Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A Very Long Walk in May, Chapter 12

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017    Day 17.  It's the last day of May, and now, the last full day of our trip. I am happy and sad about that. I will explain: Today was beautiful, warm, and sunny. I have waited so long for a day like this! We got up early and hiked by ourselves, and I kept feeling like I was last and everyone else was faster and better. By lunchtime I was feeling so bad, I wanted to talk about it with everyone. I am such an outsider with the three of them since the boys arrived. Now I’m sorry I spoke up because Brent suggested that we could all be done tomorrow. Everyone eventually agreed to this plan, probably as a result of my other little breakdown yesterday. Now I'm sad and it is anti-climactic because we are deciding to cut the trip short and go—by shuttle-- to Duluth for a few days. Was I wrong to voice my opinion, God? Help me to fully reconcile everything.

Sunshine and Self-Loathing
We awoke to sunshine today and hiked alone until lunchtime.  While I tried desperately to keep up, I kept rehashing how incredibly inept I was. It was super hard for me to have the rest of my crew hiking fast and furiously, leaving me in the dust mud; I was still so slow. Since the guys arrived, I had felt like the odd man out; Brent was the obvious leader; he hikes heartily, he tells better stories, and he doesn’t hyperventilate when he crosses narrow ravines or wades through rivers.  He is just tougher.  I felt tougher when it was just Tess and I.  Now I felt weak. 

The truth of the matter wasn’t that I didn’t fit in with the rest of them (although that’s how it felt); it was that my goals still differed from theirs.  I just wanted to hike and enjoy the sunshine and smell the air and revel in the blue sky.  Making up mileage was so unimportant to me. I kept telling myself that things would have been much better if the guys hadn’t joined us because then I would still have a buddy--Tess--who would have lots of grace with me.  I took it so personally.  I do things like that.

But it wasn’t personal at all.  Brent, Cole and Tess were joyful in their fast hiking.  Covering lots of miles with lots of energy made them happy.  They had no ill will, as I had imagined.  I, and my rogue emotions, was actually the one at fault.  If I had just accepted that my style was different, but okay, I would have enjoyed my trip--and especially this day--so much more. And I wouldn’t have worried so incessantly about “fitting in.” However, because I was enveloped in my pitiful self-loathing, when we stopped for lunch I was in tears.  (I had been so stoic for the entire trip…until the guys arrived.  When they showed up, I became a crybaby. Go figure.) Brent, trying to fix the problem and extinguish my fits of temperament, suggested we wrap up our trip early, call a shuttle for the next day, and spend the rest of our allotted time happily visiting Duluth. At his suggestion, I felt simultaneously remorseful and relieved; I could actually be done with this incredibly exhausting challenge! But, at the same time, finishing the trip tomorrow would also mean the end of a unique bonding time with Tess doing something we would probably--hopefully--never do again. We decided to think on it as we hiked that afternoon.

Brent and fast team member, Tess, escaping my lunchtime tears by locating a beautiful waterfall.
When we found our campsite later that day, we set up our tents as fast as possible because the mosquitoes had awakened from a long winter’s nap. The sun was marvelous, but it brought forth these miniature ravenous beasts that, because of our hypothermia, we had forgotten existed.  We tried to wash up in the river, thinking it was probably our putridness drawing them in, but the water only attracted them to us. We dunked quickly and ran back to our tents to escape their torment. 

 Since we needed to discuss the uncertain future of our hike, we all piled into the girls’ tent to have a serious talk. “Piling in” is literal here; keep in mind that our tent is very small--with barely enough room for Tess and I and our dog--and now we had invited two huge men into it for a conference.  It was nearly impossible to fit, and we had to sit at odd angles to make it work, but at this point, with the murderous mosquitoes buzzing at our zipped screens and sounding like millions of tiny grenades aiming upon our roof, we were willing to try.  As we munched on our pre-meal licorice, we analyzed the achievability of our original goal.  We had nearly 40 miles remaining and only two days left before Tess had to return to Iowa City to start preparing for her new job. Trying to hike 20 miles for the next two days seemed insurmountable to me, and we conversed about letting Cole and Tess go it alone while Brent and I hailed a cab to Duluth.  We finally vetoed this plan—at least the parental cab part—and wanted to stay all together.  Not being able to reconcile the details with the remaining time we had, we all voted that tomorrow would be our final day.  Realizing that the die had been cast (and I was the one who had thrown it), I started to cry (yet again) and to apologize for my all my weaknesses (I have a very guilty concience). Tess, normally stoic herself, also shed tears knowing that this goal—to thru hike the entire SHT--would remain unfulfilled, at least for now.  The guys seemed mostly unfazed by our final declaration because they were newbies to the game; sore, tired, and, now, bug bitten.  But, for me, and for Tess, I think, our decision to “quit” felt a bit like a failure.  We had planned a trip, pursued a goal, and now were giving it up.  If I had not been present on that day, I think the others would have chosen to push through--doing back-breaking mileage for the remainder of the hike--to finish the course.  I was unable to do this.

Suppertime arrived and we attempted to make a fire to fend of the mosquitoes, but all we could make is smoke which made us smell like a campfire. The bugs seemed unaffected by our efforts and our new scent.  So, we quickly cooked our food and then hopped in our tents to eat and finally sleep.  It was an unromantic finale to our unromantic journey.

I may look happy here but I am actually delirious because of the mosquitoes. Cole choose to wear a full headscarf to stave off the tiny demons.

The End is Near
The next morning, Tess and I tried to be cheerful even though we were both feeling down.  We packed up our tent for the very last time, and we gathered our still-wet laundry from the trees.  We put our very familiar packs on our backs and tied our ever-muddy shoes.  We trekked to the river to wash oatmeal out of our permanently dirty dishes, and watched for the last time as Jet smelled each and every tiny pine tree on the well worn trail.  It was all bittersweet.

And then we were off, hiking together as if all was well and we were tackling another day on the SHT.  But, we weren’t facing another day of hiking; we were simply finding our way to the nearest trailhead where we would call a shuttle (Harriet didn’t come this far down) and ask for a lift into Duluth.  It only took us a couple of creek crossings and two hours to find our pick-up spot, where we sat waiting for transport.  Lost in my thoughts, I sat in the shrubbery feeling sad about the whole thing. Tess also sat sullenly looking at a rock she had found. Cole wandered around swatting mosquitoes and trying to eat as many of his remaining snacks as possible, and Brent walked in the middle of the dusty road attempting to find adequate internet so he could check his email.  Soon, an older gentleman arrived in a white minivan and unceremoniously told us to load up our stuff. We did this and then hopped in the vehicle for an hour long ride into the city. 

