Shake Down Hike #1: The Pain Train
We went for a ride on the pain train last weekend… We completed just shy of 20 miles in the Middle Prong and Shining Rock Wilderness Areas and it HURT.
I just started a new position at work and am in training for the next few weeks. Normally, I would ask my boss to leave early on Friday and make up the time earlier in the week, but I just cannot do that while in training. Work ends at 5pm for me in a very, very, very busy business park. Amazingly, I was able to bolt out about 10 minutes early and beat the rush hour traffic to get home. Gordon was ready to leave when I got home, we packed the last few things into the car and headed out of town. We rolled up to the parking area around 10:30 pm, hopped out of the car, strapped on our headlamps, slid into our hiking boots and hoisted on our packs and started our hike into the darkness. The route we had planned started us on the Mountains to Sea Trail to Green Mountain to Fork Mountain. Neither of us had hiked in this area before, so we really had no idea what we were about to get into. The Mountains to Sea trail started off pretty mellow. A little up, a little down and the whole time next to a little creek. About 11:30 pm we were about ready to call it a night, so we picked a spot right off the trail that was flat-ish and just barely big enough for our tent. We set up camp, curled up in our bags and fell asleep.
We woke up in the morning a little chilly. It wasn’t freezing overnight, but it did reach a fairly cold point. You know that slightly uncomfortable point where your body is warm, but ANY bit of your face that is out of the bag feels like it’s freezing. We got up and out of our tent before we talked ourselves into sleeping in late and staying curled up in the warm sleeping bags. Our hike continued on the Mountains to Sea trail for a short while until we found what looked to be a trail off to the right.
The next section of the trail was Green Mountain, rated as difficult and without blazes. This section was to follow the top of the ridge-line, then down the ridge to a creek where we would start on the Fork Mountain Trail. The Green Mountain trail was something else. It is very obvious that it is not hiked from beginning to end very often. At first it was kinda fun. It wasn’t blazed so you were just looking for clues on where the trail might be… and we had all weekend, so no big deal if we got lost. A few hours go by and we start the big descent. This is where the trail is not heavily traveled. We had no idea if we were on the trail for a while. It felt like straight bushwhacking through the woods. Then the REAL descent started. It was so steep in sections I just couldn’t be on my feet. We both fell, a lot… My knees started to hurt, my ankles started to hurt, my hips started to hurt. I fell at one point and just laid there. I didn’t know how in the world I was going to make it the rest of the way down. An eternity later, we made it to the road and to the creek.
Finding the road and the creek seemed like the best thing ever. Until we looked at the map and realized the elevation we just lost, we were going to make back up. But the up looked a little more forgiving. We also then realized we were going to have to cross the creek, which was pretty wide and didn’t have any good spot to cross. Also, we had no idea where the trail was on the other side. When looking across the creek, all we saw was steep land. All of a sudden, we see someone pop out of the woods on the other side of the creek. Turned out to be a whole group of people doing trail maintenance! Chatted to them for a few minutes, gave them our report of the other trail and they gave us their report of what they had just worked on. So, we took off our boots and started to cross the creek. The water was SO SO SO cold. It felt great on our throbbing feet for a few minutes, then it was just plain freezing. Got across and started our climb up Fork Mountain. We had decided that we wanted to at least get up almost to the top before setting up camp. The climb up was better than our climb down on Green Mountain. Fork mountain at least had a ton of switchbacks to make for an easier grade and with the work the trail crew had just put in the trail was really easy to find. Oh, yeah, Fork Mountain is another trail that is not blazed….
A very painful 2 miles later, we found the perfect spot to set up camp for the evening. It was getting dark quickly, so we made our dinner, scarfed it down and curled up into the warmth of our tent and sleeping bags. By this time on the trail we had crossed from the Middle Prong Wilderness to the Shining Rock Wilderness area. What you need to know, is that the Shining Rock Wilderness Area has had a lot of bear activity. There are sections that are currently closed to camping because of the bears and it is mandatory to use a bear canister in areas camping is permitted. So, we fell asleep right after the sunset and fell asleep while the wind was blowing and everything seemed right in the woods. Well, about 3 am I woke up because I was having nightmares about an exam I have coming up. I jolted awake thinking “the answer was c!!! I didn’t see the word EXCEPT!” We all know how those multiple choice questions are, and super tricky when they throw in the word except. Anyway, I jolted awake and was feeling a little panicked. I immediately noticed how quite and still the woods was. Almost eerie quiet. Then I heard a “knock, knock, knock” and a “rustle, rustle” of the leaves. Oh shit! A bear! is trying to get our food. Meanwhile, Gordon is sawing logs in his sleep. I nudge him awake and tell him something is trying to get our food out of the tree. He brushes me off and is snoring within seconds. Between 3 am and 7 am I got minimal sleep. Awake every 30-45 minutes with questions and multiple choice answers rolling around in my brain and then another 30-45 minutes to fall back asleep trying to tell myself there is not a bear about to eat my food or me.
Morning finally came and we got up to find our food was still hanging way up in the tree and the ground below it undisturbed. Gordon said we cannot go camping again unless I have earplugs for the night time, and I’m okay with that. My imagination runs WILD at night. The hike out on Sunday was approximately 10 miles and SUPER easy compared to Saturday. The Fork Mountain trail had less bushwhacking than the Green Mountain trail, but still no blazes. We did get off trail once, but quickly found our way back. Our last section of our weekend was on a very easy section of trail. I chose that section because it was listed as “hike/bike/equestrian” use, so I figured it would be mellow-ish, and it was. It was wide and flat. This was the most “scenic” part of the weekend. There were about 5 waterfalls in a 3 mile stretch. It made all of the pain hurt just a little less.
The Pain Train
It was an absolutely beautiful weekend, and we got to test out a lot of stuff. One big takeaway is cold English Muffins are gross…. and that I need earplugs for sleeping. We tested out some freezer bag meals, our new “to us” tent, some cold weather gear and a sleeping pad. Lots of awesomeness, and LOTS of pain. We rode the pain train, actually my legs are still chugging along on the pain train. But it was all worth it.
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