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This is the second of a three-part series of Trip Reports on a recent trip I took with three other Trailspace members.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2013
H: 72F / L: 45F
MILES HIKED: 16.0
I'm a night owl, and going to bed when the sun sets is still a new concept for me. It was too wet for a campfire our first night, so after dinner there wasn't much else to do but go straight to bed. I operate on six hours of sleep (at the most) when I'm home. Going to bed at 9:00PM meant waking up at 3:00AM, thinking it was 6:00AM. Must've been tired, because it didn't take much to get right back to sleep.
Aside from my sleep system (pad, bag, and pillow), I kept everything in a plastic bag overnight in case the tent took on water. The down pillow eventually went into the dry bag, and I had to play around with the amount of air sealed inside it to get the loft right.
A few hours later I awoke, first, to what sounded like an ATV trucking down the trail, and then, Jeff cursing at said vehicle. Whatever it was, it sped down the trail quicker than any of us three could get out of our tents. Some folks get a rooster to wake them up. Nope. We got an ATV.
Before bed, I took a spare length of guy line and tied it between a couple gear loops inside the tent. With my makeshift clothesline, I hung my shirt up to dry overnight.
Let me tell you, you may have a morning routine to help wake you up. If you don't, and need one, let me recommend this method: take the shirt you used yesterday to hike in the rain, and – without it having fully dried – put it on the next morning. Make sure it's still nice and damp. I wrung it out. Hung it to dry. Still damp the next morning. The ATV may have woken me up. But the shirt got me up.
Between you and me, hey, I was just glad it was a loud vehicle that woke me up, and not a wet tent. Cozy inside the sleeping bag, I reached around, trying to gauge if and where the tent soaked-through. The floor was dry to the touch. The walls and ceiling were damp, but not saturated enough to start dripping. Sitting up, I noticed it: water pooled in a couple of the corners inside. It wasn't a seam issue, but it was a surface issue. Well, that's why God gave us a thing called the pack towel. Mopped up the puddles, wrung it out, then wiped the rest the tent down, best as I was able. Better to pack a damp tent than a soaked one.
I was sore, sure, but relieved to find it wasn't so bad that I wouldn't be up for another day of hiking. This day and the next were uncharted territory. I'd hiked more miles in a day than I did on our first day, here, but I'd never hiked multiple days in a row. It would be lying to say those trekking poles didn't have something to do with it – easily the smartest gear purchase I've made this past year, especially as someone with a bad back. If you haven't already, buy some. I'd have given a kidney on my first solo trip for a pair of them. Having spinal stenosis, these are more a necessity than a convenience for me. However, the amount of stability they give you is worth however much they may cost. It's no small coincidence there wasn't a single one of us who didn't use trekking poles.
Breakfast was instant coffee and an individual package of Little Debbie snack cakes. Well, two packages of Little Debbie snack cakes. They're less than a buck at the gas station, and you can pick out several different varieties instead of committing to an entire box of just one flavor. I don't cook in the morning, and I sure as heck don't do dishes. It's no coincidence that I was usually the first one packed every morning – save the cooking for the times you really want to sit down. I ate both my packages of pecan spinwheels and thus, my breakfast rations. A hot cup of coffee really hit the spot, and the warm walls of my plastic mug felt good in my hands.
On our way there, we heard that familiar mechanical hum coming right toward us. Part of me thought Jeff might bust-out a trekking pole and challenge it to a jousting match. Well, as it approached, the driver slowed down. It was a mule – one of those all-terrain carts – and who was behind the wheel? None other than Shawnee's resident trail angel, Jo-Jo. Turns out she was helping the local police search for a woman who ran off into the woods the night prior after a [presumably intoxicated] fight with her boyfriend. Joseph swore he heard music the night prior, and he was right – someplace down the way was a shindig and the missing woman was one of the celebrants. We told her we'd keep an eye out and phones handy in case we came across the missing woman.
The two miles to Garden of the Gods took an hour, leaving us plenty of time before we were supposed to meet Vince. It was 9:00AM. Jeff wanted to use that time to dry some of his gear, if he could find a clearing with enough exposure to the sun to make it worth his while. Sure enough, he found one. A big 'ol one, at that.
