Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Note From The Applachian Trail Part 7: Scared Of The Dark

There was something special about hiking the AT on Halloween.  I don't know if it was all the books I've read or perhaps just the feeling that I couldn't lock my door and sit guarding my tent with a shotgun, but at night, I'm pretty sure I just laid there in my coffin-like tent, waiting for a bear or whatever to just maul me to death.

I did bring along a large survival knife, which was immediately mocked by any hiker I met on the trail. This mocking did not include the mocking from Paul and Chase BEFORE we left on the hike. The second day, the knife remained inside my pack, where I was safe from being made fun of, but totally vunerable to attack from rabid hikers, bears, mountain lions, etc. I made up for this by constantly joking about creepy clowns hiding around every corner. Although my guys were rolling their eyes, the clown bit came into good use later on. You must admit, no Halloween trip could be complete without some scary story telling and I made sure that I did plenty of it.

The problem Paul forgot to warn me about was sleeping at night. I think I have spent about 7 days of my whole life with insommnia, and 3 of those days were on our hike. I can usually sleep standing up...or even in the dentist's chair BEFORE they sedate me. This trip was something else. There seemed to be over 12 hours of darkness each night and it was cold. All I had room to do in my tent was schooch in feet first into my mummy bag and try to generate warmth. Most of the time that worked well, until I heard a monster with claws scratching around my tent, or a leaf falling from a tree. Yeah, there were a lot of leaves falling from trees that trip. My brother remarked on this, oh, that's a well known issue for hikers, Chase and I take Advil PM, but we only have enough for the two of us. Meanwhile, I was looking at Paul's pills, thinking I was pretty sure I could take those pills from him, if it got to that.

The second day of the trip both excited me and scared me at the same time. We met a seasoned hiker named Glen that lived to hike at night. A total opposite of anything I knew, he was my age and carried an MP3 player, listening to audiobooks while walking the AT in the dark. At first, I couldn't even imagine someone doing this unless it was survival, but the more I thought about it, the more I was warming to the idea. It sounded crazy, but I found that I could take a nap during the day and I had a great headlamp to wear at night. The days were short, nights long, and we struggled to make the miles we wanted. What if we hiked until 8pm and then got up at 4am? That would mean only 8 hours a night just laying there wondering what time it was, plus I could get some more sleep at lunchtime. The only problem was nighttime is when the monsters and creepy clowns are out in force.

It actually worked for us, we hiked in the dark, Chase running up ahead, looking for the white blaze on a tree that would tell us that we were still on the right trail instead of being totally lost. There were only a few times I worried that between Paul and Chase we might go the wrong way and my jokes about there only being enough food for TWO of us, might stop being jokes. A couple of time there were missteps where you'd put your foot down on the leaves and there was nothing underneath and you'd almost go tumbling down the side of the mountain, and then we'd laugh. Yup, that trail crazy feeling was in full effect during the night hiking.

On the last day of the trip, we were hiking out in the dark when we stopped for a minute and took our packs off. I looked in dismay at the back of my pack when I saw that one of my brand new $175 trail shoes was missing. I had decided to wear my $35 crocs that morning and now realized that somewhere back within the last 45 minutes of walking in total darkness, lay my shoe that I had neglected to tie into the pack. Chase took a look at the two of us old guys and volunteered to jog back and see if he could spot my shoe on the ground back at camp. He borrowed my new $50 Petzl headlamp, which is freaking awesome in the woods, and took off. We waited a long, long time. Long enough that I began to wonder what would you do in that situation in a horror film, certainly not split up, the monsters are just waiting for that. Then I saw a bright light off in the woods, moving like a car down a highway. It was Chase with my shoe. I thought he was running with joy, to be on the trail, young and powerful, no pack, and full of testosterone, but he said it was because he thought the Manson family was right behind him.....I guess my clown stories did some good after all.

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