The Sound of Cosmic Laughter
From what I’ve read, thru-hiking the Appalachian trail teaches us important lessons. There will be things we need to learn, aspects of our lives we have to come to grips with during our ordeals. If this is true, I have a sneaking suspicion that my lesson will involve recognizing how little control I actually have over my life — because so far, absolutely nothing that I’ve done to prepare for my thru-hike has gone as planned.
Here’s an example: Since my husband and I have no hammocking skills (or recent camping experience, to be honest), I figured we’d go about learning how to use our hammocks in a methodical way. (1) First, we’d set them up in the basement and sleep in them for a couple of nights to get used to how they feel. (2) After that, we’d set them up on the deck for a night or two, then graduate to a nearby campground where we could take refuge in our car if things didn’t work out. (3) Finally, we’d do a multi-night shakedown hike on the local section of the AT to iron out any remaining kinks. This way, by the time we started our thru-hike in the spring we’d be seasoned hammockers, all ready to go.
It seemed like a good idea — and it probably would have been, except that I waited too long to order our hammocks (Warbonnet Blackbird XLC). They finally arrived a couple weeks ago, but the top quilts I ordered (Enlightened Equipment Revelation) are apparently coming across the country on foot because they are nowhere in sight. I haven’t decided on our tarps yet, either. I’m still dithering over whether to buy cuben fiber tarps that are ultra lightweight or sil nylon ones that offer more privacy. (I’m leaning toward less weight, privacy be damned.) In the meantime, winter weather has arrived, making it difficult to camp outdoors.
But that still left the basement, right? So after a trip to the hardware store, my husband rigged up some ropes to the floor joists. Excited, we headed downstairs to attach our hammocks and try them out. But when we pulled the first one out of its stuff sack we realized that we were lost. We couldn’t figure out which end of the hammock was which. The whoopie slings weren’t as simple as we’d thought. We pulled up a couple of Youtube videos for a quick tutorial and managed to attach the hammock to the ropes…then spent the next hour playing Goldilocks. The hammock was too low, and then too high. The ridgeline was too tight, and then too slack. The angle was all wrong. The ropes needed to be farther apart. After a lot of frustration and watching a few more videos (can I give a shout-out here to Youtube?), we decided the ropes simply weren’t going to work. We’d have to go outside in the blustery wind and find some trees.
It took yet another how-to video – and another half hour of practice – to learn how to put a Marlin spike hitch in the tree straps, but once we felt marginally competent, we drove to the local community college in search of a likely spot.
Of course, it would have been too easy to do all this last summer when the weather was mild. So with the cold wind whipping, and our fingers freezing, we tried to set our hammock up. We raised it into roughly the right position, shivering the entire time. Hurrying, we tried to get the tie-out stakes into the ground, finally abandoning that effort for another day. We then took a couple of quick turns getting in and out of the hammock, trying to imagine spending the night swinging from the trees. The hammock was cozy and nice…but it was cold! We attached the underquilt, but without a top quilt and tarp to block the wind, it didn’t do any good.
Still, we’d managed to hang up the hammock. It was crooked and sloppy with the bug net hanging loose, but at least we’d made a start. We took it down in record time, then hopped back into our warm car and drove home, sobered by the realization that we were nowhere near ready to camp. We still haven’t figured out the tie-downs. We’re still clueless about the tarp. And I can’t imagine trying to set all this up after an exhausting day on the trail, or worse yet, in the pouring rain.
So here we are, four months from the start of our thru-hike, and nothing has gone as planned. I still don’t have all my equipment. What I do have, I don’t know how to use. Foot problems have set back my conditioning. I haven’t even begun to think about our food. In fact, I have yet to spend a single night in the woods!
Did I mention that I’m starting to panic? Or that I thought this part would be easy? Am I insane to still think I can do this? Please tell me that isn’t the sound of cosmic laughter I hear!
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