Lately I have to step back and give myself a mental pinch, as if to say ‘who am I and why am I sleeping in a tent?’
Clay and I recently spent 6 days outside in the backcountry of the U.P. That’s 24/7 wilderness for roughly 144 hours and It’s the longest I’ve been outside, ever. I know people do this all the time, but Clay and I were not those people. We were enthusiastic day hikers who had no interest in tent life. “Hotel people, not camping people” we would say as we day hiked and frolicked through the wilderness before heading back to the Marriott. Because day hikers and backpackers are very different. Day hikers have ice in their nalgenes. They get to flush their toilet paper. Backpackers are smelly. End of discussion.
But I’m 31 and I know some things. Like how my curiosity will (almost) always trump whatever silly identity I construct for myself. I also know that I am forever competitive even if it’s just me v. me, because I like to see if I have what it takes. Sometimes I do. Other times I end up sitting on a park bench at Cedar Point alone, because it turns out I don’t like roller coasters after all.
After a long series of events this same curiosity has led me into the woods, quite literally. Neither Clay or I had been camping in our adult lives, but we bought a tent anyway based on an educated hunch and we hiked and camped our way through summer. During this puppy love phase we often wondered why we didn’t embark on any of these grand adventures before. And then we backpacked the entire Pictured Rocks lakeshore and we remembered.
Because it’s hard. I’m not trying to whine, just being honest. Of course I’m not comfortable carrying a 30-40 lb. bag on my back, but I do love knowing that everything I need is right there. No one likes blisters. No one likes giant mosquito bites. No one likes voracious chipmunks that eat through bags just to gnaw on some AA batteries. No one is having the time of their life setting up a tent in a downpour.
Some of us are more composed than others, but everyone has a breaking point. Mine happens sometime around day 3 and/or every day after lunch. At that point we’ve already hiked a cumulative 34 miles but we still have 3 more until we reach our campsite. That’s when my body reaches a level of exhaustion I didn’t know was possible. When taking another step is so painful I actually believe it will kill me. Day hikers will walk by with pep in their step and the patronizing scent of their freshly laundered clothes will deflate me. At this point, my agony, defeat, and exhaustion usually manifests into some kind of ridiculous tantrum.
During our hike in Pictured Rocks I vented my exasperations verbally and physically by smacking my walking stick against whatever rock looked at me funny or dared to get too close. I’m not proud of this. Those poor rocks didn’t see it coming.
I hate hiking so much in those moments, but I also love that exhaustion in an inexplicable way. (Always after the fact. Never during.) I like the seclusion of a multi day hike and the invitation it gives to be authentic (and apparently my authentic self needs to wail a stick against a rock whenever she gets a case of the grumpies).
But I love the silence of hiking and the meditative aspects of walking for hours. The humbling beauty of maples, ferns, moss, and pines. I love the slow and simple rhythm of the day. Wake up. Boil water. Make Coffee. Pack up. Eat breakfast on the trail. Hike. Pray. Hike. Talk. Hike. Listen to Clay sing made up songs. Hike. Lunch. Hike until someone is so sore they start thrashing their walking stick against innocent rocks. Laugh. Hike 3-5 more miles. Suck it up but cry a little on the inside. Get to camp. Rejoice! Set it all up. Filter water. Lay in hammock until walking is an option again. Bourbon. Dinner. Maybe a fire. Relax. Recharge. Rest. Repeat.
It’s all like a weird drug. It’s beyond rewarding. And it’s legal.
This trip was a perfect way to end our summer, and can not recommend this trail enough. They have bear boxes, pit toilets, and views galore. And when we emerged from the trail, it was like Christmas morning for a 4 year old. I will never ever underestimate the joy that can come from having dry shoes, a wastebasket, and the option to wash my hands whenever I want. (And after all we endured I did accidentally roll my eyes when I overheard a woman complain about having to dry her hands without paper towel.)
We ended up having better weather than was forecasted but I still stand by my earlier post; tenting in a thunderstorm is scary. On the drive out we sadly saw houses under 4 feet of water but it validated all our remarks and complaints by assuring us that we weren’t crazy; it rained a lot. As if we couldn’t already tell from the sideways rain, mud that threatened to take off our boots, flash flooding, lighting, and thunder. But no trees fell in the storm and squashed our tent like I feared.
It rained all day on our hike out. The hiking trail disappeared and transformed into a stream/mud puddle hybrid for 9 miles. We managed to splash through it all with high spirits because it was our last day and we knew that french fries would be our reward.
Cue cheesy home video: