A Day in the Life, Part 2: Hitting the Trail
There’s a crispness to the air as you take those first steps. You haven’t warmed up yet, but you were smart enough to go with just a t-shirt, because you know you’ll be sweating soon otherwise. Your pace is always a little ambitious at the start; it is a combination of excitement and well rested legs. As you venture into the green tunnel of trees, you can feel civilization becoming more distant. The feeling of anxiety suddenly morphs from that however. Did you lock the car? Is your bag of snacks still sitting on the passenger seat? Did you make sure that your headlamp had new batteries?
Then you remember that there are a thousand things that can go wrong, but just being out here is worth it. “If my headlamp dies, I’ll just crawl into my bag”, you tell yourself. “If the car is unlocked, at least a thief won’t break the windows” flashes across your mind. Something about the leaves fluttering in the breeze and the birds singing can make you find a silver lining from any possible what-if.
You walk on.
The thoughts of impending disaster which almost overwhelmed you enough to turn back to check on everything for a fifth time quickly pass. Your pace slows, and you begin to take in your surroundings. Interesting burls that seem to occur on every tree, clearings affording wide views, and signs of animals are all magnified beyond what you ever see from behind a windshield. At one clearing, you stop. The view here is magnificent. You can see multiple ranges, stretching for miles, the distant horizons becoming softer and more purple with the haze of mid-morning.
As you take you camera out to capture the scene, and look to the west, you note some high clouds that appear to be building. The weather forecast called for some light rain in the afternoon, but you didn’t expect it this early in the day. You’re grateful for your quick pace at the start of your wanderings now; you’ve traveled over halfway to your night’s campsite already, and it’s not even lunchtime. After a quick snapshot, you pocket your camera and move on.
The trail winds through thick spruces, dark and somewhat claustrophobic beyond this point. The lack of sunlight has kept this section muddy, and you’re happy you wore your waterproof boots. Every few steps, you sink in a few inches, and your boots form a vacuum with the combination of clay and spruce needles. A day hiker, in their tennis shoes, left prints the day before. A tiny smirk appears on your face as you picture coming across a pair of Reeboks mired in the slop, ripped off of someone’s feet as they stepped forward.
Soon, the evergreens thin, and you walk out into a sunny meadow. Here, the trail is dry and rocky, beaten down by thousands of hikers, and at least a few deer.
Across the small valley that you’re descending into, you see a doe and two fawns grazing. Even though deer are common near your home, any large wildlife out here gives you pause, for they are truly living a natural existence, rather than feasting on your neighbor’s ornamental plants and dodging traffic.
Your campsite lies two miles distant, a two hour’s hike across three more summits. The map shows a creek at the foot of this particular valley, and you resolve to have lunch beside it. Save for your pause at the viewpoint before, you’ve been walking for six miles, not even realizing how many steps you’ve taken with 40 pounds on your back. Without the electronic stimulation of cell phones, television, and laptops, time passes slowly. The distance you can cover in a few hour’s time is phenomenal.
As you reach the creek, the sun still shines, and you determine that the clouds you saw earlier simply passed over without consequence. A patch of soft grass invites you to drop your pack and sit in the warmth of midday while the sweat dries off of your back. You lie back against your pack and close your eyes for five minutes, just listening.
Once your heart rate slows, you unzip the top pouch and pull out one of the granola bars to begin snacking while you decide what the main course will be. Freeze dried tortilla soup sounds great. Lazily, you shove your arm into the depths of the main pouch and feel around for your stove, along with the water filter you’ll shortly need. You set the stove and meal aside, pick up your cookpot and filter, and saunter over to the creek.
Looking for a stable spot to sit on the bank, you decide that it’s best to just take your boots off and stand right in it. The water is icy cold, but it feels amazing on your somewhat tired feet. A quick dip of your pot nets more than enough water for your soup, and you set it on a small boulder jutting out from the right bank. Since you’re here in the water, you top off both of your water bottles with the filter, and decide to take a few swings directly from the filter to hydrate a little more.
Climbing out of the creek, you light your stove, and relish in the initial hiss and pops that are so familiar. You set the pot on top, place the lid on it, and wait for it to boil as you observe the area. There’s a vulture circling a few hundred yards downstream on a thermal, and watching it calmly gliding appears to be a superb way to pass time until the gurgling of a rapid boil signals it’s time to make soup.
After ten minutes of steeping, it’s ready to eat. As the steam rolls out of the freshly opened bag, you turn your attention from the vulture and focus on the lunch you’re about to enjoy. You weren’t all that hungry, given the activity levels earlier, but the smell of the spices instantly makes your mouth water.
The first sip of the broth signals the end of the morning, and the start of your afternoon. The sun is high and hot right now, but it’s no bother, this soup tastes amazing, as everything does in the backcountry.
This article is the second in a series titled “A Day in the Life”. The entire series puts the reader into the experiences and mindset of a weekend backpacker taking a short overnight trip into the backcountry. I hope that in basing this on my own travels, it encourages you, the reader, to have these experiences yourself.