Our trip was done.  
Our adventure completed.

Waiting in the shrubbery on our last hiking day. Contrary to popular belief, Tess is NOT wearing Minnie Mouse ears here.  It is an optical illusion.
As we checked into a hotel in Duluth, took hot showers, and ate outside in the sun at a cute Mexican cantina, I started to come to terms with it all; we had probably done the right thing.  We ended our journey while we were still healthy, happy, and only partially devoured by biting insects. And sleeping in a bed sounded pretty fantastic.  However, I was still haunted that my lack of "grit” had ruined our trip. But my sweet family put me at ease; the day after our arrival in Duluth, while Cole and I went to soak in the hot tub, Brent and Tess went out to explore. They returned from their excursion with a Minnesota T-shirt for me and a garage sale stuffed animal for Jet.  Jet felt very loved by their thoughtfulness, and I, by their patience and grace.  They stuck with me because they love me. That was the true story.

The Very Long Walk in May had come to an end on June 1 and we left for home on the 2nd, a day before our 28th wedding anniversary. What a learning experience the very long walk had been, but what a true gift it was to be done!*

Brent found a friendly moose in Duluth.  Jet is less than impressed.

Cole posing as our bodyguard while exploring a lighthouse on Lake Superior. 
*This is NOT the end of my story.  There is still one more chapter to write.  I thought it only appropriate that this little book have 13 chapters. Keep watch and be comforted that I mostly stopped crying and finally figured out what the angst was all about.  Stay tuned for the final chapter: Lessons Learned on A Very Long Walk in May…coming soon!

Monday, March 12, 2018

A Very Long Walk in May, Chapter 11

 Tuesday May 30, 2017   Day 16.  Still rainy and cold...big surprise.  Started out around 7am and hiked most of the morning in mud and water--YUK--most of the day actually! Now, the guys are starting to understand our incessant talk about the mud.  Done by 4:00 pm and put in over 17 miles!  Guys are understandably tired.  Inclines still kill me.  Warm weather tomorrow?

The very normal gray and foreboding sky amidst the birch trees. The darker blue is Lake Superior

Tess and I attempting to make our way down a little dilapidated stairway to a long dilapidated bridge.  Notice my muddy pant legs and shoes.
Smiling because the lopsided bridge wasn't giving way under us

Goodbye Gooseberry Falls
After listening to the family in the site next to ours yell at their kids into the wee hours of the morning, I finally fell asleep reminiscing about our conversation with Shay and telling myself that if I slept, I could actually get up and use a real bathroom with warm water in the morning. Before I go any further, let me tell you about these state park bathrooms.  State park bathrooms would, at any other time in my normal life, be disgusting to me.  They are very minimal and often dirty and have things like people hair, pet hair, and old food in the drains of the sinks (There are almost always signs that say “No dish washing in bathroom sinks” but no one obeys this because they really need to wash their dishes.).  But when one has been backpacking in the mud and mire for over two weeks, state park bathrooms become a place of refuge and warmth, despite their normally off putting qualities.  When you take a shower in a state park bathroom, they (meaning whomever is in charge of these places) are VERY concerned that you not use too much hot water.  Because of this concern, they install these push button type showers that you have to compress every 90 seconds to keep the water running.  Sometimes, one can figure out a system by which leaning on the knob can produce a constant flow, but mostly you have to just keep pushing.  This unending knob pushing interferes greatly with one’s enjoyment of what could be a hopefully warm (but often only tepid) and enjoyable shower.*  It also makes the washing of one’s very dirty clothes a type of racing game since you are trying to gauge how many of your muddy garments you could possibly scrub out adequately in the 90 second water flow--usually only one pair of socks.  To make this process a bit simpler and faster, I would often just shower in my clothes first to get them “clean,” then strip them off to bathe my actual body.  The stripping off part was always quite difficult, because wet clothes are hard to manage, and cold, because the minute the water went off, the damp chill of the little shower stall permeated my barely warm skin.  After bathing, I used the tiny washcloth I brought along (large towels are not completely necessary) to try dry myself.  It never fully worked, and I would put my “night time” clothes (remember, one outfit for hiking and one for sleeping?) on my now-freezing self, chattering uncontrollably.  Sometimes, if the bathroom had a hot-air hand dryer, I would try to turn the nozzle upward and absorb a little of the heat.  When you are backpacking and cold all the time, hot air feels like Heaven.

Okay, back to the story at hand.  We arose early, put on all of our clothes because it was, once again, misting and cold. Brent had gotten up early to heat up some water for oatmeal and we sat quietly eating our breakfast at the picnic table, trying to ready ourselves for packing up our wet tents and going on our wet way.  We found our way out of Gooseberry Falls State Park and hiked to the first available campsite in mud up to our ankles.  This mud was so slippery that, at times, we had to be extra careful not to unintentionally ski down the hills. After navigating such difficult conditions, and after getting confused because of poor trail markings, the family agreed that it had been a good idea to stop when we had last night as this type of trail is difficult at dusk. This made me very happy.

