That Promised Upbeat Post
I realized a few days ago that my blog posts have all included crying. While they’re all true, and I’ve gotten feedback from people who appreciate that I’m sharing so honestly about how hard this is, I don’t want to leave the impression that I’m merely enduring this journey, because I’m not. It can be hard to get perspective from so deep inside the experience, so this won’t exactly be a bird’s-eye view, but I thought I’d use today’s blogging time to paint a slightly brighter picture of what this is like.
The first few nights in my tent were super tough. I couldn’t get comfortable, it was too cold, and my sleeping bag was trying to suffocate me. Everyone said it took a while to get used to it, and everyone was right.
Now that I’ve been out in the tent for three weeks, minus town nights, I totally love it. (It’s a Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1, if you’re interested.) It’s light and crazy-easy and fast to set up. After doing it so many times and experimenting with the process I’ve come up with what feels an efficient way to get it done. It’s small–about 7 feet long by 3 feet at the head end and 2 at the foot end, and I can sit up in it only if I scoot toward the middle.
There are little mesh pockets for my toilet paper, phone, glasses, headlamp, earbuds, pen, hand sanitizer, wipes, and eye mask. When I get the tent set up, I dust off my pack as best as I can and bring the whole thing inside. I first take out the sleeping bag, air mattress, and small inflatable pillow, and I inflate these and get them organized. Then I take out all my cooking and eating utensils and set them just outside the tent door (assuming it’s not raining). I take out all my other stuff, basically clothes in Ziplocks, and tuck them along the margins. My journal and electronics dry sack go up near my head. The empty pack goes down by my feet, where I do my best to flatten it and still have to let the foot end of my air mattress rest on top of it, which is nice because then I sleep with my feet slightly elevated.
Now, after a long, tiring day walking, I am eager to get my little home set up, and, once in it, I feel cozy and comfortable. It gives me privacy and lets me stretch out my legs and lie back. Of course it’s not as comfortable as a bed, but it’s my own space, set up my way, and it’s surprisingly nice.
As gorgeous as the views from summits and balds can be, they actually can all start to look the same after a while. Rolling, greening mountaintops. After a day in town or a day of rain, they’re definitely prettier and fresher, but they don’t change that much.
What I’ve started to notice and enjoy instead are the little changes along the trail itself, in what’s finally becoming “the green tunnel.” For the first few weeks, there was a lot of brown,
and then after the first rain things greened up a bit, and after more rain, more green, etc.
It’s the individual, unfurling leaves just trailside that capture me–how different from each other they all are. There are tiny, spiky ones that grow straight up. There are copper-tinted green ones. There are some that are so delicate and thin they seem hardly like they should be able to exist. Some are glossy, some curly-edged. Some are red and spaced so far apart on the branch they seem to have been placed there by a bonsai artist, so perfectly is white space utilized. I have snapped some pictures of these budding baby trees,
but mostly I just stop and gaze at them, let them fill my eyes up, use them as an aide to being fully present.
Okay, so you wouldn’t think this would show up in an upbeat post, but the amount of mental space and literal time and percentage of conversations that bodily functions occupy cannot be understated.
There are the logistics of hydration … you need to drink enough water, but you don’t want to pee too often; it’s just inefficient. Plus it wrecks your sleep.
But about that! Having to get out of the tent in the middle of the night to pee was one of my most occupying dreads for months leading up to the trip. But like so many things I worry about, it’s turned out to be mostly just fine, and sometimes a bit of a miracle. Because we all go to bed so early (hiker midnight is 9 p.m.), we don’t actually experience that much night in the woods, so getting up at 2 a.m. for a piss gives me a great opportunity. Once I’ve done my business, I pull up my pants, turn off my headlamp, and look up at the sky. Sometimes it’s pitch dark, like wouldn’t-make-a-difference-to-close-my-eyes dark. Other times there are stars so bright they obviate the need for the headlamp, and once, I woke up and, before peeing, wondered who was shining a headlamp so steadily at my tent, casting tree shadows. I looked outside and it was the moon herself.
And tentside sunrises … wow.
Oh, and one more thing regarding peeing–two days ago I hit a major milestone: I peed without taking my pack off! My hiker legs have come in and I’m strong enough now to squat with the extra weight. What a time saver!
(And, if you’re curious, usually I use leaves to wipe; rhododendron leaves are nice and flat and long and clean plucked right off the bush, plus the rhododendron bush provides privacy. +2!)
I was a little worried they weren’t going to happen, hiker legs, but then one day there they were. I looked up a brutal incline and just knew I would summit it without despair. And I did–and my heart raced and my breath was fast, but I got to the top and didn’t have to stop along the way and took a deep breath and kept going and didn’t have to stop.
I think the zeros I’ve taken for my foot and for waiting on a package and (today) to wait out cold, rainy weather have helped with building this strength. My foot is getting better but not yet 100%, and my speed is increasing, too, and mileage is feeling very doable. I’m still watching that to keep my foot healing, aiming for 10-mile days for at least one more week, but I see 12s and 14s in my not-too-far-off future.
It feels good to be out here, the pack feels lighter, the body feels lean and powerful, the air is fresh, the sounds of nature soothing.
It’s all good. It really is.
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