Major Tom to Ground Control…
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this hike so far, it’s that I am not in control. I can’t stop people from getting injured. I can’t change the rugged terrain. And I certainly can’t influence Mother Nature to suit my schedule, no matter how carefully I’ve planned. It seems this journey isn’t going to go the way I expected, throwing me constantly off balance. All I can do is accept the challenge — and do my best to adjust.
So here is what has happened in the past few days: Barfly had to end her hike because of her injured knee. So did Trail Dog, another hiker our age who was keeping us company from time to time. John and I are suddenly on our own, which is sad and different — and maybe a little scary after hearing how a bear snuck up behind Trail Dog and stole his food bag from only ten feet away!
The terrain has gotten tougher. Okay, we pretty much expected that to happen as we headed north. But we assumed we’d be getting stronger as the hike went on and could handle whatever came our way. And we are definitely stronger. Leaner, too (John has lost 20 pounds!). But all the conditioning in the world can’t compensate for the toll long-distance hiking takes on an aging body or make the mountains easier.
So we’ve started taking more “zero” days (complete days off to rest). We’ve begun slackpacking some of the more grueling parts to ease the impact on our legs. (Slackpacking means leaving your heavy pack with someone so you can hike lighter, then having that person shuttle you back to the trail the next day.) And in a couple of spots we’ve simply had to accept that the conditions and terrain were too treacherous for us to safely maneuver and figure out a way around. Of course it’s humbling (and extremely annoying when some energetic 20 year old lopes past us as we gasp for breath) but we can’t alter the mountains or change our age.
We almost got hypothermia twice. The first time was in a downpour. We were hiking through Connecticut (which is, for the record, an absolutely gorgeous state) and got wet. Not just damp, mind you, but completely and thoroughly drenched — proving that if it rains long and hard enough even “waterproof” gear will fail. As the afternoon wore on — and the temperature began to drop — we realized how badly we needed to warm up. Fortunately there was a hotel nearby with an available room. (And that hot shower was worth every cent!) My profuse apologies to Mark, the owner of the Cornwall Inn, though, for leaving his beautiful car seat covered in mud.
The second incident was more serious. We set off on a tough 13-mile section over Bear Mountain, CT and Mt. Everett, MA. We didn’t have all our gear with us because we were slackpacking, but we thought we were prepared. And even though it started sleeting soon after we started out, we were fine (we had on fleece tops and rain jackets which block the wind). As long as we kept moving we stayed warm — until we came to a river on the Massachusetts border. It was swollen because of the recent deluge and raging past. There were stepping stones across it, but they were all submerged — and there was no other way around. So we took a deep breath and worked our way slowly across, thankfully managing to stay upright and not get swept downstream.
But our feet got soaked. The wind picked up, and then it began to snow. We were cold, but still okay — until we finished our hike and I realized I’d failed to properly notify our shuttle driver of our arrival time and place (entirely my fault). As a result, we had to wait an hour for her to arrive. It continued to snow in the meantime. We got so chilled we resorted to huddling together inside a privy to stay warm.
Of course we learned from that mistake. We also learned that there are currently 30 inches of snow on the ground just north of us in Vermont. So once again we need to assess the situation and adjust. Will it warm up before we get there? Should we take a couple of weeks off at home before we hike further north? Right now we don’t know. We’ll finish Massachusetts and then decide. Or rather the mountains will decide it for us. It seems we’re just passengers on this crazy ride.
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