A Beautiful Night (July 9)
Have been hiking with a friend for the past few days- Astronomer. This is a perfect example of how you meet people on the trail that you probably wouldn’t connect with off trail. Astronomer and I are very different in our views of life and our values, but we are able to connect because of shared struggles and triumphs on the trail. Plus, we’ve run into each other a couple times now on the trail, and enjoy hiking together when it works out.
I feel the time has come that I can say the mosquitoes are really bad, and not feel like a whiner. The mosquitoes are really bad! Especially at dawn and dusk, and around swampy water, puddles and lower elevations with little breeze. Some nights I have a chorus of whines right outside the mesh of my tent. It is enough to drive a person crazy, even though there are always things you can do to help yourself. The other morning I was so frustrated by the bites I kept getting; I could feel myself getting more and more anxious because I knew that as soon as I paused for a moment, I would start to feel and hear all these tiny pests landing and biting me. Even if there is only one mosquito around, it is easy to panic and imagine there are actually ten nearby, just biding their time. Finally I made it to a road with an open parking area. Often more open areas (as opposed to a close, overgrown trail) are usually an improvement. I forced myself to take the time to put on my long light pants and sprayed myself with bug spray, and when I started hiking again, I felt worlds better. My bug spray seems to help, and even just knowing that I had done something to help myself made the situation a thousand times improved. Luckily there are also times when the bugs are not as bad- higher elevations, breezy places, during rains, mid-afternoon- but the mosquitoes definitely change my mood about hiking! Much less pleasant a time when they’re out.
Astronomer is especially plagued by mosquitoes lately, as he doesn’t have a mesh liner for his hammock yet! I can’t even imagine trying to sleep through the buggy nights we’ve had without any mesh protection. Needless to say, we’ve been trying to camp at higher, breezier elevations that discourage mosquitoes. This was our plan last night, but we were swayed by an approaching thunderstorm. On a whim, we decided to set up camp right before the rain fell. We rushed around frantically, staking out our shelters, and I managed to toss everything in and jump in my shelter right before the rain fell. It was very exciting and satisfying. This morning was a mosquito fest though. We didn’t even sit to eat breakfast until we had hiked a mile up the mountain. Up there, the world was entirely different, and we completed all those morning chores in our normal leisurely way. I’m so glad there are respite places like that.
We hiked all morning, then split up for the afternoon so I could call home. Eventually I hiked on and found Astronomer swinging in his hammock above a rocky overlook. He had found a good spot with no mosquitoes! The setting was very pretty- basically a large sloping rock on the side of a mountain that looked down on the valley below. Some farm fields and town houses could be seen below, with other mountain ridges stretching out in the distance. I was able to set up my tent in a grassy patch at the top of the rock.
The rest of the evening was so full of small natural wonders that I could hardly believe it- it was kind of like everything just fell into place and all these neat things kept happening. First, so many blueberries grew on that mountain that I was able to collect a good bunch for eating. Then I started hearing these beautiful bird calls that I had never heard before- I’ll have to get it identified somehow. It sounds kind of haunting like a song that skips octaves quickly with a tremulous ending…very unique. We were facing east, so we couldn’t watch the sunset directly, but the sunset reflected enough over the entire sky that we still had a really pretty evening. We spent a while quietly cooking our food and then one of us would get up and walk around the rock to look around at different things, like the trees, or the valley below. I felt like we were both there together but also involved in our own thoughts and discoveries. Astronomer found a large beetle scuttling around on the rock and got really excited about it- he’s studied insects and is really enthusiastic about bugs. It was neat to see that kind of pure enthusiasm, especially from someone who often tends to be more cynical. Just when I thought we had seen everything, the moon started to rise up from behind the mountain ridge in front of us. It was one of those nights when the moon appeared as this huge golden orb, and it seemed to rise so quickly- within a matter of five minutes we watched it completely emerge from behind the ridge. It was very beautiful, to say the least. That was also a part of what I loved so much- neither of us said much, I think because we were both in awe of what was before us. Sometimes words can’t really capture an experience, and all you can do is watch and listen and try to take it in to remember for a long time.
And this wasn’t even the end of it all. We had already talked about watching the sunrise, and around 4:30 I heard, “Old Soul…if you want to see the sunrise, you better get up now”. I was pretty tired, but we both walked down the rock again to where we could see the sky better. The sunrise was beautiful, just as I expected. It was also such a peaceful way to start a day. We got to watch the valley below, and the stirrings of life to greet the new day. Even the birds got up later than we did. That said, I had to go take a nap before we started hiking for the day! Astronomer said, “This is what everyone thinks they’re going to experience every day when they come out to hike the AT. That perfect AT experience!” We both laughed about that, because we know these kinds of AT experiences are mixed with a lot of challenging days …but I guess that’s what makes an experience like this so special.
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