Spontaneous Adventures from Wildcat (August 10)
The tough hiking continues on today, up and over multiple peaks of Wildcat Mountain. This crazy mountain boasts a million peaks- from my guide book I can see that the trail crosses over Wildcat Mountain peaks E, D, C, A, in that order. I’m still feeling exhausted from the climbs through the Whites yesterday, so it doesn’t take much to make me feel tired. I’m thinking of this as I climb over peak D, where I find a good diversion.
Here I can see a ski lift running in full operation despite the summer season. Even though the slope is not ski-able, the lift runs year-round for tourists. A couple other hikers stand nearby, studying the lift like me. We’re all wondering if it’s worth the fee to take a break from the trail. A restaurant sits at the bottom of the mountain, offering some promising food options, at least in my imagination. I stand there a while longer, then decide I want to ride it. One of the hikers says to me, “You can keep Crocodile company. He’s going too!” Crocodile is a young hiker, with a million gadgets hanging off his pack, and I can see that like me, he qualifies for the “ultra-heavy” club- his pack is rather large. I can’t help asking him about a large plastic half gallon jug he carries- apparently he uses it to “collect blueberries”. I have to laugh at that one, at the specificity of this container. To each his own! We ride the gondola together down the mountain. It’s kind of a trick to even get started- we have to step into the lift as it’s moving, and try to keep our balance despite the difficulty of balancing large packs. The lift operator tries to steady our car and help, then says, “Have fun!”
Crocodile wears a small video camera device like a headlamp, on top of the brim of his hat. I’ve never seen one of these before. He takes it off and sticks it out the window as we descend, to record the journey down the hill. This really makes me laugh (no moment is un-recordable anymore), though I have to admit that I’m impressed with how long the ride takes on both the descent and ascent. It takes a very long time! It makes us both feel proud that we climbed to this height on our own two feet earlier today. Croc readjusts the camera on his hat brim and I start to say something about how far we’ve come. I notice the camera is still blinking and I ask, “Is that thing still on?” He says, “Oh yeah, I can turn it off if you want!” I think this is pretty funny. If I don’t watch out, our entire afternoon is going to be on camera!
There are other amusing moments throughout this spontaneous adventure. Croc says, “I’m sorry I never asked you this (even though we’ve just met, ha), but, what made you decide to hike the AT?” I tell him something about feeling ready for an adventure, and when I ask him he says, “A journey of self confidence, I guess you could say”. He pauses, then smiles almost to himself, and says, “I think it’s working.” I have to laugh too, it’s so nice and funny. I enjoy Croc’s company- he seems polite, quiet, innocent and nerdy. This is proving a relaxing afternoon off the trail, just what I hoped for.
Croc tells me about the meteor showers (Perseid meteor showers) that are close to peak the next few days. He’s hoping to find an open area to camp to observe them. We grab a snack at the restaurant and chat with some amazed tourists eating nearby- they ask us all the common questions about living out of a pack and how much our packs weigh and such. Eventually Croc and I catch the ski lift again and head back up the mountain. At the top we part ways, as we hike at different paces.
I have a relaxed evening cooking dinner and setting up camp a few miles later. I plan to watch the stars from my tent, as I have a small patch of clear sky above me. I’m relaxing at the site when I hear someone hiking up the hill towards me. Soon I recognize Croc again, muttering, “You just don’t know when to stop, do you? That was a perfectly good spot back there, but no, you just had to keep going!” I laugh and say, “Croc, is that you?” I tell him he can set up his hammock in this space too, if he wants. I know from scouting around that there isn’t anything clear nearby. He decides that this is a good idea. As he sets up, he says to me, “Sorry if I scared you, I was chastising myself for not stopping sooner…sometimes I talk to myself when I hike. It makes the time go by and keeps the critters away!” This is stated in such an honest, self-accepting way, it makes me smile. Croc is a gentle spirit.
This isn’t the first time I’ve come across someone talking to themselves on the trail. Just a few weeks ago, I passed a friend belting out musical tunes to the trees as he hiked. It was so merry in the middle of the woods1 He was completely unphased by my presence- after I passed I overheard him stumble and then say to himself, “No, no, no, I’ve told you this before! Left, right, left! You’re always tripping me!” I laughed and laughed, it was so nice to overhear someone so amused by his own company! Another friend told me that he finds many things to talk out loud about on the trail- upcoming project ideas, solutions to problems, you name it. When you’re out here alone for so long, sometimes you embrace yourself as your own best friend! Or at least, as a source of amusement.
As Croc strings up his hammock, he tells me his plan to set up camp, then hike up in the middle of the night to the top of our mountain to star gaze. I feel torn, but eventually I decide to come too- it seems too much of an adventure to miss out on. Soon we pack up a few things and set off. I let Croc borrow my string bag and he stuffs as much as he can in there. This is hilarious to observe, especially once we get started. He packs at least three coats, and every time he tries to stuff another one in, something else falls out. I just have to stand and watch and laugh at the situation, and he laughs then too. He said, “I got stuck in the cold once and vowed I would never do that to myself again!”
The climb up is really tough, but I feel proud of myself for going (in spite of my fear of the woods in the dark), and I know Croc appreciates the company. He says, “This is more enjoyable than usual. When I’ve hiked in the dark alone before, every sound makes me think of wild critters nearby.” I feel surprised and inspired by how independent Croc is. For such a young (18) hiker, he definitely embraces the mantra, “Hike your own hike”. He’s told me of different adventures he’s undertaken on the trail now, different times that he’s gone out on his own to find a scenic camping spot. He doesn’t seem to mind striking out on his own and embracing some discomfort for the sake of a good experience ahead. Croc is truly taking advantage of all the opportunities each day out here offers him.
I definitely wouldn’t be out here if I hadn’t met Croc. Night hiking is something I try to avoid, instead relishing the comfort and security of my tent. But sometimes it pays to do something different. On this night, our flashlights catch all the glitter in the rocks and made them sparkle, a fitting prelude to stargazing. I can only see a small chunk of trail within the glow of my light at a time. This forces me to literally focus on just taking one step at a time!
I wish I could say that we see many shooting stars at a time, but instead we see a cloudy sky. We both set out our sleeping bags and fell asleep, waking much later to cold, thunder, and lightning! I wake Croc and we started our descent back to our campsite, hoping it won’t rain. We make it back just as the sky begins lightening with dawn.
This day is one I’ll remember for how spontaneous it was. What a gift to be so free, each day free to embrace the different opportunities that arise. Croc inspires me to continue to seek out adventures within the adventure out here.
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