Tiny Vampires
The others wanted to hike alone again, but Cole sweetly said that he would hike with me for awhile, so we walked together for rest of the morning.  After lunch, we backpacked as a group past two large dilapidated recliners in an open field, and wondered aloud how they had gotten there (You see strange things like that when you are out in the middle of nowhere.  One time, while hiking in Pennsylvania, we saw a queen size mattress just lying on the side of the trail.  I guess someone decided that comfort was overrated).  Arriving at our chosen campsite in late afternoon, we set up in cloudy (but presently non-rainy) conditions. Tess and I proceeded to go back down the hill we had just traveled up to try to wash in the bubbling brook nearby.  While I sat on the bank and scrubbed my feet, Tess walked right into the shallow water, trying to rinse off some of the accumulated mud.  When she sat down on a rock to inspect the state of her feet, she gave a little shriek; she had lost the mud but gained an entire colony of black leeches--stuck at uneven intervals across both feet and onto her lower legs. I also had a few of them stuck to the bottom of my feet.  Have you ever pulled leeches off of your skin?  Those little suckers are hard to remove (that’s punny) and they hang on for dear life because they want to drink your blood like tiny little vampires.  This is not the kind of discovery you want to make while bathing--especially since the guys had just gathered water for drinking from that same little river.  When we returned to our campsite and reported on Tess’ leeches (she had finally gotten them all off), Cole educated us all on the great effectiveness of Maggot Therapy; it’s a thing. He had listened to podcast about it and the leeches jogged his memory.  When I came home and looked it up on Wikipedia, I found he was actually telling the truth.  Here is what it says: Maggot therapy is a type of biotherapy involving the introduction of live, disinfected maggots (fly larvae) into the non-healing skin and soft tissue wound(s) of a human or animal for the purpose of cleaning out the necrotic (dead) tissue within a wound (debridement) and disinfection.  There is evidence that maggot therapy may help with wound healing.” And yes, I know that leeches have a medical history as well, so I decided I needed to give that equal play here.  Here is what I found online about these little bloodsuckers:Leeches have been used in medicine for over 2,500 years. They were more popular in earlier times because it was widely thought that most diseases were caused by an excess of blood. As recently as the 19th century, leeches were used to treat everything from tonsillitis to hemorrhoids. You can imagine what both of those treatments involved.”

Not to be outdone by the drama of the leeches, We also had another visitor that evening. While we ate our supper, we were accosted by a very angry crow.  Apparently, we had invaded his domain because his incessant cawing nearly drove us mad. In our tents now to avoid the threatening storm, we talked tent to tent about the book, The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe; a seemingly appropriate choice considering the trip so far. Cole got so annoyed by the bird’s chatter that he starting throwing small logs into nearby tree branches to try to silence it. Either he hit the bird, or the crow decided it had made his point.  Regardless, the cawing ceased and we were able to get on with our nightly routine which included important things like eating and sleeping.
Post-leech, pre-crow campsite pic with child campers at their respective tents
Speaking of eating, before Cole and Brent arrived, Tess I would share a meal each night that consisted of beef stew, Thai noodles, Mexican rice and beans, or something similar.  We would heat water on our stove, add it to the dehydrated food in the bag and hold it tightly until the water was absorbed and we could split it between our bowls.  We often had to encourage each other to finish because our weariness often outweighed our hunger.  It was not like this when the guys came; they were hysterically hungry, and we had to up our food prep from one bag to three since they kept talking about how ravenous they were.  Guys are weird.  Though we didn’t know it now, tomorrow, the last day of May, would be the last full day of our very long walk. And I would be racked with guilt.  Stay tuned.

*This very unfulfilling showering process always made me think of what Hell must be like--only in reverse--being constantly freezing and then getting the tiny promise of warmth, only to have it time out before you actually get warm, and never being able to actually get a constant stream of glorious hot water to soothe your battered soul.


Sunday, March 4, 2018

A Very Long Walk in May, Chapter 10

A chilly supper with one of the two trip crashers

Trip Crashers
After the first full day with Brent and Cole, Tess and I felt like they had commandeered our trip.  We had created our own cadence of existence in the last two weeks, just the two of us; when the guys came on the scene, they decided to run the show--choosing how far to hike, when to stop for meals, and what time to break camp in the mornings--NOT cool. When we arrived at our campsite that day, we found a fire pit surrounded with benches; and on the benches were a package of dried apricots, a can of roasted almonds, a bag of trail mix, and a portion of salami--all unopened! Apparently someone was trying to lighten their pack and decided to leave us some goodies!  We were thrilled and hoped that they weren’t bait left by a crazy person who wanted to poison us (Gino, anyone?).  Because we were hungry, we assumed that the majority of hikers are not murderers, and we tore open a few of the packages.  (We all woke up in the morning, so our assumption was luckily accurate.)  After the snack surprise, we had to climb a little incline to set up our tents for the night.  You would have thought that small hill was Everest by the way the guys complained.  When they finally made it and clumsily set up their tent, and after Jet had tripped (multiple times) over the staking ropes, making it crash down on them, they both climbed in--full of mud--and told us that they couldn’t move. Tess and I choose to ignore their groanings, but we did bring hot drinks to their tent--after we had gone up and down the hill several times--to show that we weren’t completely without compassion. We then proceeded to cook our supper, and the guys eventually joined us on the benches until it was time to go back to our tents to sleep.

Tess and I still shared our tiny vinyl home each night (where we could commiserate about our “guests”), which was good since the guys kept rehearsing how sore they were, how much they stunk, and how much Cole’s very voluminous snack bag weighed.  Every night previous, Tess and I would talk about the day, tick check one another * (the ticks were thick), and drift off to sleep in our cozy sleeping bags--it was the same this night, except that we made a pact to voice our frustrations to the guys; the next day at lunch, we decided to broach the topic of trip-crashing.

We found this shallower, calmer portion of the river after our traumatic traversing

A River Runs Through It
We rose with the sun the following morning--Memorial Day-- because the “guys said” we needed to be on the trail by 7 am.  And by 7:01 pm, I had been passed three times--even by my ally--because everyone wanted to “hike alone.”  This hiking alone thing was not good for me, especially now when I was feeling patronized by the rest of the group.  But hike alone I did, shedding some “no one likes me” tears along the way.  I knew this mantra really wasn’t true, but my feelings were being very loud and convincing, and I was having trouble coming to terms with my inability to hike fast.  The others all seemed driven to cover lots of miles, and I was afraid of losing my partner to “the dark side.” The lunch hour finally arrived, and I knew it would be at least another 30 minutes until I found our agreed upon meeting spot. This meant the guys and Tess would have to wait on the “slow one.”  It didn’t help that the signage for the trail was unclear and that I spent at least 15 minutes hiking in the wrong direction before I figured out my mistake. When I finally caught up with them, they said, “We thought you got lost” in seemingly concerned voices, but they couldn’t have been so concerned because no one thought to check on me before that.  (End of rant)

When we sat down to a lunch of homemade hummus and Triscuits, I wondered if Tess was still my buddy and if she would stick to our agreement.  She did, and we told the guys that we felt like they had hijacked our trip by arriving and taking over. They saw how we could feel that way, and said they hadn’t meant to interfere; from now on, they promised, they would try harder not to be so “in charge.” Sensing that I had a captive audience at this point, I spoke up, trying to keep my voice steady, and said, “And please, please, don’t make me hike all alone.”  They agreed that someone would stay with me, and that when we hiked as a group they would put me in front.  All of this was considerate, but I still felt degraded because I couldn’t keep up even when I gave my best effort.  I was the proverbial “fat kid” on the track team, whom everyone cheers for but no one wants to be.  I decided that this was my lot in life because when one is tired and cold and has been hiking for 15 days in the wilderness, one sometimes makes things bigger than they actually are.

