Smoky Mountain Trails

Monday, September 18, 2017 2 Permalink 0

We learned several things about our current selves and our place in the world on the trail this last full moon:

  1. We are too old to hike 20 miles a day on rugged terrain carrying 60-lb packs. We were more sedentary than planned, and there are many more photos of fungus than mountaintop vistas for this reason. No photos of makeshift back support, ankle braces and attempts to formulate backwoods Bengay out of toothpaste were included.
  2. Yellowjackets like to build nests in exactly the soft moss where you might be most tempted to pitch your tent. The resulting Shrieking Tarantella is painful but coincidentally useful for warding off bears. No bears messed with us after that.
  3. Always check that your stove’s fuel bottle is adequately full before leaving civilization. Bonus lesson: Ramen will reconstitute in cold iodine water just fine, given enough time. Instant coffee less so. Consider chewing raw coffee beans.
  4. If you have spent, say, two nights and a whole day at one campsite because you were unable physically to move on to the next, and so had all that day to spectacularly waterproof your tent before a hurricane-force storm swamps you, it is best not to admit this advance preparation to other, harder-hiking but much wetter campers the next day on the trails. Just count it quietly as another blessing of growing older.
  5. Quit playing mountain-goat roulette and just go ahead and take off your shoes to cross creeks the colder but safer way. And remember that those creeks you crossed on the way in will, after said hurricane in steep mountains, become raging rivers on the way home.
  6. Starting the hike from the highest point in a national park means that, per force, at the end of the hike, when you least feel like it, you must climb back up to that highest point to find your dang car. No one will carry you, not even your True Love, whom you will find begging the same thing of you. The best line of the trip came from a despairing and exhausted M, laid flat out in the middle of the trail on the first leg of the last morning, rolling back and forth like a stranded upside-down turtle on top of his backpack: “Just sprinkle me with peanuts and leave me for the bears. I am done.” And I was no better off. Fortunately it turned out this episode was less than 20 minutes from the trail head, so we survived.

May we suggest visiting the high point of your journey midway and then coasting on home downhill next time? In dry weather. With fuel. Or just staying in an insect-free hotel with a view while waiting on your AARP discount.