Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Pipestone: Sunshine and Happiness

Nighttime at Devon Lakes was an interesting period in its own right. Bedtime is always an important part of a hiking trek. After getting into camp, eating your freeze-dried food, and playing with your dice, there's generally not a lot to do but go to bed.

This is a good thing, because hiking all day is strenuous and rough on the body. And, as Clary told me that evening, "There's nothing that a good night's rest... ah," she paused, rewound and started again: "There's nothing that a night's rest can't fix."

"Well," I responded, "Tonight will be interesting because there's a giant tree root under our tent, running right across my back." This was the result of very limited campsite space at this particular location.

"Oh, in mine, too," Clary said, quite optimistic about the situation. "Maybe, if it's in just the right place, it will be therapeutic."

I decided to try to see things her way. "I suppose," I said, "that it could be like a massage, if we roll around over it."

Dad had a thicker air mattress and so wasn't really affected by the tree root. He did, however, notice that it was particularly cold that night, and spent some time wiggling around in his sleeping bag, trying out the various features to keep warm. Our bags are both rated as good until -18 degrees, but only if you use them right.

He buried himself inside and began pulling on strings he found there. "This one seems to close the opening around my face," he reported, pulling it tight.

"You look like a mummy," I replied.

"And this one," he fumbled around a bit, "this one, I think, wraps around my neck."

I commented that it was always good when things wrapped around your neck and then I made him pose for a picture.
Remarkably, everyone woke up the next morning stronger and without kinks in our backs, including Clary and me. Morning also brought another surprise.

"Carla!" Clary exclaimed as I was getting my stuff together, "Look what I found in my backpack! Another rain poncho! I didn't know it was in here!" She immediately delivered over the unopened, hooded vinyl rain poncho. It was the twin to the poncho that Mike had been using all weekend. It was a good deal thicker and tougher than the pitiful panda poncho I had been wearing to that point.

Dad commented, "I don't know if you're making a friend of Carla or an enemy right now, pulling that out on the third day." Clary smiled sheepishly, and I made no threatening movements, so peace was maintained.

In addition to all the usual preparations that morning, there was one extra business item on the schedule at Devon Lakes. There was no outhouse anywhere, so the evening before, Mike had pulled out his hunting knife and explained to everyone the mechanics of digging a hole and doing number two in the bush. Despite trying, nobody had been successful.

I had given Mike back his knife and, upon being questioned, announced to the group that it had been a false alarm. One of the other members of our group explained that they can last ten days without needing to empty. Andrew, on the other hand, seemed to take the lack of outhouse as a personal challenge. It was a point of pride to him when he marched back to Mike in the campsite that morning and declared, "What needed to come out, eventually came out." He then spent the rest of the day discussing with Dad (and the park ranger we encountered) the superiority of squatting over sitting, gloating that only men had been successful at the task, and planning to share his victory with all his coworkers back at the office.

Apparently he was so proud, he even documented the experience photographically.
The hike back to the first campsite, Fish Lakes, was much, much, much less difficult than the hike in had been. In addition to the majority of the path being downhill this time, Mike dropped some electrolytes into my water bottle before we even got started. Plus, they quickly dressed me in my new poncho as soon as any precipitation started. I say that they dressed me because I was pretty much a princess on the third day. I just walked. Everything else was done for me, from handling my water bottle every time I wanted a drink, to washing my dishes. Dad even affirmed for me explicitly that I was a princess, but he meant it affectionately.

The first time I had someone get me my new poncho, I ruminated over the best way to wear it with a backpack on. "Just wear it over your pack, like I do," said Mike, and took over the process of arranging it on me. Upon finishing, he took a step back.

I flapped my arms a little bit, playing around inside my new duds. "I'm happy as a clam!" I announced. Truly, in the backwoods, the difference between "happy" and "in despair" is usually no bigger than a two minute break or a piece of vinyl.

Mike cocked his head and took me in. "Is that what I've been looking like?" he asked.

Though I may be as happy as a clam, I look more like a rock. Or a pile of poo.
Mike, in the same duds, looks instead like a ninja turtle. Please note Sean on the left, dressed as a Jedi.
Perhaps the most exciting thing to happen on the third day of the hike was that it snowed. Up until the third day, my back had been pretty much the only thing to not get wet, due to the backpack shielding me from the elements. The snow, however, landed on my neck, melted, and rolled down my back with ease. Also, it coated the bushes so as to completely soak my pants with freezing water.

As you may have gathered, I was in much better spirits for most of the third day, despite the snow. At one point, my hip felt like it was on backwards, but a short rest sorted that out. After lunch, I was struck by the idea that although I could barely hobble seven feet to collect my thirty-pound backpack, I was expected to carry it all the way down the mountain. Yet, I found this hilarious instead of horrifying, proceeded to shoulder my pack, and do exactly what was expected.

Ironically, the third day also seemed to be where the rest of the group began to flag. Dad seemed more tired than me by the time we arrived at camp, and Mike started planning his post-hike meal out loud about halfway down a series of steep switchbacks. I believe his desire was for a prime rib steak burger or something of that nature. Dad hungrily joined the conversation, but for what may have been the first time, I was content to let my mind wander.

