Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Walk in the Woods

Miki and I took a couple of days off and hiked a short section of the Appalachian Trail.

We drove up to Mohican Outdoor Center on Friday night. We got there later than planned due to unexpected rush hour traffic in Allentown. No worries - we had 2 headlamps and a powerful LED flashlight. We set up camp as the chill crept into the evening, and then set out to make some dinner only to discover that the featherweight cooker no longer worked - instead, it spewed white gas everywhere. So, off to the nearest town, which offered us the choice of a Tractor Supply Store or an A&P. With no luck there, I turned to the internet, and found the closest Walmart was a mere 18 miles away.

Having procured a new cooker, we settled in for a hot meal around 9pm - not the early night we'd wanted, but hey, at least we could cook food! I think if we had not been able to get a cooker, that might have been a deal breaker for me.

After a hearty breakfast (diced ham, eggs, peppers, tomatoes, onions, and Africafe coffee), we broke camp, checked in with the rangers, and then hit the trail. I carried a 35-40lb pack, holding sleeping gear, cooking gear, food, first aid, maps, tent stakes, hammer, camp chairs, and a pump for the kayak (among other things):

The folks at Mohican "rented" (there was no fee or collateral involved...) trekking poles - I'd left mine at home, on the couch. Whoops! Trekking poles were a definite Must Have.

Miki carried the 10lb tent, a life jacket, a 56lb inflatable kayak, and used his paddles as trekking poles.

My husband is full of crazy ideas, and it seems that so far, the craziest of these ideas has involved this damn kayak. Remember a couple of years ago, when he all but gave up on life while kayaking from Philly to Carneys Point, NJ? Yeah.... This time around, his idea was to hike in from Mohican to Sunfish Pond, a mere 5 miles of uneven terrain.

I told him I had massive concerns about this idea, but that I was not going to tell him no. But, I also wasn't going to judge him if he got a mile in and decided to drop the kayak.

From Camp Road, the trail ascends for about a mile. It's rocky, and slow-going, even without the added weight of a backpack. We took lots of breaks - probably twice as many as we might have if one of us wasn't carrying 66 lbs on his back. After about 45 minutes, we found ourselves along the ridge. The trail at this point was narrow, with loose rocks and moss littering the path. Another hour, and we found ourselves at a rock face overlooking the reservoirs to the east.

We broke for lunch and dropped the packs. While soaking up the sun, a guided tour group came through. I envied their light packs out loud.

Back on the trail, we continued at a slow pace. The kayak was starting to wear on Miki and he needed to take lots of breaks. Every half mile (or less, maybe), he'd take a break, seeking out a large boulder to rest the weight of the pack on. I was, surprisingly, doing okay with the heavy pack. 

About 3.5 miles into, it became obvious that things weren't going well for Miki. He was taking more frequent and longer breaks. He started to fall behind, so I let him lead (and set the pace). I watched him as we continued to hike, and started to worry. He was barely picking his feet up for each step. He was making painful noises with each step. And, he was refusing to drop the kayak even though it had clearly become a terrible idea to bring it. I tried to be as encouraging as I could without seeming hokey or superficial, and maybe it made the difference. Still, I haven't seen him like this - physically - in a long time. Maybe ever... 

We took another (much-needed) break at a stream. This time, I dropped my pack too (so that I could go 100 feet off trail to pee) and Miki filtered some water for our 4 water bottles.

Packs back on, we got back on the trail. This part of the trail was fairly easy for a stretch, but that meant nothing for 145 lb Miki... The recommended pack-to-body ratio is 25-33% of your body rate. My man was carrying closer to half his body weight. Not cool. 

As we got closer to Sunfish Pond, each step seemed to be pure agony for him. We took another break (and there may have been crying....) and I looked ahead. Through the trees, I could see water! "Mike, Mike, LOOK! THE POND!!!" The last half of a mile was pure adrenaline and stubbornness for him as he pushed on, Hulk-style. The trail was no longer a route but a mere suggestion. Twigs, loose rocks, and fallen branches were all smashed, kicked, and plowed through, as he only had eyes for one thing.

Finally, we had made it the 5 miles to the tip of Sunfish Pond! There may have been a primal scream or two at this point. Miki dropped everything, secured the kayak in some brush (but at that point dared any other hiker to try - TRY - to hike it out at this point...), and then we continued south. To give him a break, I kept my pack on, even though the plan had been once he dropped the kayak, he'd take the pack from me. Aside from the utter pain in his back and hips, his shoulders were raw from the straps of the Yukon pack he'd used for the kayak.

We were now working against time. It was about 3:45 when we got to the pond, and we still had another mile to go. Seems totally doable, but the next 3/4 mile was over boulders and loose rock. Below is a photo from the January 2010 Miki and a friend took up to Sunfish Pond. This is the trail.

