It was the first night that I had spent all night in the hammock. I actually slept pretty well and enjoyed waking up without having my back hurting. It was a little aggravating having to get out of it three times in the middle of the night to relieve myself. Before this trip I was always one to sleep in tents. I even debated with a friend of mine that hammocks were not as superior in comfort and protection than the tent provides but after enough mornings waking up with back, hip, and knee aches, I knew I needed to try something different. So I went with hat in hand to my friend and asked him to teach me about the illustrious stylings of hanging. I also bought books and read articles. I was immediately sold the next morning that I had made the right decision to take a hammock on the trip.
I was also pleased with the new ENO RainFly that I had previously purchased just days before my trip. The last time I attempted the hammock, I only had two blue tarps from WalMart and although it did ok keeping the rain out the ENO RainFly gave me more head room and gave me a peace of mind more than the tarps did. I was quite pleased with the professional look, the ability to provide protection from the elements and the ease of setup with the ENO rainfly.
I woke with an awareness that the day was going to be a long day. Hiking this same section the year previous, I knew that it was going to take a most of the day to get to the next shelter. That’s a lot of walking and makes for long days, long sections of boredom, thinking, praying, listening to podcast, or making small talk. Boy, did I not realize exactly how long it was going to be. By the end of this day, I would be ready to call it quits and call for my own ride home. But let’s not get in a rush to get to those details just yet.
As we packed our things, I was playing in my mind what the day would bring. All I could wrap my mind around was thirteen miles.
That just seemed like a lot of miles to walk. Breakfast was not that exciting. For me: pop-tarts, hard-boiled eggs and water and an anxious mind of the mileage on the side. I asked Carlo how he was feeling and he made the decision to go forward instead of backwards. The more he thought about it, it was eleven miles back and thirteen miles forward. Either way would be a considerable amount of miles and he felt it better to go forward than backwards. So Carlo jumped out in front of the group and led most of the morning.
We continued clicking off the miles and this made me happy. I used to think that one should not carry electronics with the exception of a phone for emergency reasons. I used to think that I really enjoyed hearing my feet pound the dirt, the slight squeak of the pack, the birds and the wind but before my hike, I acquired an iPod so I brought this with me. I’m really glad I did because let’s face it, sometimes, it really does get boring out on the trail. Trees begin to blend in with one another, birds begin to sound like one another, that irritating squeak from your pack will drive you absolutely crazy over an extended amount of time and the pounding of your feet hitting the dirt becomes a pounding in your feet sending sharp pains to your brain informing you that your feet is not enjoying this walk.
In those times that I had nothing to say to anyone and wanted to take my mind off the ever so painful plod of my feet trekking down a dirt path in the middle of a forest, I popped in my ear buds and allowed the sounds of Allison Krauss, Nickel Creek, Del McCoury Band, Tony Rice, Travis Book, and Merle Haggard to sooth my mind and help me not concentrate on the pain of walking. There is something about the banjo and fiddle that does something to my soul as it trail-blazes its own path from the device to my ears. I don’t like to listen to “electrified” music while I’m out on the trail. I feel it disconnects me from where I am at. I like the instruments to be raw and acoustical as if a musician decided to go to the woods, chop down a tree and fashion himself something to make melody with; where the musician can experience the gratification and reap the musical harvest right where he labored. So I prefer music that is “woodsy” or “folksy”.
Lunch time could not come any sooner. Lunch means not walking. It means rest. It means putting food in my mouth and food is something that hikers constantly and consistently dream about with every step. When can we eat is always the question if asked what we are thinking about. We stopped for a moment to grab a breather and since it was so close we decided to go ahead and take time for lunch. I broke out my stove and cooked up some Ramen Noodles and jerky along with some Pringles. The rest of the guys had something simple and quick.
Mark gathered his things and was putting on his pack and I still had my boots and socks off and hadn’t even cleaned up my cup. I told them to go on if they wanted to. Mark decided him, Josh, and Dalton would hike on down to the road that was near by. Carlo waited on me as I dawdled gathering my things eventually but none too soon setting off to hook up with the others.
