Monday, September 6, 2010

Chattooga River Backpack

Over Labor Day, my hiking partner, Still Waters, and I backpacked for two nights on the Chattooga Trail sections 1 and 2, from the 76 bridge to the 28 bridge (19.2 miles total). This was a fairly gentle section, with just a few hills, and soft trail padded with pine needles ("every footfall is a pleasure").  Despite the holiday weekend, few other backpackers were out, and only the 0.5 miles around the road crossings were busy.

I noticed that I pushed myself hard on this trip. I'd fly down the trail, thinking about how I need to be strong for next spring. I also practiced pushing myself when I was tired: in the afternoon of the second day, after filling up my water containers at a nice spring, I struggled climbing the steepest uphill section of the trip. Normally, I bound up hills. But this time, the extra weight in my pack was a huge burden. So, I kept saying to myself-- pretend your pack is heavy with a resupply out on the AT-- find those extra energy reserves! And I could feel the energy flow and my pace quicken, the muscles responding, and the confidence surging within me-- that I CAN DO IT!

What's cookin'?
Cooler temperatures this trip provided plenty of practice staying warm. I have two sets of clothes-- one for hiking and one for sleeping, and I struggle with figuring out when to change. There is a tradeoff: my hiking clothes are wet with sweat, so I want to change right when I get into camp. But then I need to avoid getting them dirty too (especially with food smells that might attract critters), so sometimes I don't want to change until after I've eaten. This time, there was another consideration-- Still Waters built a fire, so we could dry out our wet clothes, so I decided to change. The steam rose out of our socks, bandannas, and bras as we hung them over the fire, and we joked about how we were roasting our clothes for dinner!

Sunrise over the Chattooga
I tested out two new pieces of gear:

First, I love my Blackbird hammock!  I fell asleep instantly, though I woke up more than usual when I had to turn over because I'm still learning how to find the "sweet spots".  It took me a while to learn to sleep soundly in my tent too. There was no shortage of suitable trees and it set up easily. The best part is all my stuff stays cleaner because I'm out of the dirt. Since there was no chance of rain in the forecast, I didn't pitch the tarp, and so enjoyed looking at the stars and watching the sunset and sunrise from the warmth of my sleeping bag.

This was also my first trip with a steripen (4.4 oz). I switched from my trusty, bulky, heavy pump (17 oz). I'm not convinced the steripen will work as well as my pump, but hopefully I won't get sick, and I will learn to love my steripen. For me, this is a process, so I try to remember how far I've come-- my first backpacking trips, I carried in all my water from home!

I also practiced leaving some gear (intentionally) at home (with my pack down to only 26 lb pack with 3 days food and 3 L water). I missed my campshoes until Still Waters reminded me to take off my shoes and air out my feet. I propped up my bare feet on a rock, and warmed them near the fire. Worked like a charm! I also didn't bring a hat or sunglasses, which works OK for me because I usually stick to shady spots and would rather be a little uncomfortable for a short while than bring the extra stuff.

Besides gear and physical preparations, I have been thinking about practicing *how* I want to hike. My tendency is to hike fast, but I value spending the time to fully savor my surroundings. As I hike along, my eyes constantly scan for flowers, and I usually take the time to stop, investigate, and photograph those that I find. This is second nature to me, and keeps me motivated, curious, and open, and not lost in thought or mindless brain-chatter. What does not come as naturally for me is stopping and sitting down, just to look around. On the second day of the trip after lunch, Still Waters wanted to stop to rest. My initial reaction was frustration, because I wanted to hurry up and get to camp. But we found a spot by the river, and while she lay down, I cooled off in the river and sat on a rock, watching the water flow and a flock of geese, being aware of the changing seasons. It reminded me that this is a valuable skill to have-- being still and just observing. One of my reasons to hike long-distance is that I believe in the personal transformation that happens during this process. I have noticed that the quality of my thinking can be enhanced when I am simply sitting and being still.

Nature notes:
Spotted many wispy white featherbells, a type of lily.
Cardinal flower along the river.
Orange fringed orchid was past it's prime, battered and dried out. Still excited to find it.

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