I used to get “Outdoor Life” magazine as a kid. About the only reason to get the thing (because I wasn’t going to be fishing for Salmon in Oregon or going on epic Moose hunts in Alaska) was the writing of Patrick McManus, an outdoor humorist whose column closed out every issue. One of his writings concerned the “fine and pleasant misery”, which, although I remember very little of, described exactly what it sounds like. Being miserable, but enjoying it at the same time.
I experienced my own fine and pleasant misery this weekend.
In October, three of us hiked the Gorges State Park loop. It’s a 19 mile loop through a section of North Carolina very near the border of South Carolina. I decided to return to the Gorges, for a few reasons: I hadn’t hiked in a while, It’s lower elevation than some places I could go to, the weather was supposed to be decent, and I wanted to test my gear for winter hiking.
My main problem was: I hadn’t hiked in a while. Anywhere. Walking around Disney World over Thanksgiving was the closest I had come to a “hike” since October. I had quit doing my Sunday hikes down our boring in-town hiking “trail”. Four miles on a railroad bed is pretty dull after the tenth trip. I also haven’t done the treadmill – because it’s pretty darn dull staring at the wall. This would be my biggest regret.
The two of us did the long drive to NC early Saturday morning. The mountains are worth the drive, but perhaps someone could come up with something a little closer to home. I’m going to have to look into that, because when you are only gone overnight, spending six hours of your trip on the road wastes a lot of time. I need a two or three night trip somewhere.
The weather at the start was a bit chilly, and it was expected to get down to around 30 degrees at night, so I shoved my big coat in my pack, and wisely left off the fleece stuff. The first trudge up the hill warmed me sufficiently that the gloves and hat came off. Then it was around 6 miles to the Toxaway river bridge.
The Toxaway bridge is rather nice, but what comes after it is the hard part. Goodbye wide easy forest roads, hello Hiking Trail, thin, single file, winding walking path. This was where the “Fine and Pleasant Misery came in. By this point my body had made it well aware that I was carrying too much stuff, once again. I didn’t need the big outer coat (for rain protection I could have taken my light rain jacket, the fleece liner was all I needed for warmth), and I was out of shape, seriously.
The climb up from the lake is really tough. David was in better shape than me, and was setting the pace. I’m glad he was there, otherwise I probably would have plopped down, pulled out the hammock, and set up camp. At certain points on the slog up the side of the ridge I just wanted to sit and cry. But, once at the top, it leveled out, and I could catch my breath. Have you ever been cold and sweating at the same time? I was…
At the top of the ridge, thankfully the trails mostly leveled out for a while. We ate our lunch on the ground in a clearing at the top. That was the biggest push of the day, and it was done. On the way up we ran into a woman coming down the other way. Dressed in a jogging suit and carrying nothing, she looked quite out of place, and seemed almost to laugh at us.
Further down the trail, nearing the end of this section, at the edge of the park, we saw two other hikers going the opposite direction. Their packs had yellow covers on the outside, and they smiled big as we passed. We found out why as we went around the corner. In front of us was a huge pine tree that had fallen across the trail, recent enough the leaves were still green. We had to pass our packs through, under the branches, and squeeze through. So that’s what they were smiling at… they knew what was coming.
Just up the hill from the tree we came to the powerline cut, which signaled the edge of the park. We had left the restrictions of the park, and were headed a mile outside of it along the Foothills Trail. From our position it was almost all downhill, down to the camp site. The campsite sits along a creek, at the bottom of a little hollow. From the trail we could see it, fifty feet below us, and it was unoccupied.
Setting up camp went slow for me, as I was worn out. We set tents up and got that part over with. Hanging the bear bag rope was a treat. After five throws, we got it over the branch, and when we pulled, the branch came down next to us. The next tree we found worked really well, and it only took two throws. The rope ready for later, fire-making went rather quickly. We found enough twigs and sticks to make a decent fire, and we had some leftover subway napkins, as well as my dryer lint and fire-starter log bits. If anyone ever asks, I’m going to tell them, “It’s dried elephant dung. Ask for it at the zoo, it burns great”.
