I decided to camp two nights at the Priest shelter. I put my tent up in a nearby site, made my dinner and settled down. Before long, four hikers from Ohio joined me, and we had a pleasant evening. But I was completely exhausted and was done and in my tent well before the sun set that evening. After a nearly 13-hours sleep in my tent, I joined them for breakfast, and then waved them good-bye as they left to complete their hike. I settled in for a long day at the shelter.
A zero day at a shelter can be an enjoyable quiet retreat, or it can be a tedious trip to boredom hell. Most times, it’s a combination of both. I had one small book with me, “Acres of Diamonds” by Russell Conwell. As an alumna ofTemple University, that book is something of a bible to me. In it, Dr. Conwell, founder of Temple University, talks about the merits of hard work, good planning, and recognizing resources available right where you are. I read it through four times during this trip. It’s a good book, but four consecutive readings is a bit much.
I was happy when an occasional hiker stopped by and broke the tedium. I collected firewood. I had lunch, I sang songs, I checked my maps. I napped. It wasn’t too bad. Occasionally, I’d have to deal with a moment or two of depression over not being with my friends. Being early in the game, it was easy for me to push those thoughts aside. In the early evening, I built a campfire. I remembered how often I had taught fire-building and safety to boy scouts, and how we talked about the morale-boosting effects of a campfire.
As I sat next to my cheering campfire, a group of teenagers came into the shelter area. They were nice kids, and we had a good chat. They were camping a bit further down the trail and came to investigate the reason for the smoke, as they thought no one was staying at the shelter. One of the girls asked me, “Isn’t it dangerous to be out here by yourself?” I asked her if her mother told her that. She seemed a little embarrassed as she answered yes. I told her my mother had also warned me about the dangers of hiking alone, and that our mothers had given us good advice. We talked about how I got into the situation, shared a few stories, and they went back to their campsite. My day alone on the trail came to an end, and it wasn’t bad. It was a little boring, a little lonely, but not bad.
The next morning, freshly bandaged, I packed up, laced up and headed downhill for the return to Harper’s Creek Shelter. Once I was moving, I was again in complete, happy control of the head game. Moving downhill was hardly painful at all. I made it back to the Tye River on a Saturday morning, where I met a large group of boy scouts who were headed up the mountain just as I was coming down. I enjoyed talking to the boys and their adult leaders. They were polite and seemed impressed that I had walked up the mountain. I didn’t enlighten them as to the details of the ordeal. But I did talk to them about tending to hot spots immediately.
I crossed the river and started the relatively easy climb back towards Harper’s Creek shelter. I had an option to camp by the river that night. I played the options in my head. Trailheads are statistically more dangerous than any other parts of the trail. A lone woman camping near a road is really not in the best place she could be. I was tired, but that was an easy call to make. I pushed on toward the shelter.
But less than a mile along the trail, I was slammed again with second-guessing and self-doubt. Now moving uphill, every step was again a painful YANK on my heel. I thought about stopping and making a dry camp. But I saw clouds rolling in, and the shelter was not that far off. I decided to move on, resting often, adjusting and/or changing bandages and socks.
I arrived at Harper’s Creek around 3:30 p.m. just as another scout troop was leaving the shelter area. I enjoyed some nice conversation and a little company, but before long, I was alone again. I didn’t mind. The shelter is set in a very pretty spot. The creek was running well. I soaked my feet for a little while, gathered up some firewood, listened to my iPod, re-read “Acres of Diamonds”.
But once it was dark, the head game turned to loneliness. And that became the favored strategic play used by my negative opponent for the rest of the hike. This was my third night alone on the trail, and the loneliness was scoring points against me. It was dark. No one was at the shelter. The fire had burned low. I was full of self-pity. Woe is me. What did I do to deserve a blister? Why hadn’t I been smarter?
I fell asleep out of sheer boredom only to be awakened around 11:00 p.m. by loud voices and flashlights across the creek. I had been sleeping soundly in the shelter. I was startled, and sitting straight up, my heart pounding, I reached for my headlamp and flashed it on. I wanted people approaching to know that someone was in the shelter. I wondered who would be arriving so late. They walked back and forth but did not cross the creek. I even shouted a greeting to them, but there was no reply. For the next four hours they made quite a racket as they sat around a very large fire in a campsite across the creek. I couldn’t understand a thing they were saying even though they were quite loud. I assumed the garbled sound was due to the noise from the swift creek that separated me from the group. I tried to sleep but was awakened often by their laughter. In the morning, I met my fellow campers, who turned out to be a group of Russian students from a nearby college. They apologized for the noise they made. And even though I was quite irritated the night before, they were such nice people and I was so happy for their company the next day, that I had no hard feelings towards them.
I settled in for another zero day. Harper’s Creek is a pretty spot, so it was enjoyable, but I was definitely bored. I went through my pack, studied my maps, took compass bearings from every direction. I re-read “Acres of Diamonds” for a third time. I decided to lighten my food load, and displayed all of my discarded food items on the picnic table in front of the shelter. Around lunch time, some thru-hikers came by, and they happily took food that appealed to them. I met one young man with an unusually bright and happy attitude. His trail name was “Burns”, and he had the most interesting collection of trail food I had ever seen. Apparently, at the road crossing at the Tye River, day hikers had gifted him with extra food. He was carrying several ears of corn, a very large can of baked beans, a whole kielbasa, and a plastic bag of sauerkraut. He and two other hikers shared that feast, and we laughed as they told me about their adventures on the trail. By this time, the Russians had left, and as soon as the happy thru-hikers left, I was alone again.
I gathered firewood, I checked my maps, I re-read “Acres of Diamonds”. In the evening I built a fire, and as it died down I settled into my sleeping bag in the shelter and felt sorry for myself again. I wondered why I hiked. What was the point. I could be home in my own bed, or staying up late watching “Trek” on the big screen. Self-doubt and second guessing made a play again.
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