Saturday, August 18, 2012

Musings on Backpacking

The following post was written several, if not many, years ago during my days of adventure tripping masquerading as actual work.  It remains the coolest job I've ever had. 

Coming around a bend in the trail, I let out a gasp loud enough for my companions to hear.  I smile, they smile, for we all know the same thing: it is time for a break.  There could be no more perfect spot than this creek, under these trees, in the middle of a glorious, Georgia, July day; it approaches what heaven must be like.
                Here on the Gahuti trail, winding around Fort Mountain in North Georgia,   we’re a scant 2 miles into our trip.  The group, 12 beginners plus their fearless guides, is large and unwieldy and more than a little out of shape.  We’re taking it slow, walking for pleasure and fitness through the still forest.  When we happen upon a beautiful stream intersecting our path, we waste no time shedding our modern torture devices and relaxing on the best seats in Mother Nature’s house.
                For most hikers this could be a relaxing, beautiful day-hike accomplished in time to retire to town for a hearty meal.  For us, the 8.2 mile loop trail is a chance to take that initial baby-step into the strange and mysterious world of backpacking.  We’ve planned for a 1.5 day, overnight trip that breaks for the evening 5-or-so miles into the trip.  The assistant guide and I have estimated that we’ll reach our Adirondack shelter well before night fall. 
Sitting at the creek, waiting for a turn with the water filter, I’m rethinking our optimistic timeline; its approaching 3p.m with less than half the day’s distance completed.  I fill my bottle to the brim, knowing that this water will taste better than anything I’ve ever had; I’m not disappointed.  When I recover from my near religious experience, I get out the map and my luxury item, dried pineapple, to decide on a backup plan if we continue to make molasses-in-January  progress. 
                Knowing the group’s determination to complete this trip, I file away a few options in the mental folder and get to my feet; it’s time to move on.  Loading up is accompanied by extra sighs and groans as our bodies readjust to the packs.  Taking the lead, I start back up a gorgeous section of trail; humming despite my deadline concern, I’m feeling at one with the world.
                Through sheer determination and willpower, no doubt fueled by a wish to avoid sleeping scattered throughout the allegedly ghost-inhabited woods, we make our shelter with thirty minutes to spare.    Relief is apparent in the tone of the group’s voices as we set up tents and make chore assignments for dinner.  As so often happens, boundless energy arises the moment the packs hit the dirt, and we harness that exuberance to get food on the make. 
                Much later, after the group has drifted into their tents and bags, after the last headlamp has been extinguished, I sit alone with the assistant guide, soaking in the night noises.  We hear frogs, crickets, cicadas, and something much larger: maybe a bear, but probably a raccoon.  Admiring the stars overhead I think back on the pain and effort expended to get me to this place and smile, secure in the knowledge that it will all be forgotten by morning, when only the beauty remains.

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