As I led the group along the trail, I noticed a sign that said, “Bridge ahead: washed out. Redirect your route.”  When I showed this to Brent, he said, “I think that’s an old sign. They probably have fixed it by now.” Apparently he had forgotten that it was May in Northern Minnesota and no fixing had been happening in the dead of winter (which lasts until May as Tess and I discovered).  So, we went on, expecting either to find a new bridge, or to be able to cross the river on foot.  When we came to the point where the bridge should have been, there was a platform on either side of the river, but no middle; the bridge had most definitely washed away.  As I stood looking at the frigid thigh-high river raging past me, I said in my scariest voice, “I AM NOT crossing that river!  We have to find another way!”  But, just as on other backpacking trips where I have refused to go any further, I ended up being convinced to persevere through my panicked hyperventilation, because it would take “too much extra time” to go around.  This argument never is very convincing for me since we are hiking and have nothing else on our agenda.  So, there I was, timidly stepping into the freezing river from one slippery rock to another, as the rapids raced past me.  Brent had stationed himself in the middle, where the water was up to his knees, so I knew it would be higher on me. He said, “it’s not that bad, just go slowly and I will help you across.” Again, the kids both passed me like it was no big deal to cross a running river with a 30 pound pack, and they stood on the other shore cheering for the fat kid.  Since I had the dog, I held his leash tightly and encouraged him to join me in the water.  Being a smart dog, he thought it a very bad idea and firmly stationed himself in the dry brush alongside the riverbed. I gave Brent the leash and he tugged Jet into the river, but having no footing, the dog slipped and started being pulled down the rapids.  I screamed, the dog cried out, and I was sure he was a goner.  Brent lunged over and grabbed him by the collar and gingerly walked him to the other shore where the kids were watching and waiting. I was still standing just a few feet from the near shore and I had one of those “I will have to stand here forever because I can’t move” moments. So, willing myself onward, I thought of Hugh Glass in the movie “The Revenant” who pulled himself miles across the ice after being partially eaten by a bear, and I slowly made it to the far shore where my family was waiting for me.  The river crossing experience didn’t really improve my mood much, nor did it make me very happy with our new hiking partners.  

We still hiked as a group after this, but I was feeling pretty spent as we trudged, completely soaked, through the now-very-familiar soul-sucking mud.  Since our next stop was to be Gooseberry Falls State Park, I tried to convince the other family members that it would be a good time to rent a tent site and call it a (traumatic) day. They told me I would feel better about everything when we stopped there for a rest and a snack.  I was pretty sure they were wrong.

Gooseberry Falls Fallout
Gooseberry Falls is apparently very popular on Memorial Day and the huge visitors center was teaming with people.  Some of these people brought their dogs, and Jet was very happy to see them.  Other people brought their cats on leashes. I am not kidding.  And Jet was even happier to see them.  

After we snacked and shivered and watched the interesting assortment of people that had commenced upon that site, I went to the information desk to see if they had any tent spots open for the night--just in case.  They did.

When I mentioned this “stopping for the day” idea to the others, it was not well received.  It was still fairly early in the day, they said, and if we hiked a little longer--maybe only 2 or 3 more hours!--we might have a chance of making up some mileage so we could actually hike into Duluth as planned.  I really didn’t care about making it into Duluth, knowing that our friend, Harriet, would gladly rescue us.  Obviously, at this point, I was thinking only of myself, and I pulled the “You guys don’t care about me” card. They glumly relented, and we paid the fee for a tent pad.  While walking to the camping spot, however, we all got in a big argument because we had taken the wrong path and traveled the opposite way, and “with all that walking, we could have been a long ways down the trail.”  So much for peace.  After our tents were staked, though, and the promise of a hot shower loomed, spirits lifted and we decided to be nice to each other.  We ate our supper, found a site with a little wifi available and got a message from Shay who was in China on a mission trip.  She said she could talk to us on Skype if we could find adequate Internet.  We walked to a sort of clubhouse and were able to see her on the screen of one of our phones!  What a gift that was to us after such a hard and divisive day!  It was the first time I had spoken to her since she left the states over two weeks earlier.  Seeing her, and hearing my family laugh together, was balm to my tired and worn spirit.  

Monday, May 29th, 2018  Day 15.  We are staying in a campsite at Gooseberry Falls State Park tonight. Everyone else wanted to go farther, but I was exhausted so we stopped here. A hot shower is always a welcome treat. Lots of mud and a scary river crossing today. I am continually amazed that I can't keep pace with all of them and it is so frustrating to me that I am so slow. I like it when they hike with me, but hate it when they put me in front because I know I am slowing them down. They are all so driven to cover lots of miles. Why? I am giving it my full effort but still, they outpace me.I am praying for your help with a good attitude, God. Clear my head.

* One morning, before we got out of our tent, I pulled out a tiny mirror that I used occasionally to get a bug out of my eye or to see how I had aged on our trip thus far.  Normally, we would go days without seeing ourselves--which made us discuss how differently people thought of themselves--and how much less self-focused they most probably were--when mirrors weren’t yet common.  This time, when viewing my face in the mirror, I noticed a large tick on my right lower cheek.  I pulled it off and threw it outside.  I asked Tess why she hadn’t removed it during our many tick check appointments, and she said, “ I just thought you had a big mole that I had never noticed before.”  

