Thursday, April 12, 2012

When girls go backpacking...stuff happens.

I sent a message to a friend last week, asking her if she was serious about going backpacking with me, as she'd said one night in a crowded bar after a few beers and three shots of tequila. She replied right away with "Yes. How about Friday?" 
 And me, being me, looked at the calendar, the papers on my desk then the weather, and said, "Sure, I'll throw something together."

Debbie is the mom of an eagle scout. This will be important later. She is in great shape, hikes out west a lot, and is comfortable in the woods. Also, we share the similar odd sense of humor. Which makes it nice to not have to explain the joke. 

I was trusting her to pick up any slack on my part with the hike/camp/ navigate part... as I am new to backpacking. You can read about my very first trip with the guys here. ( Yep, just a few months ago.)
Unlike the way our trip was planned by those super prepared and organized engineer types-down to the Google docs packing list and GPS coordinates of parking lots- I merely chose a park destination in Tennessee that I'd heard about, set up a pack  for myself with some extras, adding a tiny new stove- never used- then tossed in some maps printed off the website. How tough could it be, right?

The plan was to leave on Friday at 6am. I set my alarm for 5, and woke to the sound of a barking dog, and an idling car at 6:12am.
Not a good start. But... I remembered the beer, and the turkey dogs.

This is where we were headed. 

It was harder to find the Cracker Barrel breakfast joint than it was to find this park. Size might have played a part in that...but still, CB, you need a sign that is LARGER than Waffle House's.

Anyway, the food was fine and we enjoyed the use of real restroom before hitting the woods.

 Our plan was to hike  the Savage Gulf area in the morning and see the falls, then drive to the Collins West area and hike the rest of the day and make camp on the rim.

We joked that we'd probably change our minds when we spoke to the ranger, but it was good to have a plan... because then at least we'd have something we could screw up.

Not to worry, the "ranger" was an plump white haired woman who never left her desk, and had no idea about the trails, only to say she'd heard the snakes were already out. Ohh-kay, then.

We left our packs in the car and I strapped on my pedometer/watch, took some water and grabbed a useless cell phone, ( love you Sprint- for your customer service and cheap rates... not so much for the non-service) and we were off to the falls - one suspension bridge and a short trek later... ta dah!

And then mistake number one.... sign says that way to ranger station, and this way to day loop trail.  We read it twice and Debbie says, "It's early, let's do the day loop!" It was either her enthusiasm and positive energy that swayed me... or the fact that I was already in an outdoors-sunny-timeless-worry-free-daydreamy mental state... when I said. "Sure."

Turns out they call it the DAY LOOP, because it takes you a DAY to complete it— well, if you take all the side trails and look outs and miss a turn, and then another... hello cute running boys.. which way is OUT? ARGH. We even did the unthinkable. We went OFF TRAIL to cut the second round of the loop into more of a watermelon slice. Eventually- without GPS, mind you.. two broads found their way out- just as the day warmed up.

We registered our intended night's camp location with the old lady in the shack, using our REAL NAMES and everything, then drove over to the Collins West lot and repacked our gear, eliminating any duplicates and trying to lighten Deb's load. I learned from the best to keep my pack as light as possible- my food being the heaviest thing this time around. ( dry pack was at 18.7lbs )

Mistake number two was lurking around the corner, as we headed off down the trail, making good time, but shortly discovered we were on our way to the "high" trail, when we had been aiming for the "Low" trail. Not to be deterred, we agreed, it was all a giant loop, and the campsite would actually be closer to go this way. I love when there is no fuss... I love it even more when the "mistake" gives us a really cool path through boulders.

 It was damn hard, but the kind of challenge that syncs up your mind and body. The kind of hard that feels  like ...Awesome. Also, the kind of challenge that means not many photos were taken. We walked on under and around boulders the size of four story buildings, the ground pitted with smaller offspring. 

I left an offering

Thing about being in the woods, with your breath and shuffling steps and pounding heart, you watch for things: wildlife and flowers and shit like that... sure., but mostly, you think. And think some more. You find a calm inside yourself that surpasses the blisters forming on your toes, the cramp in your lower back, the pain in your neck and shoulders, the hungry growl in your stomach, the sweat that drips and evaporates. 

That quiet place. That dreamy- out of body- state? That's what I love the most. And if you;re working hard enough, no one can talk to you, to interrupt, or to question, or... I see why so many people solo trek, and as the miles added up and the space between Deb and I expanded, it was sort of like that. ( Which freaked me out a bit when I heard the first rattle in the underbrush... more on that later.)

Trails looked like this..... 

On the rim at the overlooks and beside and under the falls and lover lots and lots of rocky terrain, with wildflowers punctuating the landscape like a poetic stamp of approval.

We hauled it for the whole day, covering a total of 13 miles, and only stopping briefly along the trail, once for water at a creek two miles shy of our campsite. Debbie took a minute to soak her feet in the cold water as I broke in my new Steri-pen. ( love it.)

What a feeling of accomplishment, and what a way to push ourselves. Arriving at the camp area and choosing our site, I believed we'd absolutely earned those two warm beers I'd snuck into my pack before we left the parking lot.

*******Tomorrow.. I give you camping with chicks and the panty sniffing ranger.

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