Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ants, Ice Cream and the Meaning of Life

"I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it."

~Harry Emerson Fosdick

Stratton - Pierce Pond (Sept 9th - 11th)
The next morning no one seemed very motivated to get out of Stratton early.  We had a fairly easy two miles past the usual brooks and streams, then began the climb up South Horn mountain. And then.....we hit the 2,000 mile mark.  I can't believe I have hiked 2,000 miles.  That's just crazy.  Crazy awesome. About halfway up I stopped at a view with Pants, Flies, FM and Meds.  We all agreed we would at least try to get to Avery Memorial campsite, which was over South Horn and Bigelow Mountain west peak.  I was the last to get hiking again, enjoying the ridge line before heading up South Horn.  Just as I was approaching the turn off to Horns Pond Lean-To,  Meds and FM popped out of nowhere, informing me they were staying here instead.  This place was a palace, the Hilton of shelters.  Meds proceeded to "show me around," there were amazing tent spots everywhere.  They had picked out the 'deluxe' so we could all fit in one.  Horns Pond was also gorgeous and I spent the late afternoon and early evening hiking around it and fishing with Meds.  Fishing, turns out, is a lot like waiting.  But, I like it.  I even caught my first fish!  We didn't realize how cold it was getting as we hiked from one spot to the next, until we were clear on the other side of the pond.  I headed back to watch the sun set on a rock, then walked back to camp, where I really became aware of how cold it was.  Everyone else, not having just section hiked a lake, was huddled in their tents trying to keep warm.  The second I quit moving I was freezing, and I decided to make diner in my vestibule. 

Flies trying out his new hat as a face mask

View of South Horn

2,000 etched in moss

Meds fishing in Horns Pond
My first fish!

The next morning was no warmer.  No one wanted to get out of their sleeping bags.  I could hear Flies (who was still coat less) moaning "I should have brought a jacket instead of a Mario blanket...." Yes Flies.  That is what you should have done.  I wasn't sure how much longer we were going to be able to live out here if it kept getting this cold at night.  I packed up as quickly as possible, ready to get moving to warm up.  At least it made me hike faster.  I bundled up for the climbs over South Horn, Bigelow west peak and Avery Peak, all very windy, cloudy and exposed.  Halfway up Bigelow I found FM hunkered down behind some rocks taking a break.  We rallied and finished our climb up to the peak, Flies not far behind us.  In lieu of a jacket, he had strapped his Mario blanket around himself like a cape, and as I glanced back while hiking down Avery Peak, he looked like a super hero blowing in the wind.  

FM climbing Bigelow

As I turned to continue on my way, I slammed my trekking pole down for balance, but it somehow got wedged between two rocks, bent at some unforgivable angle, and snapped in two, sending me sprawling to the right of the trail.  Awesome.  I was fine, but my pole was dead.  I examined it's wound, the break was jagged and uneven.  I thought about stashing it in my pack and just fixing it when I got to the base of the mountain, but I kinda wanted it to help me get down the mountain.  I looked around and tried to find a spot out of the crazy wind, as I was still sitting exposed on the side.  I found some cover and got out my duct tape.  The tape wasn't strong enough alone so I had to use one of my tent stakes as a splint, all the while willing my gloveless frozen fingers to hang on a bit longer as I jerry-rigged my stupid pole.  Pants, FM and Meds all passed, wondering what the hell I was doing - I held up my pole and was met with a unanimous "that sucks."  It was freezing so I shooed them along and told them I'd be right behind.  Satisfied my repair would hold up until I could get Sukie to send me an extra I had at home (Black Diamond, in an effort to keep their little AT hiker happy, had sent me three other poles that I had on deck in MSP).  As I got hiking I started going through the list of my gear that was currently being held together with duct tape.  It was like half my shit.  Including my tent (some asshole animal ate it's way in one night) and my sleeping bag (I sorta ate my way out in a moment of panic).  Our bodies weren't the only things getting worn out. 

Flies on Avery Peak

When I arrived at Safford Notch, most everyone had moved on, but I found Peach and Overdrive bundled up on the side of the trail attempting to have lunch and I decided to join them.  It was a cold lunch, even at the base of the mountain, so we didn't linger long.  We still had Little Bigelow to climb over, and the three of us leap frogged each other as we took breaks to put on more clothes.  I got a bit ahead of them as I started the descent down Little Bigelow, when I fell, yet again.  But I couldn't blame my trekking pole this time as it was still intact.  This was me just falling.  I misstepped somewhere, bent my ankle, heard a very loud crack and went down.  The pain in my ankle was unbelievable and I screamed loudly as I fell, though no one was around to hear it.  I sat there for a few minutes just trying to keep myself from passing out, I felt so dizzy for some reason.  Not sure if it was from the pain or from the terror of wondering if I just ended my hike.  I took a breath and pulled myself together to look at my right ankle.  I took my time with it, testing the pressure I could put on it.  It was swelling up pretty bad so I took some ibuprofen right away.  Bad news was it hurt really bad. Good news was I was pretty sure I could deal with it and still put pressure on it. 

