Never Hike Alone

Last week I went up to Arkansas for a few days of hiking to prepare for the summer in Alaska. Mistake #1. Numbers 2-10 were as follows: Going alone, forgetting a sleeping bag, forgetting food, forgetting something for blisters, not looking at the map until lost, not wearing any bug repellent, hiking in thorns, swimming with spiders, sleeping with raccoons, and oh yes, going alone.

But I didn’t notice any of that as the first 4-5 miles were sensational. In fact, the next couple miles were even better, until I realized that the trail ended 20 miles early. I still have no idea where I was at that moment. So, I retraced my steps back to where the trail split, and then had a 30 minute conversation with myself about what to do. Bad map? No, it was great! I, on the other hand, was a poor map reader. 3 times I proved my illiteracy, causing much backtracking. Eventually, I became so confused that I finally decided to keep walking down the trail that was going west. As I walked toward the setting sun, I found a place to lay the all my mishaps to rest.

During the night, I realized that 50 degrees really is cold, and mosquitos really can bite you through a blanket. Throughout the night I kept hearing strange sounds, and the ones I had never heard before sent a streak of fear through me. The biggest scare was the rustling that kept coming closer to my ‘shelter’. Eventually I heard movements about 5 feet directly behind my head. Scared mindless, I tried to find the flashlight, hoping not to see something larger than me. As I powered the light, an armidillo appeared, and I released of a huge sigh of relief.

The next morning I traveled down the same dirt road with no real hope of finding the trail. But less than 10 minutes into the day, the road crossed a stream, and I suddenly realized where I was on the map. After so much confusion the day before, it was hard to be confident of anything, but within an hour my hunches proved correct upon seeing this sign:

Sadly, I missed the 3 most scenic parts of the whole hike, but thankfully I did not have to call it quits 6 miles from the car. As the day went along I noticed that my feet were sending me signals, namely, to stop walking. Crossing so many streams the day before left my feet quite soft and in perfect condition for blisters. Conveniently, the last 6 or so miles were the flattest part of the trail (remember dirt roads aren’t trails). Upon seeing a picnic area (and later waterfalls), I decided to stop for the day. My first order of business was to jump in the river. Ohhh, how a water bath will change the whole psycology of the trip. It’s strange how a spider the size of your hand will change that same psycology. Any spider that big, poisonous or not, makes me rather uncomfortable, and so I took to the high ground near the waterfall.

All that rushing water made me sleepy, but it was only like 6:30, and it wouldn’t be dark enough to sleep until at least 9. Do you have any idea how slow time goes when it’s just you for a couple days? What else was there to think about, talk about, write about, or read about?? Well, the time did pass as I passed out, but only temporarily. Around midnight I woke up for the third time. Maybe it was the cold air, maybe the hard ground, or maybe it was the strange noises coming 5 feet away. I’m guessing the latter, but who knows. Either way, the animal sounds got most of my attention as I reached for my headlamp. As I said, “Let there be light”, a raccoon appeared. A snarling contest ensued, which I thought I had won until I noticed the raccoon had already stolen my shoe before I awoke!! Thankfully the taste of Chaco isn’t very appetizing, as my annoying friend deposited the sandal 10 feet away from my bed. But ohhhhh the one-legged jig I danced to go those 10 feet must have been hilarious. The raccoon certainly loved it because it came back for an encore an hour later. This time it woke me by trying to steal my backpack/pillow, but I had a song for him to sing. Unfortunately, that bashful raccoon came down with stage fright when I put my spotlight on him, leaving me with nothing to do but sleep. Well, that was until he started the whole game again and again.

When the morning put an end to our game, I still had two pinkie toes wanting nothing to with the 6 miles back to the car:

I thought about what to do as I ate my instant oatmeal raw (perhaps one of the finest breakfasts…serioulsy, Quaker Maple & Brown Sugar oatmeal without the water is delicious). But then it hit me, why not use the oatmeal wrapper!! Not only semi-nutrious and delicious, but a friction reducer! What a miracle cure it was, too. Surprisingly, the wrapper stayed on both feet until I had to cross 2 streams less than a mile before the car. And when I saw the car… well, it was wonderful. I crawled into the driver’s seat, pulled out my change of clothes, and traded in all the simplicities of the outdoors to indulge in running water, flushing toilets, and climate/bug control bathroom located at the RV camping area. All in all, it wasn’t the best trip, but I learned something valuable. NEVER EVER HIKE ALONE!