Tuesday, September 26, 2017

It's All Downhill From Maine: Part 5 - The Fastest Thing In The Woods

About the same moment the wasp stung me on the side of the neck, I realized just how relative pain can be. Most of the time in my life, I would have been crying for a medic and a first-aid kit, wondering if I had developed an allergy to the stings and would this be the final goodbye after all.
However, this was not like most of the time. I swatted the dying wasp onto the ground and sped back up, holding my hand to my neck, thinking I would keep running until I fell flat on my face. For the last 40 minutes, I had been the fastest thing in the woods. A bear would have given up chasing me, and some deer stood by in amazement at what this grizzled guy was doing. I had already done something unheard of for Paul and I. I passed by a couple of young women that were trekking along with their packs and a dog. And I passed them like they were standing still. It must have been a low point in their day, because we did meet up later and one of the women explained about a turned ankle and how the old dog was slowing them up.  Yes, I was flying for a certain amount of time and it was an adrenaline rush like no other. How was this even possible?
You see, through the tricky stuff, like rocks, streams, logs, and climbing, I am slow like a snail. I don't where to put my feet, and I have a quite realistic idea of what the consequences would be if I managed to break my ankle out there in the woods. But, put me on a flat trail, 5 miles from camp, and that is in my range, baby. I have a big pack on my back and a big reason to get there fast. I've heard it said many times that running is a mental thing, more than physical and I believe that to be true about backpacking as well. It's more about making yourself remember why you are doing it and why you need to keep going than about how much more your body can take. In this case, I was doing some simple math in my head. If I went 2 miles per hour, then it was going to take me 2 1/2 hours to get to camp. If I could keep up 4 miles per hour, I could shave off an hour from my hike. THAT sounded awesome. The added benefit was that both Paul and I had become concerned about finding places to camp. There were quite a few people on the trail and we started noticing that the campsites were filling up by 5pm. By the way, when I say 'campsites', you're probably thinking of a nice graded spot with a picnic table, water spigot, perhaps even a electric outlet to charge your electronics....nope, none of that stuff. What I was excited about seeing, was a nice flat spot on the grass near a stream, and an outhouse nearby. In Maine, this wasn't that easy to find, so concern over being the people that show up with no where to pitch a tent was legitimate.

We had figured out early on in the trip, that Paul with his ultralight pack, was superior climbing and I could do better with my long legs on the flat trail. Although we loved hiking together and talking, when we started seeing the time crunches, we developed a plan. Paul would surge ahead on the climbs and find the easiest ways up, and I would take off when we had a flat trail and needed to secure a campsite.

On this particular day, we somehow founds ourselves with a late start, knowing that a large group of through hikers was ahead of us, and probably filling up every campsite available. It was about 3 in the afternoon that we realized that we were in my kind of section of the woods, a flat, pine needle path, the kind you seldom saw in Maine. The camp was ahead, water, food, tent, resting, it was all there waiting. All I had to do was run for an hour. And that I how I came to find that the pain of a wasp sting was something bearable when so much was at stake.

Hours later, I sat at camp, sitting in my folding chair, watching Paul set up his tent and seeing the young women with their dog come by, trying to find a non-swampy spot to pitch their tent and I enjoyed that extremely rare smug feeling that for once, I was faster than somebody....

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