Notes From the Field or Existential Crisis Averted Day 4

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Trail journals are a personal thing by nature. Just as hikers hike in their own way, they journal in their own way too. Some folks spend a great deal of time during the day on trail and in camp, focused on filling pages with notes about their experience or something. Not sure as I haven’t ever been rude enough to ask what all the scribbling was about heh. Other folks carry a journal that they never remember to write anything in at all and the rest either fall in between or don’t even think about it in the first place.

I tend to fall into the group that carries a journal, but rarely remember it is there when I’m on an adventure. Partially that is due to my focus on what I’m doing at the time rather than thinking about documenting it. Partially it is because of the way my memory allows me to retrieve the experience later negating the need to write it down at the time. The rest of the explanation likely has to do with my love of cheese and sausage. Why spend time writing when I could be eating‽

My journals tend to come along for several trips before anything gets written down. By then the paper has soaked up humidity and dried out again numerous times. Combined with the friction of the pages rubbing against each other while riding hundreds of miles in my pack that gives the paper an odd feel; Sort of spongy and porous so neither ink nor pencil produce sharp lines. I find that fitting for the notes I tend to leave myself in my journals as they are often just a few hazy words giving a slight indication of what was on my mind. Just enough to remind me of what I was thinking when I made the note with no effort made to convey complete thoughts. These notes can be amusing when seen later at home with a head full of coffee and a roof over my head.

The note in the picture above is a great example of that. “Existential crisis averted Day 4” has few details, yet conveys enough of a message to fill pages of notes as I look back on that moment now. This is from a week long, solo trip I took to Baxter State Park in early June of this year. It was my first chance to get out on trail for over two months and over the first few days of the trip my brain was a mess. There seemed to be a lot of questions about who I was and what I was doing wandering around the forest by myself. Should I be home being a husband or daddy? Should I be working or saving the world? It seemed that I had only questions and answers with no clue which were important in either category. Who was I supposed to be?

So I wandered through the forest for a few days, going through the actions of making water, camps and meals with all of this turmoil in my head. Then on the fourth morning, as I relaxed in camp before loading up for the day, I realized that the noise had stopped. Questions and answers had stopped swirling and I could see what was important…the answer to who I was supposed to be.

I was just a guy, sitting in the woods, happy. There could be no more clear answer than that. While I remain husband and daddy wherever I roam and those callings come first, I am at heart a man who is happy in the wilderness. Alone or with others, being out there is time well spent and accepting that fact empowers a person with the conviction to go and do and be.

If you’re the sort who doesn’t carry a journal or remember to make any notes, maybe give it a shot sometimes. Just enough to jog your memory later and bring back a moment. If you’re the sort who fills pages of notes in one of those big books every day on trail, maybe ease up and experience the ride a bit more without letting the notes take all your focus.

Just that one faded, scribbled line in a rumpled notebook was enough to take me to that moment and bring it back in full detail. I can see the camp at Long Pond in the morning light, hear the red-wing blackbird and woodpeckers, and know what it feels like to be where I’m supposed to be. Soon…

 