A few miles more and Carlo began feeling his foot lock up like it had the day before. The morning seemed to be fine but after lunch, it began to stiffen up on him. 6 miles into our day and we crossed the Trace, the highway that runs between the Lakes connecting the north side to the south side. It was here after we crossed that Carlo called out to us asking if anyone had signal on their phone.
He had decided that he had enough. He had nothing to prove hiking the trail. None of us had anything to prove hiking the trail. We were all doing it for fun and when pain attacks the fun and interjects itself in our play time, it becomes a killjoy, for anybody. Carlo decided that since this was the main highway, he would try to contact his wife to come pick him up here since it would be the easiest place to find us. Mark had signal so after a few attempts, Carlo was able to connect with his wife. She would be here in an hour and Carlo and I would be sitting in the shade on the side of the road waiting. Mark, Josh, and Dalton kept hiking forward and I would catch up with them down the trail most likely at the next shelter, Laura Furnace.
As we waited, Carlo and I talked about how much fun it had been with the exception of the foot pain, made small talk about how he originally hurt it, how his new tent worked for him, the camping chair he brought along and where he would drop me off to continue the hike after he was gone. Time passed and Jaemi came around the corner so Carlo began waving her down. It’s amazing how much after a day of hiking that we stunk. She was real nice about it saying we were supposed to stink, but that still didn’t mean she liked it. I din;t realize just ow bad we stunk till I got in the car and began to smell myself. It had only been a day. I still had five more days to go, a mere 45 miles left to walk. If I stunk now, I couldn’t imagine how bad I would reek by the time I saw my wife and kid. Me and stink would learn to live with each other before the week was over. I was smelling woodsy. (That’s not a good thing with the ladies, men)
A short trip to the other car and back up the trace to grab my pack where I had left it just in the tree line to save on packing it in the car. We found where the trail came close to the road a few miles down and Carlo dropped me off. A short walk up the rise and I was back on the trail.
I estimated that I had skipped about three miles. I had a renewed sense of energy about me. My pack felt great. I felt great. I was on the trail by myself. It was near 70 degrees. The sun was shinning, birds were singing. Everything seemed a bit too perfect. As I walked, I really felt amazing. I’m not sure what it was. My inner dream of being on the trail? Being by myself on the trail? Walking to the beat of my own drummer? I’m not really sure but I looked up to the sky and just gave a grin to God and thanked Him for such an amazing moment.
That sense somewhat faded after I began to become aware that I was still a few good miles off from the shelter. I began to get hot and sweaty and was running out of water in my Camelback. I was walking up a hill when I ran into two guys coming towards me. We stopped just for a second to talk about the trail and the weather. I told them thunderstorms were supposed to be coming in that night. They didn’t seem to happy about that. They mentioned they had come from North Welcome and I said that’s where I was headed. I asked them if they had come upon anybody the last few miles and they said no so I knew I was ahead of my group instead of behind them. The one guy in the back looked a little frustrated and didn’t act like he wanted to take the time to talk. So I made short of small talk and they were on their way.
I was looking for the spur trail to the shelter knowing I had to be coming up on it soon. I came to what looked like a cross roads of forest roads but was unsure if that was where I needed to turn. I waited for a few minutes with a slight hope that the guys would be not too far behind me but they never showed and I didn’t want to wait much longer. There was no markings or blazes except for the white blaze that marked the N/S trail so I decided to keep going forward. I knew where the Laura Furnace Fork was and if I had hit that, I knew how to get to the shelter from there.
Finally, after some time, I came across a green sign at the bottom of a hill that showed 2.5 miles to Laura Furnace Fork. I remembered from last year this is where we came to when we left Laura Furnace Shelter from the spur trail. The N/S trail went left and a yellow diamond marking either the spur trail or a horse trail went right. I decided to walk down the yellow trail and see if I see anything familiar.
I came to a creek crossing on my left and knew that when I hiked it last year that we had crossed the creek but this one didn’t look familiar so I continued on about another half mile to another creek crossing on my left. This one didn’t look too familiar either. I stood there scratching my head because I truly could not place where we had walked the year before. I didn’t want to go any further. I was about a mile off the N/S Trail, I was tired, feet hurting and had put in enough miles and for the day and didn’t want to back track. A quick thought came to me that the creek was running what I thought was the wrong way so I decided the shelter must be up the creek not down the creek. I decided to head back to the green sign and start over. By the time I reached the green sign, Mark, Josh, and Dalton were coming down the hill.