Saturday, February 24, 2018

A Very Long Walk in May, Chapter 9

Tess at the Palisade Head lookout, trying to keep Jet from running off the edge of the cliff

Harriet: Take Two
When Tess originally planned the trip, the boys--Brent and Cole--were jealous that we had not asked them to go along, so we invited them to join us for the last week.  This time was quickly approaching.  We were to meet them on the Saturday before Memorial Day in Silver Bay, Minnesota.  Our plan was to stay in a motel in that little town, get back onto the trail the next morning, and hike the last 60 or so miles into Duluth together.  

Rain started late into the night on day 12 and continued to the morning.  We had contacted Harriet a few days earlier, telling her to pick us up around noon at the Manitou State Park Trailhead so that we could meet the boys on time. Since we had slowed our pace a bit, we were averaging about 13 miles a day instead of 15, and this left us just short of our goal for our original Silver Bay meeting spot.  Being unsure of the terrain, we got up early, pulled together our things and hiked out along the river as the sun peeked out of the clouds.  All along the shore were big white balls of foam that looked like enormous snowballs. Giddy with sun-kissed warmth, we poked the blobs with our hiking poles to break them up. We were unable to identify where they came from, and they were somewhat gross, but because of our sun-induced inebriation, we thought them funny and fascinating.

We had a difficult and rocky hike but made it to our agreed upon shuttle pick up spot by 11:30 am.  Because of this new thing called “sunshine,” the bugs had come to life, and as we sat under some trees, we got eaten alive by mosquitos.  Afraid to complain about our new-found warmth and recently-hatched insects, Tess and I passed the time by eating peanut butter out of the jar with a dirty spoon and chewing up the last of our dried mangoes. Jet distracted himself by biting his skin every time a flying pest landed upon him. It was miserable, but we kept saying things like, “The bugs are better than constant rain” even though it really wasn’t true.  We also watched some people stuffing their backpacks for a Memorial Day weekend hike, and we marveled at all the things they included in them. Some of their packs were probably 60 pounds!  For a weekend! Wow. We tried not to let our superior knowledge affect our views of them or their encumbrances.

When Harriet pulled up in her big white van wearing a Christmas-themed cardigan set, we hopped in her very warm vehicle (she had the heat on) to escape the swarm of bugs. We were tired and ready to get to Silver Bay to meet the guys, but Harriet must have been lonely because she insisted upon driving a few miles opposite of our destination to show us a North Shore landmark called Palisade Head.  As she drove her massive vehicle up the winding narrow road (passing a “Large Vehicles Not Allowed” sign), we had a near-miss with a very red, sweaty, and rotund man walking down the road on the rocky shoulder; Harriet muttered, “Not picking him up.  He definitely needs more walking.” He probably heard her since I had my window wide open.  The heat in the vehicle was unbearable and I was getting sick as we wound our way to the top. I knew she would tell all of her clients about the smelly, older woman who puked in her van if I didn’t control my regurgitation impulses, so I hoped the fresh air and my stripping off most of my clothing would help.  It did, and we were soon at the top.  Palisade Head was not my favorite place since it was high and had no guard rails and since I am deathly afraid of heights. I was also afraid my dog would bound off of the edge and die. Jet was nervous and kept pulling Tess close to said edges of the canyon, and I kept shrieking at her to get away from them.  I was also alarmed at all of the parents who were letting their small children run around unsupervised here.  They must not have loved them very much. Harriet noticed my obvious anxiety and suggested we head towards our destination. I was more than happy to leave.  Soon we were pulling into the little village of Silver Bay.  We had Harriet drop us at a laundromat--a very small laundromat--about the size of a doghouse, but taller. Here, we stripped off most of our remaining clothes (since we had already started the process in her van) and threw them into the washing machine as the water turned a murky black. We then called the boys to see if they had arrived.  Since they had just flown in, they were going to drop their stuff at the motel, find some lunch, and bring it to us as we waited for our clothes to get clean.  When they arrived with burgers and hot fries, we sat on the dirty floor of the tiny place and ate our lunch while sharing stories of our adventure.  Once our clothes were dry and our bellies full, we made our way from the laundromat to our reserved lodging and took hot showers. That night, we ate pizza and M&M’s, then split up to our respective rooms--one room with two beds and one room with one full bed--and got a good night of sleep before heading out in the morning. 

Saturday May 27th, 2017  Day 13. Hiked a hard eight miles today, mostly uphill, by 11:30 a.m. and got to trailhead (Manitou) where Harriet picked us up at 12:15 pm.  We had her take us to a laundromat in Silver Bay. Boys had already arrived and met us there. We ordered out hamburgers and ate them in the tiny laundromat. They tasted like Heaven itself.  After the clothes were done, we all walked to the Mariner where we stayed for the night and took glorious hot showers. The Mariner looks exactly like motels looked when I was a kid, very clean but lost in 1970. I liked it .

The Mariner Motel
Unsure of when and where we would have phone service, I took advantage of our earlier stay in Grand Marais to make reservations (since it would be Memorial Day weekend) at the only lodging in Silver Bay that was pet-friendly and within walking distance of the trail. The place I found was called The Mariner; the advertisement claimed it was “only one mile from the SHT!”  Apparently, the proprietor of the Mariner has anger management problems or had recently retired from the mob.  Also, he never used plurals. I think his name was Italian, so we will call him Gino.  Here is the actual transcript of our phone conversation:

Me:  Hi, my family and I will be needing a place to stay for one night on Saturday, May 27th.  Do you have any rooms available for that night?
Gino: (very loud, threatening and Italian-sounding) One or two night?
Me: Just one night.
Gino: I said one or two night??
Me: We will just be there one night.
Gino: One night.  How many room you need?  
Me:  We will need two rooms.
Gino:  Two room with two bed?
Me:  We would like one room with a King and another with two queens.
Gino: No! Full bed only!  How many bed you need?
Me:  We have four people, so at least three beds.
Gino:  Three Bed?  How many room you need?
Me:  We need two rooms with at least three beds.
Gino: (mumbling under his breath and coughing uncontrollably) Two room, 3 bed?  
Me: Yes.  Oh, and we have a dog. Will that be extra?
Gino: Why does everyone ask about rate?  Pup okay. He bark?
Me: Rarely. Do you have rooms for us for Saturday the 27th?
Gino: What time you be here?
Me:  Uhhhhh...I don’t know.  We are hiking in, so maybe around 1 pm?  
Gino:  You will be here at 1 pm?  
Me: Hopefully, we are hiking i…
Gino: You not here by 3, no room. I leave.  What your name?
Me:  Haverkamp.  Will you need a credit card number to save our rooms?
Gino:  No. (hangs up)

By the end of this exchange, my palms were sweaty and I was traumatized by the abuse of the grumpy manager.  I assumed I had reserved at least two rooms and I hoped that each of those rooms contained some sort of bed.  Luckily, by the time Tess and I arrived in Silver Bay, the guys had already checked into the motel and dealt with the rude and disheveled man themselves.  Apparently, he was hard to tolerate but harmless.  

