Friday, April 25, 2014.
No such thing as a slow day when you work in an elementary school. I didn’t even get a chance to check out the weather report. Barely remembered to grab my stocking cap off the file cabinet. Promised Kat that I would meet him at a mid-way grocery store right at the interstate. Bell rang and I headed out around three. The weather was beautiful with promise.
Went home, left my suit and tie crumpled on the floor as I pulled on my hiking gear. Felt good to lace up my boots again.
I wasn’t in the parking lot five minutes before Kat pulled up. He let out a maniacal giggle and started transferring gear to the Yota.
The next three hours, really, are just a chase scene.
Turned into a Mena Sonic around 7:00 p.m. and pulled out the topo maps while Kat changed out of his work clothes in the bathroom. A few cheeseburgers later, he outlines the plan while we squint at contour lines.
8:30 p.m., we pull up to the Little Missouri/Athens-Big Fork Junction Trailhead. Couldn’t really help but notice the flood zone sign right where I parked. It was just getting dusky as we stepped across the water and into the green. Headlamps came on as soon as dark fell. It was tortuously beautiful to hear the Little Missouri burbling just out of sight to our left as we eased along.
Kat explained that he had worked out a few exit strategies should the fan experience rapid fecal contact. Well, I think he said he had a few. The one that stuck to mind involved tying the packs to a tree and running like hell if it started raining hard enough to raise the river. Can’t say that plan inspired the greatest of confidence, but we’ve been in stranger situations together and came out alright. I didn’t point out that the exit strategy didn’t take much into account the drive out . . . but we were committed.
Came across one campsite pretty early on that, I swear, had a string of what looked like Christmas lights hanging on a tent or a hammock or something. They were huddled around a fire, enjoying an early night. I puzzled over how they got those lights strung up for a good mile or so.
We were making great time, I mean crazy great time. So fast that Kat started to get worried we’d pass Little Missouri Falls in the dark. That man is crazy about waterfalls. Me, I stick to the rivers and the lakes that I’m used to. Hard to miss the Little Mo. Falls, though, since you walk through a parking lot and a paved trail to get to them. Checked the watch . . . first 4.1 miles in about an hour and a half.
The downside of making camp in the dark is that you miss the beautiful flat firepit area just a few feet away. The upside of being hammock hangers is that it doesn’t matter what rocky hillside you find, so long as the trees are far enough apart and not too thick around the middle. We were so stinking tired that where we camped didn’t matter. Didn’t really take any pictures that first stretch of the hike because, well, darkness. Kat did show me a new hammock hack that now pretty much guarantees a perfect hang every time. Center your hammock, then tie off one end at the height you want it. Don’t worry about cinching it tight, just throw on a tie that won’t slip. On the other end, loop your tree straps. Make a trucker’s hitch out of your remaining rope and cinch it guitar-string tight. A few half-hitches to secure it and perfect hang.
Friday night was to be the coldest night and for the first time ever I was going bag-less in my hammock. I’ve been brainstorming a new way for 3-season hanging without freezing. Now, I already sleep in a Clark North American. Lightweight foam sleeping pad on the bottom and a zippered fleece blanket. That’s it. Sleep with my fleece layer on. I did get a little cool, so I opened up one of those air-activated hand warmers and tossed it into the fleece bag. Slept like a baby.
Slept so deep I didn’t even hear Kat’s snoring.