No Resfeber for the Weary

I must admit, I am completely bewildered by my backpacking trip, a bewilderment that began the night before I left. For one thing, I didn’t feel any resfeber. (Resfeber is a fabulous Swedish word meaning the mingled excitement and dread a traveler feels just before the journey begins.) I just felt . . . ho hum. As if it were the night before an ordinary day. At least it felt that way until I finished packing my backpack. When I added food and water for four days (there are many places on the Pacific Crest Trail a person can hike and not need to carry more than a liter of water because water sources are ubiquitous, but not around here), what had been a moderately light pack turned into a monstrous load. Water is heavy. Sixteen ounces of water weighs a pound. The proverbial eight glasses of water a day weighs four pounds. Four pounds times four days. Eek.

I sat on the bed to put the pack on because it was too heavy to sling onto my shoulders any other way, and walked around the room for a bit. I moved okay, and it didn’t seem that much heavier than my backpack practicing weight, though I’m sure it was about ten pounds more than I’d ever tried carrying. (Did I mention that water is heavy?)

I worried about the long, steep climb up the Acorn trail to the Pacific Crest Trail, but decided I’d take things as they came. If it took me all day to climb those three miles, well, then, it would take all day. It’s a good thing I didn’t spend much time worrying about that climb because I ended up experiencing some trail magic. The fellow who let me park in his driveway drove me to a different trail head right off the road, where two easy steps took me onto the trail.

20180614_123048

As I started walking, I could feel a big smile on my face. The day was lovely, the pack seemed doable, the trail (and a sense of freedom) stretched ahead of me.

20180614_123931

After a less than a mile, I paused to get a silk scarf from my belly pack to put around my ears to protect them from the wind. A young fellow stopped just in front of me to remove something from his pack, and we talked a bit. He was thru hiking the PCT, had spent the night in town to do some work on the computer, and was now hurrying to catch up to his hiking buddies.

He apologized for speeding ahead, and then he sped ahead. Within a few seconds he had disappeared around a bend. Watching him practically run with his pack, I thought how nice it must be to be a young male, so strong and full of vigor and testosterone. And then I looked around and thought it wasn’t so bad being an old (well, older) woman, either.

I didn’t see another person on the trail, so I got my solo wilderness experience, except it didn’t feel any different from any other hike I took alone. Just a hike.

20180614_155229

But it wasn’t just another hike. I’d never before carried much more than a bottle of water, even on the long hikes I took a couple of years ago in the redwood forests and on the beaches in northern California.

At one point, I had to stop to retie my shoe laces to keep my feet from sliding forward on the downhill slopes. Since I couldn’t bend over, I perched on a low tree stump, tied the shoes, drank some water, and then tried to get up. Absolutely could not. I ended up having to take off the pack, stand up, drag the pack to a higher stump, heft it onto the hump, and reposition it on my back. Not elegant, but it worked.

20180614_141113

I hiked most of the day — one slow step after another, picking my way up (and down) a narrow, dusty, and sometimes gravelly trail. Then I hit a section of steep down slope, and after about a half mile, my legs stopped working. I simply could not take another step. Luckily, I’d arrived at about the only flat place I’d seen all day. I collapsed, rested, then hauled myself to my feet and set up camp. I went inside the tent and lay there. It was only about five o’clock, way too early to go to sleep, but I had no energy to do anything else. I just lay there listening to the wind howling through the trees above me. I was totally alone, the closest road a thousand feet beneath me, and it felt like . . . nothing out of the ordinary.

20180614_163611

The ordinariness, actually, was not bewildering. I’d experienced that sort of thing before, where I thought something would be life changing, but when it came time to do the thing, it turned out that the change had happened before the actual event. (Or maybe living in the moment makes every moment feel ordinary because it is the only moment that exists.)