Looking snazzy at the Mariner
We woke early the next day and put on clean clothes to begin our hike. We stopped at the only restaurant that would let us eat on their patio--in the rain--since we couldn’t take Jet inside, and we filled ourselves with pancakes, steak and eggs, and omelets. The guys ate excitedly, ready to hit the trail for their first day out, while Tess and I tried to gain enthusiasm for another rainy hike. Thinking that we were “only a mile from the SHT!”, we started out of town quickly, but had to walk...and walk...and walk...a long time before coming upon the trailhead.  When we finally found the trail, it led us up a mountain made out of jagged rocks. We climbed up farther and farther until we could see the city below us. I didn’t stop to take in the views though because 1) I am deathly afraid of heights, and 2) I was lagging behind...again!  This whole “not being able to keep up” thing was really starting to wear on my psyche, and as my family members gave me “pity claps” by saying things like “You’re doing great!” or “We thought we would wait for you,” I started to feel like the fat kid on the track team. It was not a happy feeling.  More on the fat kid in Chapter 10.
Jet, Cole, and Tess waiting on the bridge for the fat kid

Sunday, May 28, 2017  Day 14.  First day of hiking with the boys.  Got up and walked to a restaurant with a patio for a great breakfast. Then we walked at least 2 miles to the trail.  Put in about 6 or so miles before lunch and ended up with nearly 15 for the day. Cool and light rain most of the day. I had to hike hard just to keep up with all. Not sure why I’m not in better shape yet.  I felt left out this morning hiking by myself, but better in afternoon when we all stuck together. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

A Very Long Walk in May, Chapter 8

Much of this entry is dedicated to any innocent persons whom I may have offended with my last post when asked, "What do you do all day?"  In reality, we do more than hike (if we didn't, I know I would go crazy. Tess would probably be okay.)  See below for a less-sassy description of our hiking activities...

Thursday May 25th, 2017  Day 11. Slow start today because Tess felt a little sick, so we ate at our campsite and left around 8 a.m. Fairly easy morning, but seemingly long afternoon for only 12 miles total. Met some other thru-hikers today going NOBO (northbound): women, 65 and 70!  Hope I am still hiking at 70!  Staying at North Cross River tonight. Beautiful but a little crowded with early Memorial Day hikers and campers. Jet is very admired on the trail and is learning to meet and greet a bit better. I feel mentally worn out from the long miles and Tess seems down this afternoon.  Learning to lower expectations and enjoy the trip. Give us joy, Lord!

Tess felt better after her delicious oatmeal breakfast
Hiking Alone
After the “excitement” at Lutsen and our exposure to the Wolf Man, Tess and I were glad for a couple of normal (a.k.a. not overly frightening or depressing) days. On these days, we would do some hiking together and some hiking separately. Although Tess really liked being alone for a portion of each day, I struggled to enjoy my solitude. Normally, I love to walk in the woods by myself, taking time to contemplate the wonders of nature; but, for some reason, on backpacking trips, I really like companionship.  This was especially true of this trip. Though I was able to complete our mileage each day, the exertion required took so much of my energy that I felt mentally drained.  I expected this at first, but I thought my weariness would abate as our trip progressed; it didn’t. In fact, it seemed to get worse.

I don’t know why the hiking was so hard for me, or why I felt like such a loser for not being able to keep up.  Maybe, it was because I was carrying emotional baggage along with my backpack; I think that, unconsciously, the trip represented to me a kind of laborious metaphor: that of my entire last year--one of the hardest in my life. 

In the year previous to our very long walk, I had sent my oldest son and his wife off to live in China, and our youngest son, Cole, moved away from home to attend college. With all my children now grown, I felt forced out of the most satisfying role in my life. Right or wrong, I had placed much of my identity into motherhood, and the absence of this daily reality deeply saddened me. I spent my hiking alone time grieving. I was so unaccustomed to this “new era” that my thoughts became increasingly self-focused; I racked my brain for a new description of "Tori Haverkamp" and came up blank.  I desperately wanted to find fulfillment in something new, since my "mothering days" were over, something I was good at...and it most certainly wasn't hiking.  

Hold onto that thought; I will continue the theme in a future post.

Hiking Together
I was able to escape from my unhealthy self-absorption when Tess and I hiked together. Sometimes, we played little thought experiment games where she would ask a question like: “If you were Brian (in The Hatchet), or Robby Cru (our nickname for Robinson Crusoe--also the name of the book), how would you survive in the northern Minnesota wilderness/deserted tropical island? (Luckily, I was fairly successful in the former game since I had been keeping myself alive in the very cold northern Minnesota wilderness for the last two weeks, but Tess was more adept at the latter since she is somewhat hippie-like and has chased down wayward pigs on an organic farm and regularly makes kombucha). We then talked for hours about the kind of shelter we would need, how we would create it out of a fallen and hollowed-out tree or under the projection of an enormous sheltered rock, and how we would sterilize/desalinate our water.  We wondered if the berries on the prickly bushes that caught our legs were edible or poisonous (and hypothesized as to how we would determine this), and how Robby Cru raised enough grapes to make raisins. This discussion led us to a conversation of the book, Into the Wild, and the main character, Alexander Supertramp’s, unfortunate demise from misidentifying something called “wild potato”.  As we talked about this misfortune, we discussed a movie I had recently watched where two people survive a plane crash in the mountains (which was a really bad thing for us to dwell upon since we arrived in an airplane and would soon be flying home in one), and if it was realistic or not.  Sometimes, we strayed from the “survival in the wilderness” theme and asked each other “If you could only have 5 pieces of clothing to wear, what would they be?”  In normal life, these questions might take a few minutes to answer, but because we were trying to pass the many moments of the many miles, they took hours...and many revisions.  I liked playing the game, “Would You Rather…” where we queried each other about alarming and impossible things like “Would you rather be paralyzed and in a wheelchair for the rest of your life, but have no pain OR have constant chronic pain but have control of all of your limbs?” Or, “Would you rather be a poor kid with attentive parents or a rich kid with distracted parents but tons of opportunities in your life?”  Tess thought my game was depressing.  

