep, with a slippery rock bottom, but it's only about 7 steps across. No problem.

I've dumped my pack near the fire pit and am drying my feet off, when Will yells, "I'm going to throw my boots across the creek, come to the bank and make sure they don't roll back."
Is anyone else getting that "uh-oh" feeling?

So, yeah. One bad toss, one dangling tree branch, and I was back in the creek, this time a good eight feet downstream fishing a boot and sock out of the wash.

 The fire dried Will's boot, singed his sock and gave us all something to chuckle over.

 This is my tent, and sleeping set up.  ( MSR Hubba 1p, Big Agnes down mummy bag rated 15 degrees, with insulated air mattress, inflatable pillow and down booties )I was very comfortable,with just a bit of cold pocket coming from the air mattress. Something I solved by sleeping on my fleece, and on night 2 by also layering a space blanket underneath.

       This was my dinner: Organic Spinach Puttanesca, with Bananas Foster - dessert for 3.
 Since we were near the car, we had some extras, like beer and firewood- even if it was damp and poorly seasoned...
A few words about hanging out with men. They aren't picky like girls, they don't whine, and they don't feel the need to fill empty space with words. I like that. I really like that.

In the morning, it was a colder trek back across the creek. Here's Chad in blue with the trash, and a part of Will in red.

my cold foot
The morning gave us a bit of a turn, as we had to handle a broken o-ring on the stove. A pit stop at the store in Neels Gap was great for loading up on water, warm socks, hot pocket hand heaters and I finally agreed, trekking poles might be a really good idea.  ( of course I also bought a Hiker Christmas ornament for the tree and some wool socks)

Shortly, we were at the trailhead and ready for some of this:

                                                     Here we are... before. ....smiling.

  And now for the photographic interlude..... try this music. ( oddly, there were no birds. I mean, at all.)

  Cold, tired and wind blown, we arrived at the Blue Mountain Shelter, and decided to actually use the shelter- which was a great call... until 3:14 am.  When the deep breathing, tin cup jangling, farting men arrived. Sigh...
I didn't sleep much, between noises that were real, or imagined... and the grip on the knife in my pocket

This was sunrise.  We were all up in time to see it. 14 degrees and windy. We bundled up and watched the sky come alive.


Before heading down the other side of the mountain, a short 2.5 miles, (without coffee or a hot meal, as it was too cold even for the stove to cooperate), we took time to log in our stay, and read the last entries:
 WOAH. Yep.  And then there were the mushroom eaters...

This was the perfect intro trip for me. I used everything I brought, know where I need to switch things up... like the leaky water bladder I pitched upon arriving home. I managed to keep my pack light enough that its weight didn't matter to me.  Knowing I could handle the pace of over 11 miles one day, in 5.5 hours, I felt a little less old lady with strange injuries and more Mountain Mama. Sure, I had sore calves for 2 days, but the back and knee issues that plague me daily didn't fire up even a warning bell. 

I think we did a pretty damn good job, had some laughs and built some memories. I hope to backpack with these guys again—if they'll have me. At least they can be sure I've got their backs at 3am.

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