What did bewilder me was that I didn’t feel any soreness after carrying the pack all that time. I just got exceedingly wobbly, then I hit a wall. What bewildered me even more is that the trail seemed to consist of steep ups and downs, but on an elevation map, it looked fairly straight. What bewildered me most of all is that it took me five hours to hike a mere four miles. Four miles??? That’s nothing. It’s what I normally walk, though admittedly, the desert paths I frequent are wide and packed solidly enough that even with a pack, I can stride along without having to carefully settle one foot before lifting the other. And I have never carried such a heavy pack. But still, five hours to walk four miles? Apparently, I am not as strong as I think I am.

The next day, I broke camp early and was back on the downward trail with steep switchbacks.

20180615_070734

By the time I got to the end of that section, I was almost done for. Couldn’t go up the next steep slope, couldn’t go back up the steep slope I’d just descended to return the way I had come. So I headed up the highway. After a couple of miles, a fellow stopped to offer me a ride. He moved his pack off the seat to make way for me. I tossed my pack in the back of the truck (well, pushed it up as far as I could and then tipped it over into the truck bed) and we took off. Turned out he’d been going in the opposite direction, on his way for a day of hiking when he saw me and took pity on me. (He said he turned around because he could tell I was at the end of my strength, but I think he was magicked into it.) He asked where I was going, and when I told him, he went silent as if he didn’t really want to drive that far, but the silence only lasted a second as he made the mental readjustment. It’s no wonder he didn’t want to drive me all the way back to my car. Not only would it give him a late start for his hike, but he’d end up where he started. Turned out my car was parked a block from his house.

Very nice fellow. He understood about the heavy pack. Apparently, he and the friends he goes on backpacking trips with are all about my age, and even though they are all lifelong hikers, they don’t do dry sections anymore because they can’t handle carrying all that water. (That made me feel not quite so weak and inept.)

Today, I am sore, but bewilderingly, I ache in places I’ve never even felt before. My knees didn’t hurt at all on the hike, but the muscles behind the knees are now sore. And my upper midriff is so stiff I had a hard time lifting myself out of a reclining position this morning.

So what does all this tell me? Not much. As I said, the whole experience bewildered me.

But it was an experience, which is what I wanted. And, although I wasn’t out there for as long as I’d planned, I did it! I spent a night on the Pacific Crest Trail.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Being Silly

As I was sauntering along today, carrying twenty-eight pounds on my back, the whole thing — the weight, the pretend backpacking treks, the dream of a hugely long hike — suddenly seemed utterly silly.

I suppose if I could see any changes — more muscle tone, a sleeker body, greater energy, anything — it wouldn’t seem so ridiculous, but I don’t see any difference in me at all. I am carrying more weight in the pack than I did at the beginning, but I don’t think it’s because I’m stronger; it’s more that I carried less than I could when I started this project. Back then, I couldn’t carry much because I couldn’t sling the pack onto my back. Once I figured out that it was easy to put the pack on while sitting on the bed, I was able to increase the weight.

But that brings up another silly issue — in the backcountry, there are no beds, so I researched how to put on a pack out in the wild (hoist it up onto a bent leg using the haul strap, hold the haul strap with the left hand, put the right arm through the right shoulder strap, hump it onto your back and then put the left arm through the strap), but that’s difficult to do even without a weak and wonky left arm. I thought of using a rope to haul the thing up my back, but sheesh — talk about silly!

I guess none of this is any more foolish than the rest of my life, such as spending years writing books only a few folks read. Or taking ballet classes when one is leaden footed. Or learning to dance when one can’t distinguish one note or instrument from another. (In class the other day, I was told to do a certain move when the steel guitars started. Total blank. Hadn’t a clue.) Or driving a forty-six-year-old car. Or . . .

Come to think of it, is anything in my life not silly?

But then what do I know — perhaps silliness is the point of my life. Of any life. Maybe God created us and the world and even the universe in a fit of silliness and then went on to more important things.

Since I have nothing more important to do at the moment, I’m stuck with my silliness. At least I’m consistent, but then, consistency is foolish, too.

As if all this weren’t silly enough, I spent the past half hour trying to find the perfect positioning for the image of the bed in this blog post.

Yikes.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

The Gift is in the Preparation

I woke this morning to the sound of wind squeaking through my ill-fitted bedroom window.

