11/24/11 – Thanksgiving Day
This hike was a series of firsts for me. My first 20-mile day, my first time cramming so many miles into such a short time, my longest uninterrupted hike. Some time after midnight, another trail first happened. This thick, cold fog rolled in. Wet enough to soak everything like a light rain, thick enough to reflect the light from our headlamps back at us. It was beautiful and surreal, but the mind prioritizes awe the same way that the body prioritizes pain. Unfortunately for the ghostly mist swirling around me, my mind was clamped down on two unavoidable truths: It was criminally cold outside and I had to pee.
I told Kat to not even bother with those pellets. Shredded a layer or two of skin off my thumb trying to get the !@#$%^&* child-proof lighter to spark, but before long that little stove was hissing out warmth. With water on to boil and my fingers thawed out enough to take care of business and pack, it was time to get moving. Not only was it too cold to stand around and enjoy the pre-dawn fog, but conditional acceptance of this hike by my better half hinged on me being in attendance (showered, dressed, and semi-mobile) at my mother-in-law’s house by 12:00.
[It is 42 miles to Fayetteville, we got a full cup of coffee, half a pack of Cliff bars, it’s dark and we’re wearing head lamps. If my life had a sound track (and it does, you all just can’t hear it like I do), then this part of the trail would have had Yakety Sax playing while the ghost of Benny Hill chased us toward Frog Bayou Creek.]
It didn’t take long to get warmed up and it was just amazingly cool how my breath interacted with the fog hanging like lazy rain in front of my head lamp. The terrain is gradual on this part of the trail, with just a few short climbs in and out of creek. My knees weren’t fully awake and howling yet. The blazes marking the trail east are much better placed than the ones heading west – so that with the fog had us constantly keeping a look on the trail. Kat took lead since he had two lights (one to watch his footing and one to search for blazes) and I stayed behind keeping my concentration on where I put my feet. Dawn broke on us a couple miles from Frog Bayou, but we kept the head lamps on anyway in case there were any nearsighted deer hunters freezing their butts off on a stump somewhere.
It was a blessing to see that Frog Bayou Creek had dropped by almost two feet in depth and slowed considerably. Kat and I swapped cameras to get a crossing picture. He went first and I took my time. The water was cold as an angry wife, but was pure bliss on my knees. Since we were making great time, I warned him that I had to take these last couple of miles easy. Neither one of us had a desire for another Cliff Bar (the only food we had left) with Thanksgiving dinner just a few miles ahead. The
cheeseburger turkey march was on.
Just past the 2-mile marker, my left knee gave out. Wouldn’t bend at all, each step down was like an ice pick through the middle. First time that happened, on the Buffalo River Trail, it scared the hell out of me. I know a bit more about it now, including some ways to work around the pain – such as slow down as much as possible. Took me an hour to finish the last mile.
I’ve never been more proud of myself coming off a trail. The mixture of pain and endorphins, freezing extremities and sweating exertion, pride and shame is hard to explain. Easily the best hike we’ve done together.
Shook Kat’s hand, thanked him for the experience. Don’t really know anyone else willing to hurt themselves like this for fun. Sat in the truck rubbing my knee until it forgave me sufficiently to work the clutch. Fired up the heater and put Arlo on the mp3 player. Can’t have a Thanksgiving day drive without hearing about Alice’s Restaurant. If you want to end war and stuff, you gotta sing loud.
Made it to mother-in-law’s house at 11:30. Showered by 11:45.