Thursday, September 6, 2012

20 miles and the tent giggles


We had been planning it for nearly four years, but because of babies and children, we were never able to sneak away for just two days until this summer.  There we were, two moms escaping the rigors of daily life in exchange for nearly 60 pounds of gear strapped to our backs and a daunting trail ahead of us. Boots snuggly tied on, we headed out for our first backpacking trip in what seemed like forever.
This sort of backpacking is like camping on steroids, and not to be confused with the lofty dreams of a graduate hoping to tour Europe via trains and hostels and find the meaning of life with a camera and some quick-drying clothes.  This is the sort of backpacking that takes you deep into the woods, miles away from other humans and cars and basic conveniences of life.  Minimalist doesn’t even begin to describe this sort of hobby.
But backpacking is something special.  It brings out the absolute rawness of a person, and I’m not talking about the rawness that is the giant pack rubbing on your shoulders or hips or your big toe. I’m talking about the rawness that is your true self, where you can hold nothing back and all truth and honesty comes pouring out with your gallons of sweat on a 90 degree day.  There is no room for modesty while you are on the trail.  You don’t politely excuse yourself if you need the restroom, you announce to all in your party to face the other way while you find an appropriate tree.  There’s no room for daintiness, either, as you guzzle your water and attempt to replace the calories you burn by hauling a tent 13 miles into the wilderness.  There’s no room for beauty contests, either, when your perfume of dirt, sweat, and bug spray heavily scents your snagged and crusty clothing.  
You ache, you moan.  You curse the weeds and the extra granola bars you brought which you are certain must weigh 20 pounds.  Insects constantly buzz your face and steep inclines and glances at how many miles you have left to go try their best to break your spirit.
But there’s something else on the trail with you—a friend.  A true friend.  For me, that’s the greatest thing about being backwoods with someone, far from the rest of humanity.  My friend and I spent a mere 24 hot and challenging hours in the hills of southern Ohio, wearing our motherly bodies out while we talked and shared and laughed mile after mile.  Connected in such a natural place, you become a stronger unit.  She stops when you need a break.  You take some weight when she’s feeling tired.  You share silence and strength at all the right times, until you finally make camp and collapse in the tent.
Physically and mentally weary, conversation was at a standstill as we drifted away between sentences.  At one point, I must have said something witty that didn’t register in my own foggy head, and my friend burst into a fantastic spell of contagious laughter.
“Someone’s got the tent giggles,” I snickered back, and though we were the only people for quite some way, our laughs rolled from that mountaintop as far as they could.  They rolled past the whippoorwill we heard calling at dusk, past the animals we sensed walking around at night, past the steep slopes and all the way up to the stars.
We hiked out the next morning, finishing our nearly 20 mile loop.  At some point an insect flew into my eye and set up camp and I spent the next day or so with a swollen irritated eye.  Our legs are covered with scratches and bites and poison ivy.  The physical demands were so much that I can barely walk up a flight of stairs without complaining, but if asked, I would do it all again…as soon as the muscles heal and as long as a friend is my number one packed item.

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