We got up, took down our tent, and proceeded to the kitchen to get our first lesson on stove use. We carried WhisperLite stoves, to which you attach a fuel pump and canister of gas in order to use. The process confused me a bit at first because you have to prime the stove by lighting a little liquid gas into a tiny bowl under the stove. You do this by turning the fuel pump on, not by pouring it into the tiny bowl, thank goodness :). Once that gas has burned off, you turn the stove on again and light the flame with a BIC lighter. Nothing like the subtle hiss of a blue flame aching to cook a yummy meal for the group.
Annemarie demonstrated the stove for our group using bagels, cheddar cheese, and summer sausage to make Cheesy Bagels. She made them by first browning the bagels on the frybake, then by sticking the cheese and summer sausage on the frybake to sizzle to their heart's content. When you put quickly scrape the cheese and sausage off the pan and put it onto a bagel, you've got yourself a delicacy my freind. We all had about 3 bagels each, leaving us quite satiated and literally "happy campers".
At this point, it was time for, well, how do we put this properly in "frontcountry" speak: Number Two. To my delight, we received a class on how to properly enact said process when in the "backcountry". This was a funny if slightly awkward discussion between 18 people who had just met each other yesterday. I shall spare everyone here the specifics, save two important facts (though I'd be happy to speak more in-depth personally on the subject, should you be so inclined. Feel free to contact my information hotline at 1-800-NUMBER-2).
1. You dig a 6 inch hole with a trowel (a hand-sized shovel).
2. There is no Charmin or generic brand toilet paper in the wilderness. You use what you can find and go from there.
Moving on...with breakfast and Number Two out of the way, I felt ready to conquer the day. After a short foot class where I learned that boots should be tied as loosely as possible and a Maps 101 class where we learned about direction and contour lines (the little red lines on maps that denote elevation), we left for our first hike, a 3.5 mile trek Northeast up the Pacific Creek. I was in Nan's group, with Tommy, Max, and 2 other people (can't believe I forgot to fully note my first hiking group in my journal. Bad journal skills Ben! Only 14 pieces of licorice today instead of 15). The trip took about 2:45 including 2 20-minute breaks, which is pretty standard. Throughout the whole trip, we would generally hike for an hour then take a 20 minute break to eat, drink, and rest.
During one of these breaks, I had my first experience filling up a water bottle from a small drainage flowing into Pacific Creek. Tommy found a great little waterfall and it was a cinch. To protect against giardia (a very nasty intestinal infection) and other possible water-borne parasites/problems, we used a liquid solution called Aquamira. It comes in two parts, and in order to treat one liter, you have to put 7 clear drops of Aquamira Part A and Aquamira Part B into a cap, wait 5 minutes for them to turn yellow, pour the mixture into your bottle, and wait 15 minutes for the chemicals to do their job. Then, you've got a tasty liter of water ready for consumption. Just swell.
During the hike and in between conversations with everyone, my thoughts drifted to the trepidations of the day before: Home, Friends, Being out of contact, all the fun stuff like that. It's as if there was a mental block in my head that I could not banish. It took till later that night, but I, at least for one day, was able to again beat back the daunting anxiety by remembering that the point of the trip was Life. Figuring out what Life was all about. It's a very hard thing to do with the distractions of society around you. And that's one of the many reasons I started this adventure. To leave it all behind and find out what I was really made of and what I was really all about.
When we got to our X, a trail junction near Pacific Creek, the team split up and began to scout for camp as we were the first group to arrive. In most cases throughout the trip, we hiked in groups of 6 (5 students, 1 instructor) to allow for more personal interaction and leadership opportunities (more on this in a couple days). The rules for camp and kitchen were that they had to be 200 feet from the water and 300 feet from the kitchen.
From our X, a hill went up about 60-80 feet and looked promising, so Tommy and I hiked up it. Sure enough, we saw a beautiful, flat grassy meadow flanked on one side by another tree-laden hill and on the other by this breathtaking view of Grand Teton. Talk about a jagged mountain. The closest thing I can compare it to is Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings, with the imposing way in which it ruled the skyline from tens of miles away.
The instructors agreed with our camp selection and once the other two groups got to the X, we proceeded to set up camp. Before they got there, we conducted a hike debrief, which would become a daily feature of the trip. Essentially, you get together and discuss the plusses and minuses of the day's events. Nan had a neat system where she spread out a number of cards that had a particular emotion on them (i.e. Happy, Sad, Smitten, Excited), each person picks one up that describes their general feeling, then the person describes why. Nice way to end the hike.
After setting up the tent with Max, we went back to the stove to begin dinner with our group, which was a pound of pasta with red sauce (made from boiling water and tomato powder, onion, garlic, and pepper). Quite filling and it hit the spot. The whole group then started to mingle, and Asante kept cackling as soon as he heard me laugh. He was of the opinion that I have a silly laugh, and I was happy to indulge since there was a lot of funniness going on within the group after that dinner. Go figure :). Around 730, we all got together for a meeting which included learning how to use the bear fence (quite important) and DANCHORS (Dance, Announcements, News, Concern, Humor, Observations, Reading, and Spotlight). The first part "Dance" involved everyone standing in a circle and doing the Doogie, the Jerk, and the Bernie, consecutively. I do love me some dancin!
During the middle of the meeting, I happened to turn my head around towards Grand Teton and saw the majesty of nature's own version of a fireworks show crackling atop it. Windswept clouds of delightful orange hues danced above its peak, ushering it into night with the grace of a falcon riding a current toward parts unknown. The image burned itself into my mind, just a hint of the beauty of these untouched lands we all possess as Americans. One quote stood out in my mind, a paraphrase of something Nan said earlier in the day "This scenery, it's nothing. Wait a couple weeks". It piqued my excitement for the coming days. I went to the tent after the meeting, set up sleeping arrangements, and fell asleep to the ever-so-slightly lit sky in the distance. The sun officially sets sometime after 9:15, but the sky stays light for at least another hour as the sun prances down the back of the mountain. Just beautiful.
Going to bed early at 10ish inevitably leads to a well-slept person when he or she wakes up at 7:30 AM. I was such a person arising from my slumber on this fine morning. My $90 sleeping pad was WELL worth the price at about 1 1/2 inches thick when fully inflated. I slept like a baby. Though it did rain on us a bit as our rainfly was left open during the night due to the temperature inside the tent. No damage though. 2 thumbs up for a first night's sleep in the wilderness.