At the trailhead for the GOTG observation trail, there're a couple berm-shaped hills with a fence atop them. Here's where I laid-out my tent and "footprint," using foraged sticks as stakes so they wouldn't blow away in the wind.
As added security, I took a carabiner and clipped one of my guy lines to the fencepost. Better a wet tent than a wet kite. Back in the parking lot, we re-purposed an empty bike rack as a drying rack for overturned packs, clothing, and sleeping bags.
Having both seen them already, it wasn't anything new to them, and hey – it's more hiking. Honestly, I didn't mind going by my lonesome to see 'em at all. I mean, yeah, I'm a solo backpacker, too, but it was a good time to do it. Still quiet and early on a Saturday morning, I did so much as cross paths with a few other people, but I never had to share a single boulder I stood on top of.
It works better when you've got one person to crank, and another to hold the bottle. Joseph also had the clever idea of making a funnel with your hand – especially useful if you've a narrow-mouthed or Platypus bottle.
Vince came along and we finally – like some sort of outdoorsman A-Team – we able to hit the trail as a complete group around 11:20AM. The trail took us through the GOTG Wilderness Area, and some really fine - albeit hilly! - hiking. Jeff mentioned we'd pass some campsites on our way, one of which he'd hung a hammock up at before.
Well, Jeff had the right idea when he was last here camping. Holy heck were the sites nice. Stone fire rings, postcard views, and one even had a bench fashioned out of an old tree. Obviously, perfect trees to hang a hammock from, too.
It was coming to be lunchtime, and the guys said Herod would be a good stopping point. So it turns out, Jo-Jo isn't the only trail angel around those parts. A house just a block or two from the post office created their own hiker “rest area,” with lawn chairs, a gazebo, and fresh spring water.
We all sat around, re-filled our waterbottles, and snacked just long enough to feel rested, but not long enough to get comfortable.
Next on the map was One Horse Gap, which never came to be. We were putting in big miles, and taking to long way around to OHG would've added even more . While not as scenic as hiking through the woods, we took a shortcut on gravel roads to get us back on the route to Little Lusk Creek. That decision spared us from having to hike big miles on our third and final day, and kept the second day's miles larger, but manageable, at 16. Still, though, more miles than I'd ever done and it took a lot of focus on my part to make it through the day. My legs may have been fine, but my back was really feeling the weight of that pack the second day. Funny how, with less in it, it still felt heavier. This trip it weighed 25 pounds with consumables, down from 30 on my first trip. While my load may have been lighter, the pack (weighing over 5 pounds by itself) wasn't getting any lighter. After coming home from this trip, I sold it off on eBay and purchased a MS Haze 50L. How much does that weigh? 1 lb, 15 oz. The second I tried it on with my gear inside, I realized the pack itself was part of my problem.
My hiking style is very goal-oriented, and when I'm hiking?
I'm most comfortable leading the group. Not in direction, but in pace. My mind has a much easier time when I'm at my own pace, even pushing myself a little, than the times I'm behind someone and having to hike at someone else's pace: no matter how fast I hike, my brain always feels like I'm trying to catch up.
I don't talk much until I get to camp in the evening, saving the conversation and energy to push-though and hike as many miles as I'm able, comfortably. If someone wants to ask me something, or chat, I don't mind it at all. This seems to be the best way for me to maintain my focus and make sure I'm keeping on-schedule. Otherwise, a five-minute break for a snack can sometimes turn into a thirty-minute debate.
Jeff and myself held the lead for the majority of the hike. Joseph claimed that most the time we were "trail running with trekking poles and packs." Suffice it to say, we hike with purpose and at a brisk pace.
He held the maps, so I'd stop at the trail junctions (even if they were marked) to make sure we didn't lose the group or our bearings. The small set of laminated maps he brought with helped a great deal, as we found ourselves hiking the unmarked, old R2RT several times and didn't have the blazes to guide us otherwise.
One of Jeff's better stories came from a previous hike on the R2RT: his hiking partner got ahead of him, and instead of waiting at the trail junction, the partner took a water bottle someone left on the trail, and turned it in the direction he was headed. This causes two problems:
A.) Jeff - like most folks - doesn't automatically assume water bottles are blazes, and
I may have been the man in front, but it wasn't ever without Jeff behind me to advise me which way to turn. Usually I'd stop at the trail junctions just to take a breather or a sip of water – getting ahead wound up being a nice way of building in breaks for myself, too.
