The Back Story
David and I used to teach together, more than ten years ago. I left the district and eventually the profession, and David moved away. We had always been good friends, but over time we drifted apart—distance and time can do that to a friendship. About two years ago, he called me out of the blue. I had been going through a rough spot, and the call came at a good time to talk with someone with history. The short story version: we ended up getting together to go fishing, and now get together three or four times a year to go. He has a wife and young daughter, like me, so it takes a commitment on both our parts (he still teaches, so it might be a little easier on him), but it’s worth it for both of us.
Last summer, he hiked a portion of the Appalachian Trail. He loved it, and of course called me to see if I wanted to go with him this year. Having hiked as a younger man (college and shortly after, so it’s been a while), I thought it would be fun.
After the funeral, David’s wife Jenny drove us down to Caledonia, PA where the Appalachian Trail (AT to those who’ve hiked on it) crosses at the Thaddeus Stevens Iron Furnace. Stevens was a Civil War era abolitionist who eventually became one of the most powerful Senators in the history of the United States (his bio).
We arrived at Caledonia at about 1 o’clock, geared up and set out to the north. Hiking in, everything was soaking wet from the torrential downpours we have had in the northeastern section of the country. The Caledonia section starts in a low-lying area, so David and I had to hike through some pretty ugly swamps just to get moving forward. [Note: Throughout this entire experience we learned a lot of things in hindsight. As such, you’ll see these entries peppered with statements about what we learned.]
What we learned: Take your hiking shoes off at the swampy areas. Put on a pair of sandals, hike through it, then put your dry hiking shoes on your dry feet.
The first mile or so had two steep climbs, the first about 600 feet and the second about 700 feet, so the first section was a tough place to get reacquainted with the mechanics of hiking. Still, I think we acquitted ourselves quite well (read as: we didn’t bag it right there, catch a cab and hike to a hotel that served beer and wings).
We hiked to the first shelter, about 4 miles. It was a beautiful, well-maintained shelter, with a spring. David explained that it’s a good idea to take your shoes off at certain points to keep your feet from swelling and to let them breathe a little, so we did that. In a hiking situation, you’re bound to run into characters, and we did so at this point. He had a nervous twitch—on his entire face. Afterward, David and I tried to figure out if this twitch was hiking induced, and came to the conclusion he was a high school shop teacher. “Twitchy” was trying to put in about 15 miles a day, which would have put him on the same pace as us. It is not uncommon to see the same characters throughout a hike, at rest areas, shelters, watering holes and the like. We never saw Twitchy again.
While at the shelter, we walked down to the spring to get more water. David had brought a carbon-based water filtration system, where you put the water into a container, then squeeze it out through a carbon filter, removing particles that make you sick (I’ll spare you the suspense—it worked the whole trip. Thank God!)
What we Learned: Chlorine tablets would be so much easier that this stupid, %$#@, &^%*(!), squeeze bottle.
Lunch was eaten while walking. David had brought a trail mix of nuts, granola and M&Ms (melt in your mouth, not in your hand). Not bad at all. In about 4 hours, we had covered 8 miles, which is what we had planned. We hiked down a massive hill and arrived at an area that had a stream. We decided to hike back up the hill and set up camp. Then we realized even though we had a little water, we would need some later, so we went back down the hill, got the water with the stupid, %$#@, &^%*(!), squeeze bottle, then hiked back up.
What we learned: If you stop and think for a second, you can save yourself a lot of time and aggravation.
So we set up camp, and then David brought out THE STOVE. This thing is awesome! We put a dish of water on it for Ramen noodles and heated it up. It took about two minutes to come to a boil: sah-weet! For dinner, I had Ramen noodles with organic miso (I can’t eat the regular packets that come with the noodles because they are loaded with monosodium glutamate, commonly called msg, which causes all kinds of bad stuff with me. I also had some organic beef jerky from my local Giant Supermarket (so happy they carry this, as msg is in jerky as well). We also had cold(!) orangeade and pound cake for dessert. Then we had to wash the dishes…at the bottom of the hill….again.
What we Learned: apparently nothing.
Came back to camp and hung the bear bag away from the camp. This supposedly keeps very large omnivores from coming into your camp, and dining at the buffet table of food, tents, and campers.
--I lost my knife—totally bummed.
--We didn’t see ANY snakes. I was kind of disappointed, David was ecstatic. Normally you see three kinds of snakes on the trail: rattlesnakes, copperheads, and black snakes.
--Fell asleep listening to the loneliest whippoorwill…
--Slept like a baby, and even snored, which is unusual, because I never do.