AT Winter Camp–January 2004

It was Farm Show week this past week.  Of course, this
 is the exact reason we were blasted two times by
 arctic winds within six days.
Lucky for me, I like the cold.  I like it so much that
 I spent last weekend backpacking on the AT, spending
the 0 degree night in a three-sided shelter.  I was
 wrapped in a mummy sleeping bag with extra layers on
 my body, my only defense against the bitter cold.
Much to the shagrin of those around me, the thought of
 backpacking 17 miles and sleeping out in the heart of
 winter was exhilerating to me.  To keep possible
 insanity from setting in, spurred by the disbelief
 displayed by others over the idea that I was not
 sleeping in a warm bed on Saturday, I took refuge in
knowing that four others were joining me and seemed
 just as normal as I.
We set out from the southern terminus of our trek
 along Rte. 16 a little west of Blue Ridge Summmit.
 The day was sunny.  Crystal clear blue skies shimmered
 overhead.  The air was crisp.  The temperature was
 somewhere around 20 degrees.  Absolutely perfect for
 walking with a pack on your back.
Before long, seriously, it seemed to come that
 quickly…six miles and some change were covered in a
 little over two hours.  Before long we arrived at the
 shelter.  It was only 2:15 in the afternoon.

 Knowing the night would be long due to the sun’s early
departure this time of year, we scoured the area for
 wood.  We determined that if we could stay by the fire
 until at least 8 p.m., the night would be more
 manageable for prolonged attempts at sleeping.
The wood was piled sufficiently high.  In fact, we had
 gone into extreme gathering mode.  We had more wood
 than a beaver would use in building his dream beaver
lodge.  Hey, better safe than sorry is how it goes.
Wrong.  After eating mac and cheese loaded with extra
 cheese and spiced up with sausage, I discovered that
the self-inflating sleeping pad that would serve as my
 comfort and insulation from the cold wood floor of the
 shelter had a small leak in it.  We tried to find the
 hole to repair the pad.  No luck.
I faced the reality of sleeping on the cold wood.
Mind spasms rendered the idea of sitting monk-like by
 the fire all night or hiking back to the car and
 driving home to my warm bed.  Instead, I opted for
 piling fleece jackets underneath my sleeping bag to
 have some sort of barrier beneath me.

The night consisted of two periods of some unknown
 length of sleep that was interupted by nine hours of
 tossing and turning.  Why I do this to myself was a
 lurking question that night?

 I could not answer the question though.  This became
 disturbing and taxed my psyche.  How could I possibly
 not have a reason for sleeping out in the bitter cold,
 being completely uncomfortable, missing my wife, not
 wanting to get out of my bag to relieve myself because
 it was too cold…
There must be something that gets me out there. But
I wish I had something clever or insightful to answer
 my own disturbing questions.  I simply do not.
The only thing that has some resonance in me is that
 if I do not go camping or backpacking from time to
 time, I become agitated.  I get a sense there is
 something missing, or perhaps it is more that I am in
 need of the mountain air, the trees, the climbs, the
 walking along ridgetops, the sound of streams.  Maybe
 it has nothing to do with something “missing” and has
 more to do with “needing” something.
I do not know.  I am OK with my ignorance.
We finished on Sunday by walking 10 miles to
 Caledonia.  We were hungry and tired when we finished
 up.  The coldest night of the year didn’t prove to be
so unbearable.

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