Sunday, January 4, 2009

Reflections From A Night Hike On The Appalachian Trail...

I just got done with a 5 mile round trip night hike. [For my blog post on the Leadership Lessons God showed me from this hike go to my business blog.] It was such a pretty day Saturday, and I just wanted to get outdoors. I was originally going to walk somewhere in town, but after my attempt at finding a walking partner failed, I considered an actual hike. At first I thought about the trail up on Mill Mountain. But as it was already late in the day, and I hadn't hiked that trail in years, I decided to do a more familiar one.

There's a really nice hike along the Appalachian Trail from Black Horse Gap to Wilson Creek Shelter. I decided upon it, as I'd done that section within the last couple years. During berry season it is a hiker's dream! But this is not berry season. I thought it was a 2 miles hike each way, but I found out when I got there that it was 2.5 miles to the shelter. Poor memory or trail re-lo's, I'm not sure...but it's still a great section.

While it isn't berry season, it is the season where the trail is COVERED with leaves for long stretches. DEEP leaves. And, while hiking along an 18-inch wide trail on the side of a mountain carries with it a certain amount of risk anyway, when you add calf+ deep leaves and night time it adds an extra dose of "excitement" to the mix.

OK, so traversing said 18-inch wide path while "cross-country skiing" through deep leaves in the dark is probably not of interest to most of the people I know. Maybe that's why I have a hard time getting hiking companions... ;-)

When I realized that there was heavy "leaf-fall" on the ground it made me think back to March of 2000 when I had a bad fall on the AT while solo-hiking and spent an extra night out on the trail, because I couldn't put any weight on my one ankle. I thought I'd broken it, but it was only a bad sprain. My second night out I had to sleep on that lovely 18-inch wide trail somewhere between Tinker Cliff and Cloverdale/Daleville with my back against a rock and my legs dangling over the side of the mountain...I'd learned a valuable lesson on that hike - don't hike through deep leaves on a steep descent without paying attention to your footing. I have to admit, deep leaves on the trail still cause a little unease.

But with my new "cross-country skiing" leaf-technique, I managed to travel the 2.5 miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway to Wilson Creek Shelter without incident. It took me a LOT longer than normal - 1 hour 20 minutes. But slow and safe is better than fast and falling down the mountain. (Oh, yeah, been there, done that before the rain and fog at night on a never-before-hiked-by-me trail...and, of course, by myself! You've never lived until you've clawed your way up a mountainside in the rain, mud and dark with a 45-pound pack on your back...)

I thought I'd still had my hiking poles in the trunk, but much to my dismay they weren't I promptly found this little stick whose sole purpose was to make sure there was actually solid ground underneath the leaves before I attempted to plant my weight there. I figured that was a pretty good thing to do! LOL!

Each bend of the mountainside gave me a different view of the valley below. The distant lights twinkled a happy greeting to anyone blessed enough to be on the trail at that moment. The sky was clear. The air was crisp and clean, and only the occassional call of an owl broke the stillness of the night. My only regret at times like that is not having someone special to share those moments with...being single is wonderful most of the time, but... I guess that's one reason I love to blog. It gives me some hope of maybe even one person catching the same sense of wonder and excitement that I feel during times like this.

When I got to the Shelter I set up my trusty Whisperlite International 600 backpacking stove. I've had it since 1998, and it has been very dependable. I'd planned my meal based on the HCG Diet that I'm on, so I poured the bag of shredded cabbage in one cookpot and browned the Laura's Lean Hamburger in another. After adding the container of seasonings I'd prepared ahead of time to the meat, it all got dumped into the pot with the cabbage. Within just moments I had a BIG steaming hot bowl of Cabbage Beef Soup in front of me...all 240 calories worth! I love this diet! I get totally stuffed on massive quantities of food...all for less than 500 calories a day.

After my yummy meal, I spent some time in prayer and Bible study. Then I pulled out my trusty laptop...YES, I brought my laptop on the night hike! Did I hear you call me a Geek?! I resemble that remark! I worked on the report that I have to have turned in from the Health Care Community Discussion last Sunday until my laptop battery died. I was actually going to video blog a few minutes while sitting there at the shelter, but didn't get a chance to. :-( (Yes I brought my webcam with me too!)

I wanted to make a short entry in the Shelter Register before leaving. (The register is simply a notebook where people who pass through can write their thoughts, shout to other hikers, etc. The person who leaves a new notebook usually puts their address on the cover, so whoever fills in the last page and leaves a new notebook can send it to them.) I couldn't believe my eyes when I opened to the first page to see who'd been through lately...Rockfish & Turtle, whom I'd hiked with on my attempted thru-hike in 1999, had been through on November 4th! Oh how I wish I'd known they were in the area! (Turtle is actually a small stuffed turtle. My hiking companion that year was Mouse, a small, stuffed, green dinosaur...Mouse & Turtle got along well!) Oh well, maybe this year I'll get down to Trail Days or over to The Gathering and catch up with old friends.

Anyway, the temperature dropped dramatically while I was sitting there at the shelter, and I was glad to get back on the trail to head for the car. I was really glad I'd brought an extra fleece shirt, but was missing my polypro long underwear! :-) The 1-1/2 hour hike back (where did all of those UPHILL sections come from on the way back?) warmed me up nicely, and I arrived back to the car without incident. It was a great night, and I'm so glad I went.

I know there are those of you who are shaking your heads as you read this...most of my friends do that too. Life is a gift from God to be lived to the fullest. I've never wanted to get to the end of it with dreams still left unfollowed and years worth of regrets over things left undone. There is an element of risk in almost anything we do...just hop in your car and pull onto your nearest freeway or try being a student at your local high school or university! And statistically more people die in car accidents within a couple miles of home than do anywhere else. Yet that doesn't stop us from piling into the car to head to work, the grocery store, or wherever. So until that time when I go home to be with my precious Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, I'll continue to follow my dreams along whatever precarious paths they may lead me. I live my life to the fullest with No Regrets! And I hope that sharing my journeying will inspire you to do that too!

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