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