(Hmm. Wind. Window. Is there a relationship here? Be right back; I need to check the etymology of window. Yep. They’re related. Window comes from Old Norse words vindr meaning wind and auga meaning eye. So a window is a wind eye, or a wind hole. The earliest mention of window came early in the 13th century, and it meant an unglazed hole in the roof. So originally a window let in the wind and now it keeps it out?)

But back to the matter at hand . . .

I snuggled under the covers, thinking that I’d take a zero day today. (A zero day in backpacking terms is a day when no miles are gained.) Then I remembered my weekends are supposed to mimic a backpacking trip, and if I were really out in the wilds, I’d have to keep on the move. (Or not. There is that zero day thing.)

I remembered also that I only have these three days each week to condition myself to carrying a pack, since I have dance class the other four days. (I still hope for grace and balance from dance. It could happen.) And I need all three backpacking days to get used to carrying extra weight.

So, I got dressed, shrugged on the pack and headed into the wind. Yikes. Cold! And gusty. Some of those gusts were so strong they almost blew me over. But I did it — trudged four miles, teetering in the wind, with twenty-two pounds on my back — and I realized that though the goal might be to backpack on the Pacific Crest Trail, the gift is in the doing. It was hard going today, but what a thrill to be on my feet, moving through the blustery air, racking up the miles. Admittedly, four miles isn’t exactly “racking up the miles,” but still, to be able to walk any distance is a true wonder.

It seems funny that I’ve been thinking, writing, talking about the Pacific Crest Trail for so many years — four-and-a-half years since my first mention of the PCT, four years since my first hike on the trail — but until this very year, I never actually strapped on a backpack to try to train myself for such an epic hike.

I still don’t know if I can do any long distance sauntering, but as I discovered today, the PCT is the goal. The gift is in the preparation. And that, for sure, I can do — even on a windy day.

I still remember seeing this sign and taking the photo when I was on a different outing (to find the San Andreas Fault). I was so excited to see evidence of this mythical trail that I walked up the path a bit, but then I had to turn around because neither of my companions had any interest in the trail at all. I’ve done many day hikes since then, but still no overnights. That fearful joy is still to come.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

My Faux Backpacking Trip

Dance class was cancelled today, so I was going to take a “zero” day — in backpacking parlance, that means no miles — but since I had nothing better to do, I eventually shrugged on the pack and headed up the road. I figured, in a real backpacking situation, for example one in which I was running out of food, being lazy wouldn’t get me out of the predicament, and the saunters this weekend were supposed to — sort of — mimic a backpacking trip.

20180115_122624.jpg

Sixteen miles in four days carrying twenty pounds sounds like a lot (and feels like even more!) but for a real backpacker, that would be a day’s hike with a light pack.

But then, I’m not a real backpacker, and have no real aspirations to be. What I’m aiming for is time in the wilderness rather than monster miles through the wilderness, but one doesn’t get to remote areas without some effort, so that’s what I’m doing. Putting in the effort.

As of right now, I figure I’m carrying the basic pack, or rather the weight of a basic pack, which would include the pack itself, a tent, sleep system (a total of ten pounds for those three basic items), and perhaps another ten pounds of emergency supplies and tools and extra clothes. What’s missing? Yep — food and water.

I could, of course, get rid of some of the emergency items and tools, such as the external battery for my phone and the Solo camp stove, to make room for food, but an even better plan would be to get strong enough to carry more weight.

I’m doing well for just having started my conditioning for a backpacking trip. I’ve also stuck to most of my non-resolutions, such as no sugar, no wheat, almost no dairy, but the not-eating-after-6:00-pm has been a problem. Still, it’s on the list, and one day, perhaps, I can adhere to that item, too. I do other things on the list, such as stretching and lifting weights (very light weights because of my arm) most days, which hopefully will also help get me in shape for the trip. Oddly, dance classes have become something of a respite from the trail conditioning because even grand plies are easier than trudging around with twenty extra pounds piled on my body.

Best of all, by being disciplined and going out for a trudge, I got to enjoy the lovely day.

20180115_115555.jpg

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.