My meal consisted of: Three ibuprofen, 6mg melatonin, a Basil Pesto Noodle Meal from Trail Foods, and a Keurig cup of Chai Latte. Keurig cups are awesome. Some of the coffee ones have filters inside, but a lot of them are just powder in a plastic cup. Peel the top off and you have tasty goodness, right in your squishy mug. I didn’t bring the “Roll-Cooker 4000” system this time, because I wasn’t sure the rolls would make the trip. I missed my rolls, but David did have some good bread stuff. The noodle meal was okay. Those things taste good when you first eat them, and by the time you are halfway done you don’t want anymore, but you can’t save it, so you have to force down the rest. Maybe I can get one and cut it in half before the next trip. Dinner is my biggest enemy on these outings., I just can’t seem to find something great.
We stayed up until 8:30, keeping the fire going. At that point, it began to rain slightly. We hung the food bags and retreated to the safety of the tents.
I messed up. First, I had too much unorganized stuff inside my tent. Previously I used a spare clothes bag for my spare clothes. Spare clothes include gloves, hat, socks, and non-stinky shirt, etc. Second, I put stuff where stuff should not have gone, and lost it. I climbed in and got situated, finally getting out of my clothes, only to figure out in the process my clean night shirt had disappeared. I like sleeping in a non-stinky clean shirt, it helps me sleep and weighs very little, being only a shirt. Second, my headphones were in the tent, and my phone was there so I could listen to music, but the wire connecting headphone to phone had gone missing.
At midnight, the water I drank at supper caught up with me. It was a little rainy and cold, and I had to get out and pee. I climbed out, stumbled around half asleep and shivering, exposed myself to the night creatures, and peed and peed. Do pee bottles come in 2 liter sizes? I’m tired of getting out in the middle of the night…
6:30 finally rolled around, and I could hear David moving about. I yelled over to him. Nope, not getting up yet. I stuffed my cool clothes next to me into my sleeping bag, to start warming them up. About 7 I started putting stuff on and getting ready to pop out. It took me a while to fully get dressed and ready, lastly pulling on my shoes. There was a bit of ice on my rainfly and the plants around me, but no rain. I wandered off to pee again, and collected our non-molested bear bag food.
I began stuffing things into my pack in preparation to leave. The foot end of my sleeping bag was slightly wet, as was my underquilt. I really need to use a separate rainfly line, because the water was making it through where the fly touched the hammock. If I can keep them separate, that should solve that problem.
Breakfast consisted of a buttered bagel, instant grits with fake bacon (mmmmm…. Textured vegetable protein…), some honey on bread, and home-made fruit roll-ups (the dehydrator rules!). Also – some kind of vanilla Keurig coffee thing. Café Vanilla I think. Very tasty. Afterwards it was back to packing (hey, I found my other socks), stuffing (there’s my headphone wires!) and shoving (damn stuff sacks) everything back into the pack. With all the work, I got warm enough, despite the temperature being in the 30s. One last look around, and it was time to go.
Yesterday’s hill climb was nothing compared to today’s. The climb up from the lake is the steepest section, at around 700 feet, but it’s done all at once. The climb up from the campsite is a mile up 200 feet or so, then 500 feet in half a mile, and then just up up up the rest of the day. We went up for a while, then down into a gorge, to bearwallow creek.
Putting our feet in the creek to cross it was an exercise in masochism. It was painfully, mind-numbingly, stingingly cold. But the nice thing was, it was over quickly, and it didn’t take long to stop hurting and warm up. Over the hill and around the ridge, and we crossed Toxaway Creek. Slightly swifter, deeper and wider, and rockier, but by the time I was halfway across, my feet were numb and didn’t care they were on rocks.
From there it was one thousand feet up over a few miles, all the way to the intersection of our trail and the parking lot trail. Thankfully that was downhill over a mile, so it went by easier and faster.
Things I learned this trip: Get my flabby ass back on the treadmill. As dull as it is, walk on the damn thing. I could easily lose 15 pounds from me. Losing pounds from the pack costs a lot, losing pounds from me costs nothing. Get out on Sundays and hike again. Find some new places, something to build the leg muscles WITH the pack on. This trip was strenuous in October, but not painfully difficult like this time.
Don’t over pack. I carried a waterproof coat that I never used, that weighs a ton. I overestimated how cold I would feel. My light waterproof rain jacket would have been fine over fleece, even if it was snowing. I also had some stuff I didn’t need I was scared NOT to bring, like the emergency mylar blanket, and some hand warmers. It turns out one hand warmer is probably good enough, and when you are moving about with a pack on, it takes surprisingly little clothes to keep warm.