Friday, October 17, 2008

Some under-the-weather trekking

Gosh, I was on such a roll there for a couple of weeks and then -POOF!- no more blogging. I guess that's how it goes sometimes. Maybe I just didn't have much to say or maybe I'm just saving up for NaBloPoMo.

Doesn't matter. I went backpacking this week. I left Tuesday morning and drove two and a half hours east to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail. I hate that I drove that far just to go for a walk when there are perfectly good trails (including a whole national park's worth and nearer portions of the AT) that are much closer. Given my rather outspoken ideas about unnecessary consumption, which certainly includes needless burning of fossil fuels, believe me when I say that I don't take such a trip lightly. I only drive about three miles a week on average these days, though, and sometimes you just gotta live your life. But I don't really need to explain myself to you.

It was a nice drive. As much as we should all try to reduce the miles we drive, getting in a car and hitting the road really can be fun, especially when you've been stuck in the same rut for months. And when that car trip involves cruising twisty mountain roads on a bluebird autumn day leaving a rooster-tail of fallen leaves in the wake of your tailgate, it's almost worth the price even if you're not going anywhere.

But I was going somewhere. A place called Big Bald to be exact. I scarfed down my leftover slice of pizza where Interstate 26 crests Sam's Gap on the Tennessee-North Carolina state line before hefting my pack (and hefty it was since I was carrying three and a half liters of water; it's dry up on the ridges this time of year) and heading up into the trees. The first mile was easy; the second was a bitch. The steep grades were rewarded soon enough, however, with a grassy ridge and views of Big Bald several more roller coaster miles in the distance.

The resort development surrounding Wolf Laurel ski area could be seen poking up through the trees on the ridges to the right (south) of Big Bald and in the valleys below. A few miles later, as I began the final ascent toward the bald, I followed a short side trail out of curiosity and found myself standing across from somebody's front yard. So much for wilderness.

Soon after my close encounter of the second-home kind, I found my trail swag. Have I mentioned that I find stuff when I go hiking? I think I have, but here's a refresher of my haul from over the years: a shirt (too small), a headlamp (still in use), a Nalgene bottle (currently saving a liter of water every time we flush the toilet), various carabiners and other climbing equipment and now (drumroll, please)... a pair of adjustable, shock-absorbing Coleman trekking poles. No shit! Just leaning up against a tree! How does a person forget their trekking poles mid hike? Wouldn't you notice, after carrying them all those miles, that suddenly your hands were empty?!

At first I thought that someone must have just leaned them there to go off into the trees and take a crap or something. I looked around but could discern no signs of animal life save the prodigious chipmunk population and some birds. Two lonely trekking poles with no one for company except each other.

And now they are my trekking poles.

And with that, an innocent and unexpected find in the woods, I was now trekking. I became a trekker. What before had been mere walking, or at best hiking, became full-on trekking.

Below: Me, walking, shortly before the discovery of the poles of trek.

And (sometime) after...


as walking...


became so much more...


than just walking:

TREKKING! (below)

The differences are subtle, but believe me, they're there. You just have to look closely.

So now trekking, I trekked up the increasingly rocky trail through the falling yellow leaves until at last I trekked through treeline and into the blazing sun. Feeling the summit fever and trekking even harder, ignoring the sweat poring down my face, I topped out on the bald, grassy summit to take in the breathtaking 360-degree views of forested, multi-colored mountains under brilliant blue skies.

At which time I also confronted a 16-passenger van and a pickup truck surrounded by about 20 people in folding chairs. Let me tell you, there isn't much that's more disappointing than hiking six miles in search of solitude and community with nature at the top of a mountain than finding that you could have driven there, and that other people actually have.

Above: Looking southeast from Big Bald at the Black Mountains, tallest range in eastern North America.

Below: The van.

It would actually turn out that the road to the top is gated and that the group I saw was some sort of ornithological continuing education class, so it could have been worse. If the road were public access, the whole area would have no doubt been trashed. As it was, once they finally packed up and left some time later, the place was perfectly peaceful and I had it all to myself.

I camped a few hundred feet down the mountain where I utilized my new trekking poles to pitch my tarp over. Good thing, too, because finding sticks for the purpose can be really tough in the woods.