Revenge of the Mama – Mt Mansfield + Bonus Lake Carmi

Revenge of the Mama – Mt Mansfield + Bonus Lake Carmi

48 pics and the story of The Mama’s triumphant return to Mt Mansfield and this year’s annual “marinara in the wilderness” location: Lake Carmi State ParkDSC03916aLast year’s failed attempt to climb this mountain inspired us all to come back stronger next time. Diets were changed. Winter exercise increased. Then of course real life got in the way and it all fell apart the last month or so before the trip 🙂 We didn’t let that or the weather daunt us. There had been some heavy rain the day we arrived and our day to climb started out feeling steamy, but thankfully cooler than the 90s of the days before.DSC03918aDSC03919aWe were stopping early and often per our plan of taking care of everyone’s needs before they became problems. No shortage of places to sit on this part of the trail, but the little one was ready to go.DSC03923aDSC03925aDSC03928aDSC03929aDSC03930aWe were definitely having a lot more fun this time! There were a few challenging bits for those with shorter legs, but we were moving right along.DSC03932aDefinitely looking much happier than the last time we were on this spot. I got a lot of great pics of The Mama with epic clouds behind her.DSC03934aDSC03935aDSC03936aStill a bit more to go. Just over this hump is where we ate lunch and turned around last year. Soon we’d be on unexplored trail which is always a bit more exciting.DSC03939aThen we hit the somewhat crowded summit where we tried to look cool about the whole being on top of mountain thing 🙂 Pretty sure if there was no one else there it  would have been a lot louder heh. We try to be good neighbors!DSC03941aDSC03943aDSC03946aThat happy face might be because she’s got her shoes off or maybe she is just glad we’ve finally reached this spot. Cheese and sausage might have something to do with it too.DSC03947aFrom the summit we could look down on the spot where we stopped last time and it seemed so close. The trail winds around the side to the left rather than coming straight up the cliff so the walk is much longer. Having done it I’m all the more sure that turning them around last time was a really good idea. Coming this much more would have made for a lot of suffering before we got back to camp.DSC03951aDSC03953aDSC03954aDSC03957aNot much suffering to be found this time around other than a healthy cloud of blackflies on the summit. A lot of people since it isn’t a long walk from the top of the toll road, but that motivated us to start our long walk back down.DSC03960aDSC03963aWe enjoyed the lean to quite a bit on this trip as it was far removed from the other campsites and the parking lot. Work to carry everything down to the camp, but worth it. We ate well and then made a fire mainly to make s’mores as it certainly wasn’t chilly. I invited Ranger Ira to come join us when his shift ended, more as a joke than anything since I assumed he’d want his dinner. We’d just wrapped up our toasting party and were about to put everything away when he wandered up. He decided that he’d have his dessert first that night and we had a blast swapping stories with him for a bit. Not sure we want to climb Mansfield again anytime soon, but we really enjoyed our two nights at Underhill again this year. It helped that they timed the downpours to happen when we were in camp!DSC03969aThen we were off to Lake Carmi State Park, almost to the Canadian border. This is a bustling campground with lots of people and lots of noise. Not our usual thing, but we wanted some place to chill out after the mountain climbing thing and if you ignored all the noise this was a beautiful spot. The LT was wet inside from the previous night’s storm so I put a tarp out front in case another came through. They positioned it for the view, not protection 🙂DSC03971aDSC03978aThis place was definitely about the views! DSC03984aAnd the ducks!! No really, there were ducks everywhere. They’d wander through camp looking for scraps or handouts. There were signs saying not to feed them, but of course people do.DSC03994aDSC04003aDSC04009aYup, views and ducks pretty much all the way down.DSC04027aDSC04032aDSC04036aThe next day we headed out to explore the hiking trails near the park gate. We saw no one else out there and I think the gate ranger was a bit surprised when Frau Stranger asked about the trails. We covered most all of them except for a few short cut offs. First there was a huge meadow area that used to be a farm. Lots of birds and flowers. The trail was just a mown path that wound around the perimeter. DSC04039aThis old stone wall gave the trail its name, but not much of it remained. Guess it got tired of waiting around to fall 😉DSC04042aNot sure if this is a snowmobile trail or what, but the mowing stopped here so we did too.DSC04043aDSC04044aDSC04047aDSC04049aDSC04051aAlmost back to the car I spotted the other trail option hiding behind a tree. We were glad we looked for it because it took us through the forest and down along the shore of the lake.DSC04052aDSC04056aDSC04061aThat fuzzy thing in the middle is a very large bird which appeared to be an eagle. It launched from a tree right over our heads as we came through and made a wonderful whooshing sound with its wings. It appeared to be fishing when I tried to take this shot, but autofocus thought I wanted a picture of the tree heh.DSC04063aThen the trail headed back away from the shore and through a fern filled glade.DSC04066aNo really, it was filled! With the sun coming through the trees it was really neat there. I’m used to seeing ferns like this early in the Summer, but not in August. DSC04068aAfter all of that walking there was some swimming and some relaxing. Just because we weren’t sleeping in the hammocks doesn’t mean we couldn’t hang them up.DSC04069aAnd of course there were more ducks. Lots more ducks!DSC04071aFinally it was time for the annual “marinara in the wilderness” which has been going on for a decade now. The pasta changes from year to year, this time I went with spinach and cheese tortellini. The sauce is always cooked fresh with shrimp carefully planned to survive in the cooler until the big event. We had a full grocery store just miles away this time so that part was easy this year compared to some.

This was a very successful trip on many levels. The mountain was climbed, marshmallows were toasted and shared, ducks were seen and shrimp eaten. Plans for another trip after this fell through so I’m especially glad we got a chance to enjoy this one so much. Alone or with others, I hope you’re getting out there because Summer is almost gone. Time for family trips is over which is sad, but Fall brings thoughts of solo adventures…

Field Repair

Field Repair

That terrible moment when a piece of vital equipment fails is something you can’t really practice for. Still, it can happen at any time so you’d better be prepared to deal with it.  Your assets may include all the stuff in your pack, but your wits are the biggest thing you’ve got going for you. Depending on just how vital the equipment is or the circumstances which caused the failure there may be some adrenaline or emotional stress to deal with first. Cuss, cry or meditate as you think best, but taking a few minutes to get your head together can be a good idea before using it to figure out what to do next. First do no harm applies here. You don’t want to make the problem worse.

