Monday – Friday morning.
I turned 39 this month and while I’m not usually one to get too worked up about how many times the planet has orbited the sun since I came screaming into this world, this tends to mark the last few steps of a certain hill. As any experienced backpacker knows, the downhills are the worst.
It has also been some time since I completed what Kat and I refer to as a Man Hike. Man Hikes differ from Daddy Hikes by not just a measured lack of children but by our tendency to find creative and unnecessarily punitive ways of adding pain and/or urgency to our lives. Odd things tend to happen on Man Hikes. We’ve had to hitch a ride down Mt. Magazine because his mom was in a motorcycle accident once. Had Grap jump into a case of transient global amnesia. I blew out a knee. Bad stuff.
But it was time. He and I both recently took jobs that have us just slammed with work and responsibilities. Nothing has been aligning but, damn it all if the weekend of April 25th didn’t line up just perfectly. Around the first of the month, I called him up and we began plotting.
I’ll admit – I was worried about my ability to manfully represent myself on this hike. Not only had I put on about ten pounds since the last time I put on a pack, but short day-hikes in the very near past had shown me that my left knee was susceptible to immobilizing pain after about 10-12 miles depending on the terrain.
He texted me three little letters – ERL – and my heart sank. Not only was that near 30 miles long, but it was down in the Ouachitas! That’s a good three hour drive, minimum, after work. And that’s if we beat the NW AR traffic heading south down I540 I49.
So of course I agreed. And then promptly put it out of my mind as life continued.
The Monday before the hike, I checked the 5-day forecast. Perfect weather Friday and Saturday. Small chance of thunderstorms Sunday. I spent that night digging through my gear-box in my mancave. It was pitiful – I couldn’t find half what I needed it had been so long.
I downloaded a great topo map of the trail from the US Forest Service. Oh hell . . . there was no way my knee could take that. No way could I back out, though. It might be a whole other year before we got this chance again.
I decided I’d go at the knee problem multiple ways:
- First, I decided to strip about 10 lbs of gear out of my bag. Normally, and especially when I bring the boys with me, my pack runs about 40 lbs. I handle it well enough . . . for about 10-12 miles anyway. I ditched the following items: sleeping bag, paracord, extra fuel canister, small spice canisters, most of the spare batteries, back-up flashlight, my ½ fleece blanket, some of my cook gear. That didn’t cut it, so I dumped out my food bag. My goal was to not pack any food out. I cut out lunch stuff completely, halved the number of snacks I usually carry, and trimmed down breakfast. My one splurge was going to be Saturday dinner, but I’ll cover that in another post.
- Then I decided to trade my single hand-made willow hiking staff for a pair of aluminum hiking poles. They were mismatched, but one was a rather nice Cabela’s gift from my new school and I had to use it. Besides, all of my gear is mismatched. I only use what survives.
- Meds* & cold compresses. I don’t like to dull my pain too much because pain serves a very useful purpose in telling me to STOP BEFORE SOMETHING BREAKS! I packed a few extra strength Excedrin Migraine, though. Aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine in one little package could provide enough relief to keep going. I also packed an extra handkerchief to use as a cold compress whenever we stopped to rest. The water everywhere on the trail would be nice and cold, as good or better than an ice pack.
End result was a pack weight of 29 lbs, the lightest I’ve ever done. I could’ve trimmed an additional pound, I think, if I had ditched the paperback, accidentally extra raincoat, and a few other non-essentials. (I’ll go at it again some time. May even need to reconsider my first-aid kit.)
By Friday, the weather report was suggesting significant storms blanketing the area. Tornadoes, hail, heavy rains. It wasn’t supposed to hit until around noon Sunday, though, and Kat assured me he had a plan. That, alone, was an interesting anomaly. He hasn’t planned a hike since . . . well . . . since I’ve known him.
I went to work Friday with a full day ahead of me. The plan was to meet at a supermarket at 4:00 p.m. and we would begin the 3+hr drive from the Ozarks to the Ouachitas. Details to be discussed along the way.
*I am not a doctor. Don’t you go taking any kind of medical advice from me or anyone on the internet. Go scare up a real doctor – one with a white coat and a warm stethoscope.