Gravel roads are hell on my mind for two reasons: first, they're usually long enough you can see exactly how long and far it is you have left to go, and second, what seems like a finite distance looks infinite when you turn and see a whole other road you didn't know existed a mile ago. I like hiking best in the woods, where the bends and turns and ups and downs keep you from being able to estimate distance. Your mind's more actively involved and miles aren't spent looking in the same direction down the same road.
Luckily we picked up a tip from a local, and found a shortcut through another old section of the R2RT that would take us toward camp for the night. Admittedly, we found our way into another semi-bushwhacking situation, but kept our bearings as it followed alongside what is the current R2RT.
The letter “i” blazes and “001” markings meant we were back on the official R2RT again, and coming up on our last mile for the day. Well, it was straight uphill and on a hill that was real damn rocky. Coming over the top, though, and seeing that creek – man, I can't tell you how happy it made me. After miles of seemingly endless gravel roads, we came upon the destination.
And so we called Little Lusk Creek home for our second night. Having a nearby water source not only meant packing-in less drinking water, but also not having to carry water solely to use for rehydrating food.
Thankfully, Vince brought with him some solidarity for us tent campers, as he's one himself. He'd a Hilleberg Akto, which definitely caught my attention. Heck, whose attention wouldn't it catch? It's sports-car-red, for cryin' out loud. Had the same corner struts as my Sputnik, but because the fly is symmetrical, it pitches drum-taut and completely evenly. Sure, you could buy four Sputniks for what that Akto costs, but I'm a firm believer that you get what you pay for. Highly doubt Vince has ever so much as had a worried thought about rain in that tent. I'll bet it even doubles as a nuclear fallout shelter.
Now, not only are Jeff and Joseph both hammock-hangers, but they're both cooking with alcohol stoves. Part of me really enjoyed this trip simply to see the kind of gear everyone else used, and how they used it. It's cool as heck that four guys have four different products, all of which complete one same task. Vince, ironically, unpacked a canister of Giga Power fuel. No friggin' way! And this guy was a canister stove user, too, like me?
He'd some tricks up his sleeve, though: after I lit my stove, I turned to pick up my cookpot. Vince reached his arm out, stove in-hand, and used the flame off mine to light his.
We had one last thing in common that night: Mountain House Lasagna.
If you know me, you know I'm not exactly opposed to freeze-dried meals. At that, MH freeze-dried meals. They're like children: while you may have a favorite, you still love them all equally, and each one brings something to the table. This meal came with some hype. I'd heard it touted as the best one, next to chili mac and stroganoff. I love lasagna, and if I were a cat, I'd be Garfield the Cat. That's how much I love lasagna. However, if I were Garfield, I'd have thrown this stuff away.
It's so sticky and stringy that it's impossible to eat it without it sticking relentlessly to your eating utensil. Vince and I kept grimacing at another because it was just a laughably ridiculous amount of cheese. Add our experiences to Jeff's from the night prior, and I think one can safely assume that lasagna's just not meant for the backcountry.
Fire-lighting and fire-building must come in handy for park rangers like himself. His campfire was built in a way I'd never seen before. Joseph called it a “Star Fire,” where four long logs are arrange on N/E/S/W axes, advancing them each inward toward the middle as they burn. It requires no firewood chopping or sawing, and gradually dries-out the wood as it comes closer to the flame. It may not have rained that day, but any wood on the forest floor was still going to be damp, if not wet. Despite that, it didn't take much time for him to get a nice fire going.
Good thing he did, too, because it didn't take very long after the sun set for the temperature to start heading toward the forecasted mid-40's.
Ducked back into my tent to grab something warmer to wear over my shirt. I packed a fleece vest and a fleece half-zip. Well, it was too cool for anything without sleeves, so I went straight for the half-zip.
After hanging out around the fire for an hour, we pushed the logs out from the middle of the fire and retired to our respective hammocks and tents.
Any day you're able to check an item off your bucket list is never a bad day.