That fractured aluminum tube in the picture is the base of the frame from my backpack. After tearing down camp on the morning of day 3 of a family Baxter trip we were ready to get an early start heading to our next site. Throwing my pack on was the final thing to be done and when I tossed it up onto my back there was an odd snapping sound and I could feel the pack lose its shape, slumping off my shoulders. Can’t recall if there was any cussing, but there definitely was some adrenaline.  We were only about 3 miles from the nearest trailhead, but the Daddy Pack is key to moving the majority of the weight and a large part of the volume as far as the entire family gear load.

Thinking fast I implemented that all important step; mellow out. Rather than rush into some ill guided, frantic effort, I told the girls to take off their packs because I didn’t know how long we’d be. Then I sat down by the fire ring and did some pondering. Once I started I was surprised at how fast I went from freaking out to finding solutions. Needing a strut to stabilize the bottom of the pack I considered dismantling one of my hiking poles and using the bottom section. One look told me that it was too large to work very well so I was glad I didn’t rush into tearing apart the pole. Then I had another idea…

With the guyline attached this tarp stake made a darn fine splint. Using first aid skills I set the bone, err I mean I set the frame so it was lined up properly and then laid the stake across the two pieces. By wrapping the guyline around and around while looping it through the loops from the pack I was able to get a pretty solid connection despite the break being at such a difficult spot.Rather than hope the line would hold for the hike out I opted to keep going. Belt and suspenders can be a good idea sometimes 🙂 I didn’t want to risk the jagged frame cutting through the guyline if the fracture opened up on trail. I’ve carried this nice cloth tape for blister treatment and other first aid for years without using it once. Now I was glad I had it along because it made for a strong addition to my repair.

I was happy to feel the pack remain intact as I tossed it onto my back to test it out. Before I fully hooked it up I asked Frau Stranger to scope things out from behind and see if I was going to stab myself with the stake if I stood up.  She said things looked good back there and I figured she was talking about the pack so gave it a go. That repair may not look like much, but it held up just fine to get back to the car. The pictures were actually taken after we got home a few days later so it held up very well I’d say. We changed our plan to camp  closer to the car for the last few nights rather than risk heading into the back country, but I think it may have held up on trail for quite a while if necessary.

Like I said at the start, you can’t really practice for repairs because you never know what might break or how. What you can do is start thinking about what you carry that can be used for other purposes in an emergency. A repair kit that includes a needle and thread and some duct tape or other strong, waterproof tape can come in handy. Zip ties and spare pack buckles are also common additions. I don’t actually carry a dedicated repair kit, but my first aid kit includes scissors, needle, thread and tape. Like most things on trail, repairs are just another puzzle to be solved. That is why the best thing to have in your repair kit is your wits. Should you hear an ominous snap or tear on your next trip, and I really hope you don’t, remember to get your wits out first 🙂

Backyard Testing Family Style

DSC03203aAfter waiting for weeks we finally found a weekend night warm enough to do some backyard camping. I’d done some work to get a new site set up, but didn’t want to drag the girls out there if it was going to be freezing. With the fire going to roast some weenies and warm beds waiting for us we were happy folks.DSC03204aIt wasn’t all fun and games though. We were doing some serious testing. The girls were going to see if they wanted to start using hammocks on some trips. I put up my big hammock for my wife to test out and my little one for my daughter to try. With the outside walls staked down and the middle tied together to make a double porch they were all set.

I slept in my Hubba for the first time in over a year and on the ground for the first time in almost as long. Setting up the tent was nostalgic as I’ve been on a lot of adventures with that little green coffin. Laying on a mat felt bad at first but I slept like a baby. I was glad to find I could still do that as I have reservations for LTs on an upcoming Baxter trip. Those boards are harder than ground, but I’ll probably survive.

Ordered a new hammock for my wife, so I guess the test was a success. The little one is on board too so this means we can start heading out to the places where big family tents fear to tread. I just realized how funny that sounds if you know the places we’ve been over the last few years 🙂

Stay tuned for field testing reports once school lets out next month!

Fitkicks Original Review Published at Trailspace

These aren’t marketed as water shoes or backpacking gear, but I’ve never let that stop me before. Check out my full review at Trailspace linked via the picture above or the text below.

Fitkicks Original

 

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