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, icing my cankle on 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!