When we ran out of thought experiments, we created individual “podcasts”; Tess spent an afternoon recounting the different types of memory that our brains are capable of recording, and I helped her to understand the main themes in the book of Ephesians. We memorized most of the first chapter of Philippians and repeated it over and over to one another. We talked about the years’ highs and lows, our goals for the future, our favorite childhood memories--our own childhoods and my memories of her as a little girl-- and the “Three Most Epic Moments” of our lives.  She asked me to give advice to my “20-something self” and I asked her to tell me what God had taught her in the last few months.  At no other time, and in no other way, would we have set aside this much precious time to quiz and ponder and reflect and play. I wouldn’t trade these times for the endless days of sun that I thought I wanted.   

Moral of the Story: When you are feeling bad about yourself, don't hike alone.  Grab a friend (preferably one with survival skills) and have long conversations while walking TOGETHER in the woods.  

Licorice also helps.  

Happy together
Friday May 26th 2017, Day 12. Woke up to rain again, but it stopped soon after we started around 8 a.m. Better day today, seems shorter even though we did 13 plus miles. Sun!! as we came into camp this afternoon. Sat on the warm rocks with Tess and sunned ourselves. Finally some lasting warmth! Staying at a beautiful campsite tonight. Thanks for your provisions, God!

Monday, February 5, 2018

A Very Long Walk in May, Chapter 7: Frequently Asked Questions

I realize that many of you reading this series are not backpackers and are therefore unfamiliar with the whole process. So, I decided to dedicate this chapter entirely to “Frequently Asked Questions”.  I queried Tess on this subject since she has done more long backpacking trips than me, and she contributed the following: (all of these are actual questions that people have asked about these unique adventures.)

I will resume the tale of our Very Long Walk in May in Chapter 8.

Q. Do you sleep in a tent?  
A. This is our very most frequently asked question, and I find it strange. YES. We sleep in a tent EVERY night. Exceptions: occasionally we will hitchhike in to a town and stay in a hotel or come upon a 3-sided shelter built for trail hikers.  Shelters are more common on designated thru-hike locations like the Appalachian Trail, but often they are crowded with people who move around in their sleep or snore like freight trains; tenting is frequently the more appealing option.

Tess and Jet sleeping in our tent.  Tess hates this picture because she thinks she looks like an ancient relic here.

Q. Do you carry everything? 
A. Yes, we carry everything—including our tent—that we need for our trip, in our backpacks. However, we are minimalists and concerned about carrying too much weight, so we take only what is absolutely necessary (deodorant, towels, and variety of clothes are NOT necessary), occasionally allowing ourselves to bring one luxury item such as a small book, a deck of cards, or a pillow. One of the most oft-repeated phrases when one is contemplating whether or not to include an item is “ounces add up to pounds”; this means that even if something seems really light, it will add something to your overall pack weight. And a heavy pack means a less enjoyable trip. At the start of the trips, our packs are really full, but as we eat through several meals, they become progressively lighter.  A good rule of thumb is to try and limit pack weight to about 20% or less of your bodyweight.  Some of the family members are somewhat anal when it comes to pack weight and make spreadsheets that look like this.  (Brent's very exacting spreadsheet created for our Camino trip).

Q. What do you eat? 
A.  Lightweight food.  We dehydrate a variety of your run-of-the mill options like beef stew and chili (and by we, I mean Tess), but lately Tess has become more hippie-like and has been making things like Quinoa and salmon, Mexican rice and beans, Thai noodles with peanut sauce, and dehydrated homemade hummus.  She experimented with dehydrating smoothies and refried beans (separately), but those options were vetoed.  It took Tess and Shay many tries before they nixed the beans.  I only ate the beans once.  We also lunch and snack on things like hard cheeses and salami (within a few days of purchasing them), corn chips—which have the highest calorie to weight ratio (calories are very necessary currency for the hiker), and tortillas (they don’t crush like bread) with tuna in foil or with peanut butter and Nutella.  I loved the latter combo when I first ate it and said, “It tastes just like a Reese’s peanut butter cup”, but I quickly came to be disgusted by the mere sight of the light brown combo—have you ever changed a newborn’s diaper? I refuse to eat it to this day.  Breakfasts are mostly oatmeal with dried bananas or apples with a hot drink like tea or cocoa.  Occasionally breakfast is a Snickers bar.
Me, trying to work my way through a PB/ Nutella tortilla
Q. What do you drink? 
A. We just drink water (sometimes mixed with flavored powders) that we gather from lakes, streams, rivers, and sometimes, when desperate, puddles or beaver ponds.  Since we don’t want to get Giardia or cysts in our lungs, we make sure to sterilize the water first.  We do this with a SteriPen which uses an ultraviolet light to kill bacteria.  Sometimes, because the SteriPen only sanitizes and doesn’t filter, there are residual, but harmless chunks floating in your drink.  This is the reason we primarily purchase opaque and/or colored water bottles.

Q. How do you shower/do laundry?  

A. Ha! This one always makes me laugh. Have you ever watched a show where people—like pioneers —just strip down on the shore of a lake and jump in for a bath?  Yeah. It’s like that. Except when it’s really cold and you are battling against hypothermia, you just wash up in the frigid water with your handkerchief (with a drop of Dr.Bronner’s—it won’t kill the fish) and never actually remove your clothes.  Stench is kind of par for the course and you mostly get used to it.  As for laundry, since you normally only wear one outfit to hike in, and carry one outfit to sleep in (that is all that is necessary), laundry isn’t part of the normal routine.  HOWEVER, when one is hiking daily in mud and mire, some type of clothes cleaning is necessary; it’s called “rub your muddy socks on the rock in the river and get the big chunks off.”  We do carry a clothesline with us to hang out any wet laundry, but mostly we just use the line to hang our food up in what’s called a “bear bag” so the critters don’t eat all of our fritos.