Despite once nearly faceplanting into a rock, we made it to camp sans catastrophe, nearly an hour and forty minutes faster than when we had hiked the same trail going the opposite direction. But then, after Dad and I set up our stuff, we joined Mike and Clary at the picnic table (A picnic table! And there was an outhouse and bear pole! Oh, luxury!).

"Mike and I were just saying we'd like to take a vote," said Clary, "to see whether we would like to hike out today, after all."

"No!" Mike immediately asserted, a slight edge of panic to his voice. "I was not part of that conversation! We were discussing whether or not it was hypothetically possible to hike out in one day, that's all."

"I don't want to hike out today," I said.

"I don't want to hike out today," said Dad.

Andrew showed up. Clary said, "We spent six hours hiking today, and about six on the first day. So, it would be possible to go the whole distance in a single day."

Andrew's eyes grew wide (I remind you that he runs marathons), and he laughed incredulously before saying in a very loud, very definitive voice, "Yes, but I still wouldn't want to!" With that, Clary's hope for any support was quashed, and the potential disaster was averted.

"But," Clary said plaintively, "I hate sleeping in tents."

But sleep in tents again that night we did. I got up once to go to the bathroom and saw a porcupine climbing a tree. Otherwise, I slept quite fine. Andrew, on the other hand, found it more difficult to sleep soundly. We were, after all, three days and nights unshowered and unlaundered.

"I was stuck," he said over breakfast the next morning. "It was really cold, so I wanted to put my nose inside my sleeping bag, but if I put my nose inside, the air in there smelled so bad, I couldn't handle it!" This admission dampened the enthusiasm with which I was looking forward to the cramped car ride home with the lot of them.

The next morning actually broke warm sunny - the natural thing to expect, given that we were hiking out and wouldn't feel bothered much by inclement weather any more. I claimed more electrolytes, and found what Mike calls the "mule-state" while ascending the pass. The mule-state is the slow, plodding pace that's work, but that is maintainable for extended periods over any terrain. All-in-all, the last day was remarkably uneventful. It was largely pleasant, in fact, despite my growing blisters, and we shaved an hour off our original time (easy to do when you're going mostly downhill). 
Please spot Andrew.
Please spot Andrew again.
One thing happened that baffled me on this last day: Clary remarked to no one in particular, "Carla has a good spirit for this kind of thing." Yes, she was referring to backpacking in the deep woods. I suppose we were so used to rain that the sun we had that day fried all our brains a little.

In any case, when we emerged at the trail head victoriously and took a triumphant group selfie, we were all a bit burned by our few hours of sunshine.
The feeling of jubilation was not to be contained. Andrew began congratulating random passers-by for completing their quests. "You finished!" he exclaimed to a couple with bikes, "Congratulations!"

"Thanks," they replied politely.

"I don't know what you were doing, but you successfully completed it!" Andrew crowed.

We stripped ourselves of our stinking boots and cooled our sore feet in the nearby river, all the while praising each other for a job well done. Then, we hopped into the waiting vehicle and went to get Mike his long-awaited juicy burger. The waiter at the pub made no mention of our grime or odor, but we explained that we were fresh off the trail just to ensure there was no confusion.

After filling our bellies with the first non-trail food in four days, we slowly and with much effort let ourselves off the restaurant seats and made for the door. Andrew led the way and I followed.

"Whoa!" said Clary, behind us. "Both of you are walking in exactly the same way, which tells me that I'm walking like that, too." What she meant is that we were all waddling like football linebackers, wading through viscous goo.

We pushed our way forward to the vehicle and drove back to Calgary. We played several rounds of 20 Questions, nearly causing Andrew to lose his sanity in the process, and got caught in several traffic jams. The crowning moment of awesome happened on Sarcee Trail, when Clary looked out the window at a pedestrian on the sidewalk.

"That woman is walking as fast as we're driving," she commented. Then after a moment, "She has a strange gait."

"It looks like she's trying to avoid putting weight on her right heel," Andrew confirmed.

"Great," said Clary with dismay, "An injured woman is walking as fast as we're driving. I'd rather be hiking right now."

"Not me," I said with great contentment.

On this high note, we made it back to Mike and Clary's house, the initial muster point. Dad and I exchanged last words of congratulation with the others and hugged them farewell, carefully timing our breathing so as not to inhale potent fumes during the close bodily contact. Mike resignedly stated that he had three days to recover before the next trip. Then, we parted ways.

Covered the last distance.

Arrived home.


Home is behind, the world ahead, 
And there are many paths to tread 
Through shadows to the edge of night, 
Until the stars are all alight. 
The world behind and home ahead, 
We'll wander back to home and bed. 

J. R. R. Tolkien, A Walking Song 


Mom said...

Ah, I guess all good things must come to an end--speaking of your hiking blog, of course. And yes--a hearty congratulations to you all for completing your mission! :)

Art said...

Thanks for blogging. I enjoyed this hike and let's see what next year brings!