The Best Thing About Backpacking: Part 1

Last night, as we were standing in the kitchen, my roommate and friend asked me what it is about backpacking that I love so much – “You know, like what’s the best thing about it.” It was a good question; I had been talking about how usually, the day after a weekend of hiking and sleeping in the woods, I get back and feel elated for the first half of a day and then grumpy and disoriented for the second. It’s like I’m coming down from the extra endorphins my body makes when I’m frolicking in the mountains. I thought back over the past weekend, starting with the first moment, in order to answer her question.

It was around 9:40 pm this past Friday night when two of my dearest friends and I started our weekend hike. This is by far the latest I’ve ever started a backpacking trip, and I both do and don’t recommend it. I don’t recommend it because navigating in the dark, even with headlamps, is a little trickier, and I do because experiencing the woods at night and getting in touch with the feeling of the ground under your feet so quickly, immerses you immediately in the experience. We planned to hike about 2 miles, half of that headed South on the AT, before resting for the night. Along the way, as I was chatting with a friend I hadn’t seen in several months and who now I could only see via the narrow light of my headlamp, a moth flew down my throat. If you’ve ever been around anyone who this has happened to and you think their coughing seems a little excessive, as if they are just trying to be dramatic, I beg you to think again. This is one of those unique experiences of discomfort that can’t really be compared to anything else. In fact, I couldn’t shake the physio- or psychological trauma of swallowing that little bug until the next morning, its memory eclipsed by the pounding rainstorm we weathered overnight.

It was around 10:20 pm, perhaps five minutes after the swallowing and two minutes after one of my friends made a comment about how glad she was that it wasn’t raining, that the droplets began to lightly fall. At first it felt nice – even though we’d driven North and the air had cooled some from our sticky Triangle, NC climate, hiking had heated us up fast. After the light sprinkle turned steady though, we remembered that there was every chance that the campsites we were searching for weren’t going to be marked with neon signs. At that point we started looking for shelter. We had passed a couple of grassy clearings a few yards back, so we turned around. I headed down a narrow deer (or pony) trail to look for a spot, my friends following. We came to nothing, at least nothing good for sleeping, and I pivoted to head back to whence we’d came. Promptly, one of my friends who I’ll call ‘the Navigator’, alerted me that I was headed off in some random direction that was most certainly not the one we’d come from. This would happen at least 8 more times over the course of barely two days. No one would ever call me the Navigator, nor should they, which is one of the many reasons why I consider backpacking a team sport.

Back on the AT, another deer trail caught my eye, this time leading to a scrubby little oak tree, its branches spreading into an umbrella-like canopy. “Here’s a spot,” I shouted. My friends followed, but when they saw the tiny clearing surrounded by blackberry brambles, they looked skeptical. It was not the best spot ever, but the ground was flat-ish, the tree offered some protection but was not by any means taller than the rest, and it was now pouring. We quickly threw down the tarp and set up the tent, just to realize that the tent stakes were missing.

After finding some sufficiently dry sticks and jamming them into the ground to keep the rainfly off of the tent, we crawled inside. The Navigator was hastily bailing water from her side of the tent which had turned into a puddle over the past three minutes. We realized that the rainfly was sitting on the tent and causing water to pool up and drip inside, so the Navigator suggested that we tie a ‘sky hook’ to keep it off, which basically means tying a rope from the rainfly to a neighboring tree to create a canopy. While the Navigator bailed, my other friend, who I’ll call ‘Raindancer’ and I, leapt outside to tie the hook. At this point we were completely soaked and thoroughly scratched by the bramble we had pitched our tent in, but we reentered the tent victorious to find that Navigator had mostly dried the floor with her bandana.

That evening, as our bodies held the tent down, the long arms of Hurricane Cindy swept gales around us. The rain thumped down and the wind rattled our little tarpaulin home. I closed my eyes, smiled, and fell into an intermittent sleep.

Was the best thing about backpacking swallowing a bug? No, I thought. Was it getting lost down a deer trail within less than an hour of starting the trip? No, I thought. How about sleeping in damp socks, on a slight slope, in the pounding rain? Surely, this couldn’t be it. I’d have to keep retracing our tracks to figure it out.

To be continued…DSCN3619.JPG

Constant Resolution

As I alluded to in a recent entry, open conversation, not being silent, is still key right now. In the spirit of embodying my 2017 theme, I’m going to string together a few pearls of wisdom I’ve picked up from the various people who inspire me every day. Then I’ll talk briefly about diabetes, too.

My head is brimming lately with all these phrases and metaphors that my friends have shared with me as the wisdom that guides them around their busy lives. One of my friends, as we were driving down a street full of piles of leaves and Christmas decorations that had been taken halfway down, shared a quote by Martin Niemoller, a Holocaust protester and survivor, which I had heard many years ago but had forgotten until then. It’s important, and I don’t want to forget it again:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

So much of what I have to be grateful for in my life comes from the friendships, like that I have with this friend, with wise women and men around the world who are searching for purpose and striving to be all they can be every day. Another friend of mine, who I’ve recently reconnected with, reminded me that we are never through becoming ourselves. And yet another, in a parallel conversation earlier this month, shared a favorite guiding quote of hers, “the most important thing in your life is…your life.”

Translating all that to diabetes management, as is the constant struggle, leaves me with some interesting reflections as well. In 2016 I left the pump and moved back to insulin injections. This was a really positive change for me. Interestingly though, so was the pump when I started with it. Which reminds me that diabetes management, like life, is not a static endeavor. Our needs change and being able and willing to adapt is a sign of healthy coping, not an indicator that we are failing or were wrong before.

Now I’m enjoying more fruit and less wheat, more cooked vegetables and spices and hopefully, just a little less hot sauce and salty condiments. I’m borrowing some wisdom from both my Southern mother and Chinese medicine, that cooking foods, especially in winter, makes the nutrients more accessible to the body and of course easier to digest.

And finally, my 2017 health resolution, both because it directly improves my blood sugar and because it makes me friendlier, is to prioritize sleep. I rang in the New Year with this theme last night. But I’m also hoping that regular sleep will also help me effectively abandon it when I have the chance to work on my last, little, other resolution, which is always my resolution, to dance more.

So in sum, may we never be done listening to each other, learning about life and ourselves, and resolving.