Learning the Hard Way (Lessons from another not-so-successful shakedown hike)
Here in Maryland near South Mountain, we live in a little pocket of uncertain weather. Check half a dozen forecasts on any given day, and you’ll get six wildly disparate results — none of which usually come true. So when I checked the forecast for our second attempt at a shakedown hike, I was pleased to see that most of the reports concurred: the weather would be mild (in the 50’s-60’s), with a slight chance of a shower overnight. One outlier predicted heavy rain, 40 mph winds, and temperatures in the 30’s, but I scoffed at that.
Naturally, I was wrong.
After our previous shakedown fiasco, I didn’t expect to have another bad experience. For one thing, I thought we’d learned our lessons. We have been working our way slowly through Maryland in reasonable, 6-10 mile segments since that debacle. We’ve been carrying fully loaded packs, gradually increasing our strength and confidence while continuing to test our gear. So spending another night in the woods should have been easy. We were much better prepared this time, our expectations far more sensible. We decided to park at Wolfsville Rd., hike five miles north to the Raven Rock shelter, and stay the night. The next morning we’d hike the final five miles to the end of Maryland at the Mason Dixon line. The plan was solid, but the shakedown was still less than ideal. Here is what we learned this time:
Setting up hammocks in the rain is a challenge. The predicted sprinkles began just as we arrived at the shelter. We weren’t worried at first, but a few minutes into our setup the rain intensified. We tried to hurry, but we haven’t mastered our camping skills yet so it took us an hour to get everything staked down. We ended up wet, but despite our clumsiness, we didn’t think we’d done too bad.
Next we took a stab at dinner. While John devoured the warm cheesy mashed potatoes he’d cooked up, I virtuously choked down my cold lentil/ancient grain concoction with the same gusto I felt while undergoing my last mammogram. I couldn’t finish it. It was cold, lumpy and hard, and not the least bit appealing. Lesson: I need to rethink my food.
The plummeting temperature drove us to a VERY early bed. In fact, we were in our hammocks by 5:30! I was cozy enough inside, but for the next twelve hours a fierce storm thrashed the woods. I slept in fits, managing to doze off only occasionally because of the roaring wind. Surprisingly, the tarp stakes held. In fact, the gusting wind caused my hammock to gently rock, which was kind of nice.
What wasn’t so nice was trying to break camp in the morning. Everything was soaked. It was so blasted cold that we had to keep stopping to warm our hands. And then the wind picked up even more, adding to the difficulty. In the end, we stuffed everything haphazardly into our bags, skipped breakfast, and hiked as quickly as we could toward the Pennsylvania state line. We finally stopped to eat once we’d made it through the Devil’s Racecourse (a treacherous boulder field where John not only fell but lost both rubber tips from his poles) because skipping meals can lead to sudden muscle exhaustion, as I unfortunately found out. Then we hightailed it through Penmar Park to the Mason Dixon line.
So we’ve got one state down. A small one, to be sure (it’s only 40 miles across), but we did it nonetheless. And I’ve learned a lot during our brief journey through Maryland, both good and bad. For one thing, I’ve got too much stuff. I need to consolidate my items so I have less to keep track of. I also need to practice my setup and take down so it doesn’t take so long. And it wouldn’t hurt to revise my diet so I’ll actually want to eat my food.
On the positive side, I now know that we can do this. It certainly won’t be easy. There will be lots of suffering and pain, more than I ever expected — and I have a feeling that given our track record, the mistakes will continue to pile up. But we’ll get there. Eventually. And at some point we’ll even have fun. So three more weeks — and then we’re off. Pennsylvania, here we come!
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