Q. Do you eat a lot of s’mores? 

A. Umm, no.  Hiking is more like working and less like vacationing (see chapter 4 for more clarification), and by the time we reach our campsite, we are anxious to eat a hot meal and crawl into bed…no S’mores allowed. Also, no one likes sticky when backpacking because stickiness requires washing.

Q. How do you charge your phone? 

A. You don’t. You put it on the extreme battery-saver mode and only use it for emergencies. And maybe for listening to music when you think you might die. Sometimes you hit the jackpot and find a state park with electrical outlets in the bath houses or you enter a ghost town and unplug the pop machine since ghosts most likely can’t drink liquids.

Q. Do you see a lot of wildlife?  

A. Almost never, and most certainly not dog-eating wolves.  We do see a lot of wildlife poop, though, so we know they are out there.  The closest I have ever gotten to wildlife was on this trip when one brown weasel and one white one jumped out of tree together and ran around my legs, then popped up the tree again.  I guess that is where the song “Pop Goes the Weasel” came from, but it should be plural. We do hear a lot of squirrels chiding us from their perches and some beautiful songbirds waking us in the mornings. This was my favorite bird song from this trip.

Q. Do you do a lot of stargazing? 
A. We actually don’t do a lot of stargazing because our tired heads hit the pillow (or ground if you didn’t choose that luxury item) by around 7:30 most nights—long before the stars start to twinkle.  I do remember one summer trip to Isle Royale, Michigan however, where I saw the most marvelous stars during a midnight potty break outside. 

We may not see lots of stars, but the daytime views are amazing!

Q. What do you do all day? 

A. I refuse to answer this question.  It’s called a HIKE…figure it out.

Q. How do you deal with blisters?  
A. I almost never get them, but some of the family members do and we like to cover them with Compeed—a cool wax-like blister covering we discovered in Spain while doing the Camino de Santiago!

Q. What do you do if it rains? 
A. We carry on as usual. Also, before this ever happens, as a preventative measure, we line our backpacks with trash compacter bags. That way we get wet but our precious sleeping bags stay dry.

Q. What do you do if someone gets sick/breaks a bone/gets eaten by a bear? 

A. We haven’t actually had anyone get sick on our trips; the exercise and fresh air seem to have a immune-boosting effect.  We have had two injuries on our adventures—one in Alaska where Cole cut his knee open down to the fat globules under the skin (luckily we were still at the resort where we began, on a day hike into the mountains). We hiked down the mountain, got in our car and drove to the nearest ER—6.5 hours away; that is a really good story that requires a separate post.  Our other major injury was in Michigan, when I slipped on a rock and sprained my ankle while acting out a SpongeBob episode for my children.  I proceeded to hike, crying, into camp and two days later, hike out with duct tape for a brace.  When we got done and removed the tape, my ankle looked like a puffy purple orange.  So far, no one has gotten eaten by a wild animal yet, but I did see a movie one Valentine’s Day where a man got eaten by a bear and lived. It was so traumatic for me that I wrote about it here.

Me, showing off my cankle in Isle Royale, MI
Q. Do you bring a gun? 
A. No, it would be too heavy. We do bring a tiny knife to cut Salami and pepper spray to use on things that scare us (like Wolf Man). There is an accepted sub-culture on the trail and almost everyone is pleasant.  Crazy, maybe, but mostly pleasant.

Tess using our tiny knife to prepare some victuals for our lunch.
Q. Why don't you wear hiking boots? 
A. Because they are heavy and super rigid. When you hike, you want something that is sturdy but light; something that has very little break-in time.  We mostly hike in running or trail shoes. I sometimes wish I had more ankle support (see photo above this one), but most of the time I am satisfied with my sneakers.

See our pretty trail runners?
Q. Are you doing what Cheryl Strayed/Bill Bryson did?  
A. Cheryl Strayed was trying to escape her horrible life; we have great lives and just like to be outdoors.  Bill Bryson only did a tiny part of the trail, stayed mostly in hotels, and bathed regularly, so no.  But hey, they both got enough fodder for a book.  As Hemingway says, "Bad childhoods and war make for great writing." I think he would agree that bad trips make for great writing as well.  See the blog series “A Very Long Walk in May.

Q. Do you bring a Coleman grill/cast iron Dutch oven/ax? 
A. Ha, ha, ha* (*fights off the urge to be angsty) We go for the MSR canister stove instead the Dutch oven to save on weight. Nope on the ax. For the times we can have fires, we just gather up kindling.

Tess using our stove on a rock--the only raised surface available. The minute after this photo was taken, the stove collapsed and boiling water got all over everything...but not on Tess!

Q. Do you get lost? How do you know where to go? Do you use maps or a compass? 
A. Yes, we get lost. But never forever because we never go very far off of the trail. We have maps of the sections we hike, but sometimes they are old and the trail has changed.  Most of the trails are marked with signs, at least every few miles, to direct hikers. I have never used a compass, but it seems like it would be a wise thing to take along--very Lewis and Clark-like.

Q. Are there campsites? What do they have? 

A. Yes. There are campsites. And they don't have much. We sleep in our tent at these campsites. Many of them are close to some type or pond or river so you have a ready water source. Some of the campsites have fire rings and allow fires and some have logs to sit on.  Occasionally, you will find a picnic table which is wonderful, and sometimes the trails will have latrines (which are toilets sitting on the top of the hill somewhere behind a few scraggly trees). These are gross and smelly and remind me of a never-emptied porta-potty; you get the idea. Mostly, I just go find a secluded spot in the woods and do my business there.  You are supposed to dig a cat hole to bury your poop, but I figure that is racist against humans since none of the animals are required to do it; so, I just cover it with leaves. Besides, a trowel is just extra weight.

A pretty typical campsite on a pretty typical gray day on our very long walk in May.
Q. Does your dog wear a backpack? 
A. Yes, and he carries his own food and sometimes my water bottle.

And sometimes (not often), he gets tired and decides to take a nap on a log.

Q. Do you lose a lot of weight? 
A. Tess did when she hiked the AT a few summers ago, and I always lose a little, but the minute I return, I am “scary hungry” enough to eat an entire pizza. This normally evens out any weight previously lost.

Both Tess and Shay looking skinny on the AT.

Do you have a question that you have just been hankering to ask? Leave your inquiry in the comment section and I will do my best to address it!