Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Frozen Floridians and Accidental Magic: Part 5

Finding heaven on top of a mountain when it's below freezing is not easy to do. In fact, out of the whole trip, the thing I dreaded the most was trying to get through the night of extreme cold that was forecasted. I expected something similar to what I had experienced in the cold before, only worse. I imagined spending over 12 hours in a sleeping bag, trying to find some position that would result in me feeling comfortable enough to get any sleep at all. The first night of the trip was bad enough. We woke up in the morning to gray skies and a howling wind that went ;right through our jackets. It wasn't any fun packing up and I kept making mistakes that resulted in me pulling everything out of my backpack to put one thing away. My fingers weren't working right and my brain was only a little bit worse. I was reaching hard inside me to find what it was about backpacking that kept me coming back. It sure wasn't this part. Paul and Chase thought it was a good time to get going, and my thoughts of having a nice cup of coffee and bowl of oatmeal were put on the back burner.
It was a mere 15 minutes later that we encountered one of the strangest things about hiking: the weather changes frequently in the mountains. Somehow in the dark, we had found the single most exposed, freezing cold spot that there was. Not long after we departed our camping spot, we found ourselves on the sunny side of the mountain and peeling off layers of clothes. We were already laughing about the cold night and looking forward to the bright blue sky and the great feeling of doing anything but shivering.

If you have read any of my writings about backpacking before, you know I have this thing about meeting people 3 times and becoming old friends. That happened on this trip, and we became quick friends with a guy and a girl in their 20's that had driven up from Jacksonville. He was a seasoned backpacker and she was a tall athletic person that was up for anything. And that is why we kept bumping into them on the trail. They could go quicker than us for a while, but the girl would have knee issues and we would come across them resting for a bit on the side of the trail. We'd stop and talk and finally found that we all had the same destination in mind. She asked if we minded them camping with us that night and we were delighted to have the company, plus Paul would get some new companions that still had not heard all of his stories.
It was a perfect day, but I was worrying anyway, because everybody we met on the trail was talking about the deep freeze that was coming that night. Me, with only a fishing buff on my bald head, thinking about how far it was to safety and wondering why in the world I thought it was smart to leave my gloves at home. Paul was feeling great. He was certain that changing his eating habits had cured him of the many aches and pains he had experienced on previous trips. In fact, he and Chase were racing ahead most of the time, while I hung back, hoping that the little tweaking feeling in my right knee wasn't going to turn into something worse. It was getting the point that any mistake I made, stepping on a root and sliding or coming off a loose stone, made me want to yelp. Yes, this was not a feeling you wanted to have deep in the woods when the temperature was destined to drop into the 20's.

However, the day ended on a high like I could never have imagined. We found the campsite, and oddly enough, it was right in the middle of the trail. Not only that, there was a stream running right next to the lean-to. (By the way, normal for the Appalachian Trail is the campsite is half a mile off the trail and the water is even further away). By the time it got dark, there were 7 of us. 7 hikers that were crazy enough to be out in weather like this. 5 of us squeezed our tents into the lean-to that was built for 4 without tents and we didn't mind at all, but that wasn't the good part.

Paul, is a great believer in minimalism. You carry what you need, you eat what's easy, you don't do anything you don't have to do, except smoke a cigarette about every 30 minutes....and do not try to find the logic in that....but, he never builds fires on backpacking trips. You eat, get in your sleeping bag and wake up the next day...the night is not your friend.

But...nobody ever taught the young guy from Jacksonville those things. He built his girl the best fire ever, and the rest of us helped a little bit and enjoyed it a lot. We sat around that night for hours, trading stories and learning about how we were all drawn to do this outdoorsy thing in a bit of an extreme way.

I've had a lot of fun in the woods, but there's nothing much better in life than a big fire right when you need I remember what keeps me coming back.

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