Peach, Overdrive and J-Dub arrived as I was pacing back and forth testing it out.  They asked me what was up, I assumed I looked a bit odd.  Well these mountains are trying to fucking kill me that's what's up.  J-Dub hiked slowly with me down to Little Bigelow Lean-To, where I announced I would be going no further that day.  Peach and Overdrive continued on to East Flagstaff Lake, where everyone else was planning to go.  I asked them to tell the rest I would just catch up tomorrow, and headed into the shelter with J-Dub.  We crossed over the large stream that lead to the shelter, and I really wanted to stick my ankle in to ice it.  But it was 30 degrees outside, and my desire avoid hypothermia trumped my desire to ice my ankle.  I figured I could just fill up my bladder with water and use that as an ice pack.  It would stay cold, we were currently living in a refrigerator.  

J-Dub and I were setting up our tents when we were surprisingly graced with the presence of Cheesewater.  He had gotten off in Stratton to visit his brother and was now catching up.  He decided to stay too and built a spectacular fire to help us warm up.  The original goal for the next day was to hike to Pierce Pond Lean-To, only four miles out of Caratunk.  Despite my ankle, that still had to be my goal as I didn't have enough food to sit out there and rest it.  And it was honestly too cold to just be sitting around, we spent most of our time hiking if for no other reason than to stay warm.  The next morning it was still swollen, but I could walk on it as long as I went a bit slower, so I honestly just assumed I rolled it and it would be fine in a few days.  I figured I could take a day off in Caratunk to give it a bit of rest after the 18 miles I was about to make it do today.  I headed out after Cheesewater and thankfully the first few miles to East Flagstaff Lake were smooth and easy.  In fact, if I was going to hurt myself on the hike, I did it at the best place, we had several days of easy hiking (well, easier hiking) ahead before heading into the 100 Mile Wilderness.  At the lake I found Pants and White Wolf sitting by a dwindling fire trying to keep warm as they waited for me, so they could shake their heads at me when I showed them my ankle.  Satisfied that I was alive and could still hike, we headed on our way.  We had two small climbs to deal with, then it was smooth sailing all the way to Pierce Pond.  

Passing East Carry Pond

It was in fact so easy, it got kinda boring.  That coupled with the fact that I was walking so slow made the time just drag on.  One of the things I love about being out in the woods and away from all the distractions of life was that it really gave you time to think.  I really valued that time, just to have complete thoughts, let my mind wander in a continuous flow without interruption.  But six months later....sometimes there just isn't enough shit to think about to fill up all the time we have to think.  So when the trail gets technical it's a welcome distraction for our brain as well as our bodies.  But at the moment Pants and I basically had ten miles of moving sidewalk ahead of us, except we had to do the moving.  We passed the time by playing dumb games.  Like, going through the alphabet and for every letter name an artist neither of us had in our iPods.  In fact, going through the alphabet and naming things became a common game for AT hikers.  (By the way, can ANYONE name a food that starts with the letter X????) the ten body parts that only have three letters or the ten countries that only have four letters.  Yes, we had the time to go through all the countries and come up with this shit.  You just have to be doing something so monotonous that you actually find it entertaining. 

Don't get me wrong, this journey was a mental detox that truly allowed me to explore my thoughts on life, love and death.  And then other days I thought about ice cream flavors.  There's not enough fruit flavored ice creams.  Why does froyo get all the fruit?  And speaking of dairy, how exactly do cows turn grass into milk anyway?  Can scientists even do that?  And how do ants walk upside down? Do they have sticky feet?  Are they too tiny gravity just doesn't apply?  

You get the point.

When you spend a significant amount of time in nature, you may come out with more questions than answers, because you have the time to ask all the questions you never realized you wanted answers to.  The thing about nature is that it re-gifts us our childish sense of wonder.  You lose it as an adult because you have more important things to think about, I guess.  But I was happier thinking about ants, ice cream and the meaning of life than my electric bill or what I was going to wear that night.  I knew I would have to start thinking about those things again someday, but not that day.  

What I was not happy with was my ankle.  I couldn't have been more relieved to get to Pierce Pond.  Everyone was there, but the area surrounding the pond was so open we were able to spread our tents out.  Meds, FM and Cheesewater were down by the pond fishing,  and Pants, White Wolf and I had a quiet dinner up on the hill by our tents.  Pierce Pond had a bit of sadness draped over it.  A fellow hiker, Parkside Paulie, had drowned here earlier in the season.  There was a memorial in the shelter to him and most of the register entries were dedicated to him.  Though we never met him, I think it made us all grateful that we were still out here, having this experience, completing our journey, and it was a reminder that just because we have come this far, that does not mean we are invincible.  I retreated to my tent early so I could ice my ankle with my bladder while the rest of me was in a warm sleeping bag.  Tomorrow we would be in Caratunk, and staying at the Kennebc Pub and Brewery.  Hungus told us that there was a hot tub mere feet away from the bar.  Sounded like the perfect place to rest my injury for a day.  

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