This past weekend I went backpacking again up on the Appalachian Trail just south of Waynesboro, Va. We traveled 8 miles the first day and 5 the second day spending a night next to Mill Creek and the Paul Wolfe Shelter. I also had a great opportunity to take some photos at Humpback Rock with its grand vistas of the valley below.
The weather was just about perfect. In order to get to the campsite we went down this zigzag trail and were greeted by other campers who had already arrived and were enjoying the cool stream. I set up my tent in an isolated area and went down to the stream to soak my tired feet in the water. Ah, bliss. Later on we started a campfire next to the shelter and enjoyed a few hours of camaraderie. It was just cool enough to make us appreciate the warmth a campfire provides as well as the nearly full moon glancing down at us between the trees.
This is how you get to know a group of relative strangers. And, yes, there were a few drinks involved in that process. But a father showed up with his young son in tow and we all kept that in mind as the evening wore on. They stayed in the shelter. Some of our group also slept in the shelter. I eventually wandered back to my tent, regretting that I has set it up outside the “perimeter”. There were lots of bear encounter stories to wind up the evening so I was thinking that if a bear came by I would, naturally, be the one he would pick off. But there were no bears in the neighborhood this night!
I wonder how one would react to the flash of my camera? Would I have the nerve to take his pic? These and other questions will have to wait until another time. There was much discussion the next morning about a loud introduction some beast, or bird, made around 6 am. I listened to a great number of animal sounds this morning and the closest thing I could find was the cry of a bobcat. It was quite loud and reverberated through the area. And it definitely would make a great alarm clock! Time to get up! Sleep will not be coming again for awhile.
I met a woman who was in her eighties on this hike and she really was impressive. She has had breast cancer, twice! And here she is backpacking on the AT! She sat next to me at the campfire for awhile and I discovered she also went to Boston University! But she was there back in the 50′s when I was still a child. They left early the next day and we did pass them when we eventually started hiking again. Bless her heart. I feel sure she got where she was going in God’s good time.
A Garter snake crossed my path on the way out. I should have taken a photo but I was humping it up a hill and not inclined to stop. When you are with a group there is some pressure to keep up but I regret not spending more time resting, listening and recording the event on film. We did stop, briefly, to take photos of a fireplace that someone had built long ago. Someone spend a lot of time and energy shaping these large rocks into a source of light and warmth. It was home for awhile but now the wood is gone and much of the foundation.
I’ve noticed that after returning from these backpacking trips I have a greater appreciation of the comforts of home; my comfortable, clean bed and much else. And I also have started feeling a bit tougher, in general. There’s a big push in our consumer society to convince everyone that there is a product to make every situation less taxing. Less painful. And maybe there are things, to a degree, that do this. But it’s still a major challenge, especially for oldsters like myself and my 80-something year old new friend. Getting older is not a game for sissies.
I guess I would say that, like walking 8 miles every morning, hiking does make you better able to ignore small pains and discomforts. Without a doubt there are lots of people out there who have discovered this much earlier in life than I did. Military service, for example, must do it to the nth degree.
I never was in the military. But I’m happy, even at this late date, to get some training. And I don’t even have to go to war, although, if a bear shows up in the middle of the night, I may have to take his picture! Here are some photos of our backpacking trip.