They agreed that the shelter spur trail was down the yellow trail. We were all unsure where but we figured it was down there. When we came to the first creek crossing, Mark decided to cross and go look. We walked across the field on the other side into the woods but there was no clearing for the shelter. Mark checked his GPS and walked over the ridge. We all separated about 50 yards apart. I decided that it was foolish to try to find the shelter based on memory and an unmarked GPS so I went back to the trail. I turned back towards the sign. The others came out on the trail and went towards the other creek crossing further down. We went opposite ways.
I was still low on water and didn’t have time to refill. The sun was getting lower and based on how many fingers I could put up between the sun and the horizon, I still had an hour of sun and maybe two hours of light left to get to the shelter. I took off towards what I knew would get me there, the N/S trail towards the fork. The trail began to climb from this point to the top of the ridge. This was 2.5 miles of climbing a trail that was rutted out by horses and full of mud. The terrain was not only slippery but dangerous. One could easily slip and fall or worse pull a muscle if in a hurry like I was. Not to mention the anger I was harboring for trying to follow a guess of where the shelter was based on my location on a GPS.
I finally and reached the top of the ridge where I found the fork very exhausted and dehydrated; to the left continued the N/S trail and to the right led down the ridge to the shelter another mile away. I was out of water, exhausted and fatigued. My muscles were beginning to tighten and the sun had dropped below the horizon. I would have stayed on the ridge had it not been that a thunderstorm was coming in and I was out of water. I had no choice but to go another mile to the shelter only to come back up the next morning to continue north. I called my wife since I had signal to say hello. I quickly dropped the signal and dropped the call. I put my phone away and convinced myself I could make it to the shelter.
Upon arrival, I noticed the others were already there, had a fire started, and were resting. They didn’t make much of my foolishness and I didn’t say much because I knew that I had made a mistake. The second creek crossing actually was the crossing to the shelter. When I stood there earlier looking at the crossing, I was merely 200 yards away from the shelter. Instead, because of my ignorance, I added another three miles to my hike. Sometimes, I let my anger get the best of me.
I set up my hammock, filtered three liters of water and laid down in my hammock. I didn’t say much to the others. I was too embarrassed and too weak. The longer I laid in my hammock the more I began to feel sick. I began to feel the chills, get a headache, nausea, my back muscles were tightening up and I had lost my appetite. Later about 7:00, I gathered enough strength and sat by the fire with the others and made small talk but I didn’t even feel like doing that. 8:00 rolled around and I went to bed. I shivered in my hammock with four layers of clothes on and my head was killing me. I began to seat profusely and with not much water in me, this simply meant I was dehydrating myself even more.
I began to feel that if I felt like this in the morning I would turn in. When (if) I got to Golden Pond, I would call it quits. I didn’t want to be a quitter but I was beginning to feel the same as Carlo did; it’s no longer fun. I asked God to help me. I asked him to heal me so I could finish but also give me wisdom. I thought about one of the reasons I was doing this hike. Before the hike, I had announced that I was hiking for a purpose; to bring awareness to mental health. I raised money for Hiking For Mental Health. This was more than just a hike for me. I was praying for those that donated to my fundraiser. How could I quit when those I was praying for or hiking for could not quit. It simply wasn’t fair that I would do that.
But was it really worth it? I was miserable. I was feeling so awful. I didn’t want to continue. I wanted to quit right there!!! So do people with mental issues. That’s why suicide among those with mental health issues is on the rise. It’s a quick fix, a fast out. Quitting is so easy to do but for me, it wasn’t the right thing to do.
About three o’clock I woke up and knew I needed to eat something whether I felt like it or not. I grabbed a pack of almonds, some Clif bars, a liter of water and some “Vitamin I” (Ibuprofen). I finished it all and got back in my sleeping bag. The thunderstorms never came. There were a few sprinkles of rain but the brunt of the storm went north of us. I listened to a pack of coyotes in the far distance as lay there trying to go back to sleep. I was feeling miserable. Maybe I could be coyote’s midnight snack. I’m not sure I could out run them. I just wanted to fall asleep and forget about the misery I was experiencing.