Week One: A Very Picturesque Brick Wall
I didn’t sleep much the night before, mind racing through lists and lists of things “to do”. I think I even had a stress dream about leaving for Pawling with nothing but a roll of toilet paper and my trekking poles. But the sun came up, my alarm went off and the day of departure had arrived. Kat and I (GPS) began our flip-flop thru-hike on June 13th around 2:30 PM. My wonderful parents dropped us off and my Dad was our very first “visitor” for a mile or so. It was the perfect start to our adventure, a pastoral scene right out of Jane Austen. We clambered over three stiles and made our way through sunbathed fields of sweet smelling hay.
For my first “on trail” post, I’m going to give you a small list of highs and lows with some tips and descriptions thrown in.
Have you ever accidentally walked into a brick wall? Or a telephone post? I lived in Manhattan for a couple years and remember walking into one of those CitiBike hubs–sharp pain, shock, discomfort, hilarity.
I’ve experienced all of the above to varying degrees this first week. I add “picturesque” because it’s been an absolutely beautiful brick wall.
Let’s start with the lows because they’re more entertaining.
- Et tu, Appetite?
At home, I am an expert “grazer”. As soon as one meal is finished, I find myself peering into the fridge for another morsel of goodness. You’ve all probably heard of hiker hunger. It’s that ravenous sensation in your belly prompting you to dump trail mix, honey, tuna, peanutbutter and snickers bars into a tortilla to frantically wolf down. Since our bodies are burning so many calories, it’s nearly impossible for us to replace them sufficiently without eating like crazed shipwrecked sailors after thirty days in a lifeboat. I wasn’t completely sure what my appetite would do in the first week. Well, it walked out on me after day one; which is unfortunate because I’m finally allowed to consume candy bars and fruit snacks without guilt. I’ve spent the week choking down calories and craving yogurt and prunes (don’t ask). Hopefully, in a couple weeks, it will return to me but for now, I feel like I’ve lost a true friend.
Tip: Try and snack all day if you can. A bar/snack per hour is usually helpful. And do not hike immediately after your midday meal. Give yourself a little time to digest (and time for your socks to air out a little bit).
2. The “stank”
There are no two ways about it. Sweating profusely for ten days with no shower leads to an inescapable cloud of stench. I tried running away from it but I wasn’t fast enough, even with hiker legs. I knew it would be rough, but I couldn’t know the extent until I felt my eyes smarting and noticed my socks walking by themselves. I’m sure I will begin to get used to it but it’s pretty shocking at first.
Tip: A normal amount of stank is to be expected. But, you should continue to practice good hygiene if only for minimal mental sanity. Bug bites which are regularly cleaned at home might become infected on the trail. At the end of the day, make a habit of sponge bathing/wiping down and changing immediately afterward into camp clothes. I use Action wipes (but you can use any wipes or even a bandana in a bag/container of water). Brush your teeth and check for ticks. I’m going to periodically rinse/wash and hang t-shirt and shorts when the going gets really rough.
Let’s move on to some highs. Yay!
Yes, it is a strange word. But it’s the only one I could think of to describe the state of mind I sometimes reach on the trail. It’s usually a mile or two into the hike. At the beginning of the day, my legs protest and I break into a sweat instantly. After awhile, a rhythm is established and my heart slows down. Soon, my legs relax and start to feel stronger. Eventually, my mind clears, my hands unclench and my shoulders begin to rest into the task at hand. Suddenly, I hear the bird song all around. I breathe in the smell of sun warmed pine and lift up my head to see a path lined with towering trees. Yes, I’m still sweating and my legs still hurt, but once I’ve reached this “groove”, my body lets my mind wander. Sometimes, I’ll reminisce or day dream. Other times, I’ll recite a prayer or verse. Often, an annoying song will get stuck on replay. But I love those moments– when you’re hiking like it’s your job and then you look up and actually see where you are.
Tip: Even on short days and especially long days, remember to pace yourself. Start slow/ steady and build up. Hike rhythmically and wait until you feel your muscles hit a “groove”. When you stop for water or a snack, don’t sit down or your legs will stiffen up. If you do sit down, try not to stay there for too long. It’ll be way harder to get back up. Breathe deeply and notice the smells of the trail. Look around you and appreciate the sights.
2. Day 7
On day 7, Kat and I covered a ten mile day to Glen Brook campsite in MA. AWOL showed some substantial elevation changes with three mountains to summit. The weather was absolutely beautiful; sunny, breezy and mild. Our first mountain was Bear– a very cool climb with a rock observation tower on top. Soon after Bear, we entered Sage’s Ravine, an incredible stretch of trail that followed a rushing creek mostly downhill. It was like a mountain spa: waterfalls, mossy rocks, and deep swimming holes. I wondered if we had finally found Tolkien’s Rivendell. Our second climb was Race Mtn. Boy, were we in for a treat! A whole half mile of the trail up Race is an exposed ridge line looking out over the lush, green MA valley. Three birds were gliding on upstreams– soaring, bobbing and beckoning. Mountain laurel crowned the summit and short, gnarly pine trees gestured in the breeze. It was breathtaking. I paused and imagined throwing my arms out wide and soaring over the valley with the birds. It was a long, tiring day but so many moments took my breath away and provided refreshment unlike any Snickers bar or sip of water.
Tip: Go one day at a time. One day, you might be dead tired, nauseous, boiling and bloated. The next, you might find yourself hydrated, hungry, happy and perched on a warm rock drinking in a view that makes you want to weep for the wonder of it. Keep putting one stinky foot in front of the other. If it feels better to keep your head down, then keep it down. But every so often, wipe away the grime and look up. You never know what beauty your eyes might behold.
So, this picturesque brick wall that I’ve walked into on our first week has bruised me a bit. Homesickness has caused even more of an ache than some of the hard climbs. But there is no doubt about it. This difficult adventure will strengthen as it tests. It will heal even as it hurts. And my goodness, I will never take showers for granted ever again.
cheers and happy hiking!
“For you shall go out in joy and be lead forth in peace. The mountains and the hills before you shall break forth in singing. All the trees of the field shall clap their hands”. Isaiah 55:12
Start: Pawling, NY June 13
Currently: just over MA border
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