Slowly, we picked our way over and around the rocks. Halfway around the pond, I handed the pack over to Mike and took the 10lb tent. I carried that by hand until we got to the end of the pond, and we took another break. Another hiker had told us that the backpackers site was just another quarter mile ahead, so while we were both tired, we felt almost-victorious.

Using the rope from the Yukon pack for the kayak, I slung the tent over my shoulder messenger-bag style, and we plodded on again. Miki was clearly still delirious when he exclaimed from behind, "You look sexy as shit with that tent slung across your back!" 

1/4 mile turned out to actually be more like 3/4, but finally, just as the sun was setting, we arrived at the backpackers site.

We quickly set up camp, reveling in the awesomeness of a 4-season tent (it was TOASTY in there). There were about 30 or so other people camping with us, including kids as wee as 3 or 4. We put our food and trash in the bear box, and then hit the hay by 7pm. Our pillow talk consisted of looking at maps and figuring out a way to get to Sunfish Pond easilier. 

Yes. Easilier. 

Miki decided to NOT try to hike back with the kayak the next day. Instead, he'd go back to where we'd dumped it, paddle across the pond, and then hide it closer to the (easilier) trail access. He fell asleep quickly, and I spent the night worrying about him (I kept waking up to make sure he was breathing and hadn't had a heart attack) and worrying about the kayak (will someone steal it?).

The next morning, he got up and began making breakfast and coffee while I broke down camp. I was queasy, but figured it was hunger. I managed to eat half of a breakfast sausage before losing it behind a tree... I started to worry that the sausage was bad, or the beef jerky was bad, or the water was bad, but rationalized that Miki was eating and drinking the same things with no inkling of ill effects. I chalked it up to nerves and exertion.

We hit the trail just after 9. By 9:25, we were at the edge of Sunfish Pond.

He left me there and humped over to the far side of the pond to get the kayak. By 10:15, he was paddling over. A day hiker and his dog kept me company (and confirmed that the trail we looked at on the maps the night before was indeed the way to hike out with the kayak - mellow, river-side, a short 3 miles....).

The jury's out as to whether it was worth hiking in with a kayak, but I'm pretty sure he loved every second of his paddle on the pond. We made short work of packing the kayak, hid it in the brush, and then continued on northward. Day 2, things were so much better for him. He was carrying a stable pack, at an appropriate weight. I had the tent and life vest mini-Yukon-packed on my pack.

We even found a route that skirted the rockiest part of the trail around the pond, cutting the time to hike around it in half (and reducing the chances of twisting in ankle while hopping boulders). We hiked at a good clip, and were so focused on moving forward and getting back to the car, that we took a wrong-ish trail, following the double blazed trail to the left, rather than the single-blazed to the right. This was something of a long-cut (as opposed to a short-cut), but did offer spectacular vistas. We stopped for lunch (I ate a Larabar and did not vomit!). Here you can see the rain moving from the west to the east. You can also see a brilliantly yellow copse. 

We hit the stream from the day before, filling up on water again. As we hiked north, I found myself mentally counting all of the places we'd stopped the day before to take breaks. In some instances, there were barely 1,000 feet between them. I was increasingly glad that he'd hid the kayak at the pond. Day 2 would not have gone as well with it on his back...

Around 2pm, we reached the Large Pile of Rocks, a destination that the morning before, I'd thought was a complete joke. It is indeed a large pile of rocks! And on Sunday afternoon, it was crowded with people that seemed to all be part of the same group. As we hiked past, one of them eyed Miki's paddles and I quipped, "Oh, there's a story!" She replied, "We KNOW!" We stopped and told them the tale, and one of the group joked that Miki was going to get a trail nickname if he kept this sort of thing up. "Appalachia Paddle Boy!" Upon request, he hiked off using the paddles as trekking poles, and the group cheered raucously.

We were soon at the reservoir overlook. We stopped briefly, marveled it was barely 2:30, and kept on going. The trail followed the ridge for a bit more, before we began the descent.

With only the expected difficulties on the descent, we were back at the car by 3:30, and en route to Shawnee on the Delaware by 4pm. By 5, we were taking the best showers of our lives, and by 6, we were enjoying a delicious dinner. We were in bed by 8, and spent Monday morning enjoying 3 hours each of spa treatments. 

Overall, it wasn't a bad trip - and by that, I pretty much mean nobody died. Day 1 and Day 2 were opposites, for sure. I will definitely go backpacking again, but not with a 55lb kayak anywhere in the mix... I did much better than I ever expected I could do (and didn't even complain when it started to rain).

1 comment:

Sara MacKenzie said...

Wow. You guys are hard-core. That sounds like quite the adventure, but maybe the universe is trying to tell you that kayaks are just something of a nemesis for y'all.