Well, after multiple trips to EMS, packing and repacking of packs, a shopping cart of groceries, and one “Are you looking at me funny, ’cause I can’t tell?” from Brent, we are ready.
At 7 o’clock tomorrow morning, Brent and I are heading to the Connecticut-Massachusetts border (care of a ride from his very generous dad, Fred) to start hiking. We’ll trek across the
Metacomet-Monadnock and the Monadnock-Sunapee trails, about 175 miles in total. We’re estimating finishing in nine days, though secretly harboring hopes of a faster trip so that we can take advantage of one of the b&b’s in the the Mount Sunapee area for a night before Fred comes to pick us up on the other end and we continue on with the road trip.
Last summer, during a month-long trip to Italy, Brent and I spent ten days (give or take a rest day in the middle) hiking across the Dolomite Mountains in the northeastern part of the country, 85 miles in total. This was our first big adventure together, and one of the most amazing experiences of my life so far. Along the way, I picked up a few life lessons that I wrote about then in an email to friends.
Now, as we get set to head out on our second big hiking trip together, I’m reminded of some of these pearls of wisdom, and think they’ll be equally applicable this time around.
Okay, it’s off to the trails. If you don’t hear from me by July 23rd, assume we’ve been eaten by bears…
Written on July 13, 2007:
1. Brent is hard core.
For the past year and a half that we’ve been together (well, a year and a half in two weeks), I’ve been hearing stories about trips over land, air, and sea, that have spanned four continents, several countries, and dozens of cities. In the past week, I’ve learned that not only does Brent talk the talk of an outdoor adventurer – he walks the walk. Brent is stronger than me, and faster than me. With a pack far heavier than mine (he took the majority of the gear on his back), he was easily outpacing me around every turn, up and down every hill.
To give you an idea of what we were carrying – European hikers travel much differently from Americans. In the Dolomites, there is a remarkable hut system. But these aren’t just any huts. Rather, every few miles, you will see a large dorm-style structure called a rifugio, most with fully functioning restaurants and well-stocked bars. Trekkers in this area plan their routes around these rifugi, often ending their days around 4 PM, and then drinking beer and playing cards well into the night. We knew about these huts, but not wanting to be forced to end early each day (and not knowing German or Italian, or having a deck of cards with us), we thought that we’d be better off bringing along a tent – and sleeping bags, ground pads, a stove, and pots – in case the opportunity to use them presented itself. Nevermind that camping in the Dolomites was both illegal and, as we quickly learned, impossible, because of the steep hills that spanned the entire mountain range. So, there we were, the silly Americans with the massive loads and bright orange ground pads strapped to our packs that everyone seemed to want to touch. At one point, we learned that people on the trail were, in fact, talking about us. After climbing a steep hill, a German man, descending from the top, said genuinely “Good job, good job. I’m not carrying nearly as much weight as you are. You even have sleeping pads, from what I’ve been told.”
Back to Brent’s hardcore-ness, though…
On our sixth day out, following the instructions of Henry Stedman, the british backpacker who wrote the now out-of-print guidebook that we were using, we left the gravel road onto an unmarked trail, designed to carry you around the upper edge of the valley of a mountain, rather than through the valley itself and then straight up into the peaks. Now, we’d been having fights with Henry all along, disagreeing with his time estimates, terrain descriptions, and even his insights into which rifugi were best. But still, we followed his path. At first, it didn’t seem too out of the ordinary. He’d said it would be rather steep and narrow. We’d traveled on such stretches in previous days. Before we knew it, however, we were creeping along a foot-wide loose gravel ledge high up on the side of a loose gravel pit, staring down at our impending doom. And then we hit the wall. Literally. Carrying our packs on our backs, we couldn’t quite figure out how we were supposed to climb straight up over the several-story-high rocks, into the next valley (we didn’t yet know that this was the first of four valley ledges with similarly narrow paths and steep walls to climb). So, while I sat down and looked around incredulously, Brent took off his pack and began scrambling up the rocks, trying to find the best possible solution to our predicament. When he returned fifteen minutes later, he picked up his pack and told me to follow him, leaving my pack behind – he’d come back and get it. We traversed the path, making our way to the far edge of the second ledge together before Brent set down his pack again and turned back for mine. There I was, sitting on top of a mountain pass, watching my new husband trapsing along the steep ledges, imagining all the possible horrifying things that could come from this situation. And what happened next? The storm clouds started rolling in. So, I did the most logical things I could think of. I stared up at where the sun should have been, and began belting out the old campsong (or is it a Raffi song?) ‘Mr. Golden Sun.’ It seemed to do the trick, as the clouds came and went without incident, and 25 minutes later, by which time I was sitting on my mountain pass in tears, trying to figure out how I was going to get in touch with Brent’s parents – who were in the midst of a cross-country driving trip – to tell them the awful news, Brent came around the bend, my pack in tow (all of this, by the way, is documented in video on Brent’s digital camera). Needless to say, we eventually made it over the next two valleys, to the safety of the rifugio that awaited our arrival.
2. Blisters beget Blisters.
Don’t listen to what the shoe salesmen tell you. New technology in shoe design does not mean that shoes are already broken in when you’ve bought them. And wearing new hiking shoes while walking 100 miles through Italian cities before setting off on an 85-mile hike doesn’t count. You will get blisters. And they will hurt. And then your blisters will get blisters. And they will hurt more.
3. Shampoo is one of life’s true luxuries.
Part of Brent’s ‘packing light’ philosophy meant bringing as few “extras” as possible. Even with all of the fancy ultralight gear we brought – clothes, sleeping bags, stove, tent, etc… – when we put it all together, it added up to an additional half a person all of a sudden on our backs as we set off down the trail. In an effort to avoid even more weight, we decided (well, maybe Brent decided), that we should bring one type of cleaner that would work on our clothes, our dishes, and ourselves. What, you may ask, could accomplish such a task? Why, Joy dish soap, of course! At first, this sounded like a reasonable plan, but by the fourth night, my face drier than dry, I was starting to have second thoughts. On our second to last day, we decided to hike one additional leg rather than staying at the rifugio at which we’d arrived at 4 PM. The 2-hour downhill climb took us to a small hotel in the valley of the Tre Cime mountain ledge. It wasn’t our first night in a hotel during the trek – in fact, many of the nights, because of the pace we were setting for ourselves, found us at cheap pensiones and guest houses called garnis, a little bit more expensive than the rifugi but with quiet rooms, free breakfasts, and the ability to log 3-4 additional miles in a given day. This hotel was different than the others, though. After we’d checked in and surveyed the room, Brent came running as I walked into the bathroom and squealed. On the sink was sitting not only two bars of soap, but also two packets of shampoo. I haven’t felt that girly in a long time. And I pocketed the extra bar of soap, just in case our lodging the next night didn’t have any.