After cooking and consuming 2.5 servings of Kroger-brand broccoli cheddar flavored rice, which included well over my daily allowance of sodium, I immediately regretted it and began experiencing a nausea that hasn't entirely let up since. I never did puke, but without going into details about my symptoms I'll just say I will be thinking in a new dietary direction next time I am making my trail food selections.

Ignoring the impending bomb in my gut, I hiked back up the peak in the full-moon light (no trekking this time since my poles were otherwise occupied) and wore out the battery in my camera playing around with time exposures. It was a beautiful clear night, perfect but for the the heavy dew that left some of my gear soaking wet in the morning.

I made sure I was up early enough to get back up to the summit for sunrise where I waited for the show in the predawn chill. I guess the last time I saw the sun rise from a mountain peak was just over two years ago atop the Grand Teton. Same sun, though, and same silence surrounded by the same explosion of nuclear colors. Always worth it.

Breakfast was instant oatmeal chased with a cup of tea and it brought back the same unsteady feeling of the night before, this time accompanied by a pounding headache. The original plan was to stay out for two nights, but given the way I was feeling there was no way I was sticking around to eat more shitty trail food (though no food was sounding good at the time) and spend another night sleeping on the ground.

What followed was the longest six mile hike, I mean trek, I've ever taken. Six miles is nothing for me, but this was a battle. The hardest part was getting up and continuing whenever I stopped to rest. I just felt like 100% ass.

It was still a good trip, though. Big Bald, at least once the trucks and vans pull away, has the best view I've seen anywhere in the east. I don't know exactly why I felt, and still feel, a little off. Maybe it was the food. Maybe it was some bad water. Maybe I just suck.

Well, that was my overnight trip. If that recounting wasn't long enough, here are some more pictures for you.

Plants of the flowery persuasion are largely, and thankfully, out of season. This variety, common name "lavender asshole", persists.
This widowmaker was hanging right over the trail. I didn't even want to walk, or trek, under it until I decided it might make a nice picture. So then I stood under it long enough to compose a photo.
Moonrise from my campsite.

Four-second exposure and a flashlight.

Just before sunrise.

You can see Table Rock on the horizon to the right of the sun.


nancypearlwannabe said...

The very idea of sleeping alone in the woods at night freaks me right out. Especially after reading a few books about women being abducted and killed on the AT.

Although, the lavender assholes almost persuade me.

Allie said...

I think you should find a way to make the trekking pole/beach towel cape pic your header.

I love that you say you felt like 100% ass but it was still a good trip. You are hardcore, sir.

Courtney said...

You're such a dork. Why do I live with you?

Oh, right. Because you're funny.

Jacob said...

Good photos and good narrative, although the break in continuity of the trekking pole superhero somehow suddenly indoors in the middle of the AT breaks the illusion a bit.

And there's some fairly serious bug going around down here. I was down with pneumonia two weeks ago, my teaching neighbor missed all of this week with something similar, and our principal and another teacher really sounded rough today. Maybe you were actually sick and not just annoying your stomach with crappy food.

Aaron said...

I can never remember whether "trekker" or "trekkie" is the preferred nomenclature.

Wait, I'm sorry, I thought we were talking about something else.

The Modern Gal said...

I like that you took the time to put a tank top over a short-sleeved shirt.

Sorry your ass feeling cut your trip short. I can totally commiserate. I had to cut a backpacking lite tour short in Colorado one time for the same reason, although I knew it was altitude sickness. I puked all the way down a peak.

Beautiful pictures. I especially love the last one. I feel like it's making a statement to the ass feeling.

Rachel said...

I always enjoy your hiking stories and pictures, especially since I'm not really a get-out-into-nature kind of girl.Sorry about the sickness, though -- I pledge to shake my fist menacingly at Kroger next time I drive by. Maybe I'll even go inside and throw boxes of rice on the floor.

Julie said...

I don't suppose you thought about the fact that your illness could be Mother Nature's way of punishing you for polluting her. She expected better from you and is probably disappointed.

Anonymous said...

great find man. let me know the next time you plan on going, id like to feel like an ass with you in the woods. ive got the itch and you can help me get that itch scrached. oh yeah.


Jacob said...

Your blogiversary widget is saying your blog gets a year older in 358 days. I didn't realize that blog years were longer than regular years.

Sarah said...

Hmm. Despite the evil that it unleashed on you, I can't help but crave some broccoli cheddar flavored rice after reading this post.