I combine July 30-31 into one post because in my mind, they are one and the same. These two days represent the mental low point of my trip, a point where a bout of Wilderness Funk almost beat me. The wilderness, when approached with an open mind and an open heart, ensures that one goes through an act of introspection about one's self to the fullest degree. While the specific introspection is personal and not relevant, the conclusion reached from this particular train of thought is.
The Funk came on like a fox in heat around 11 AM after we finished our morning meeting, where we discussed the route for the next 7 days, and were given a few hours of downtime. It was a layover day, our 3rd of the trip, which meant that we weren't hiking on this day and were using it to do classes and to rest after the long day yesterday. War raged in my skull over a number of things as I sat journaling below a tree, about home and certain people and why I hadn't been able to figure out my next step after NOLS. It was the kind of uncertainty you think you leave behind in high school. Until you go to the wilderness and have time to think about it by your lonesome for a good, long while. For me anyway :). But hey, on the bright side, tasty cinnamon rolls that Avery had made for breakfast were sitting in my stomach!
My mentor/mentee meeting with Jamie interrupted the Funk's dastardly scheme for a few minutes. These meetings only happened a couple times, and it was to allow an instructor and a student to get to know one another on a more personal level, ensuring that the student was doing OK on the course. Then, it was off to the river with a few other people to dunk ourselves in and get clean. Oh what a nice feeling, to immerse yourself in cold river water and get all the dirt off that had accumulated for the last few days. I ran my fingers through my hair and felt about a pound of caked sweat and grease all lathered in there. Thing #845 I would never do in the frontcountry: rinse off in a big river and call that my shower...for the week.
After a couple classes, we got a big surprise: Annemarie made a yellow cake with chocolate frosting and peanut M&Ms for us in celebration of our completion of the first three months of the course. As Annemarie was cutting the cake into 18 pieces, all of our bowls sneakily and subtly formed a tight circle around the cake, begging to be filled first. The animals were waiting! And oh boy was the cake tasty. When you have had little to no sweets over a 12 day period, cake tastes utterly delectable!
The cake-induced feeding frenzy over, it was time to cook dinner. It was my turn to do so, and I elected to try something new that I found in the cookbook called "Lentil Rice Cakes". To make them, you boil up lentils and rice, drain out the excess water, add a little flour and powdered milk, and presto: you've got a Lentil Rice dough. From this dough, you make patties and fry them. I'd never had lentils before so I wasn't sure what to expect. Fortunately enough, they were positively amazing, especially with hot sauce. I would enjoy cooking those at home too.
For dessert, Eric cooked what would become one of his culinary specialties on the trip, in my humble but totally accurate opinion: Indian Boil Cookies. These are made by compiling a batter of water, oatmeal, cocoa, flour, and any other sweets that one wishes to add. Since I got served last, I got to eat my portion right out of the frybake. This is a grand treat in the wilderness because it means you get all the extra, still scrumptious scraps from whatever was cooked. Each and every calorie is important when you're out there.
Upon finishing a fun game of tossing the frisbee with Asante, Andy, and Jason, it was off to sleep for another day. One more day of Wilderness Funk endured and defeated. Allow the writer to breathe a sigh of relief at this joyous fact.
The kitchen smelled of something spectacular as Eric, Avery, and I walked in to see Asante cooking up some Hash Browns and Cheese. I probably had this about 7 times on the trip, and as you'll see (because I will bloviate incessantly each time about this), it got better with each iteration. When you see a full skillet of potatoes overflowing with a pound of cheese and a copious amount of spices, you don't think, you consume
. If you're reading this Asante, well done sir. That was one damn tasty meal.
I found a new food friend to put into the lunch bowl on this day: Cheese/Peanut Butter sandwiches. I took Jamie's recommendation of putting cheese and peanut butter in my lunch (separately) and brought it to a modern, awesome level. This particular treat consists of, as you might imagine, cutting a slice of cheese in half and sticking a dollop of peanut butter in between the two halves. If this sounds disgusting, I sincerely urge you to try it before passing judgment. I would be quite content eating this in place of ice cream as a nighttime snack, seriously. And those of you who know me well know the cutthroat seriousness with which I take my ice cream. Speaking of which, from this point, only 17 days until I could gorge myself on ice cream. The thought was precious.
The day of hiking was scheduled to be full of elevation gain and our first hike without official trails. To begin, we had to hike up a big drainage on trail. To pass the time and to help keep our minds off of burning quads, we played a game called Contact 123 that Avery taught to us. In this game, one person designated as the Special One picks a word, keeps it to himself, and gives everyone the first letter. Let's do "B" as an example. Any person, known as Askers, can ask questions about the word, such as "Is it the name of a television show?". If it is a television show, the Special One must say so. If not, he must say a television show that starts with the letter 'B', in the form of "It is not Baywatch.". If the Special One cannot think of a television show that starts with a 'B', someone other than the current Asker yells "Contact", and that person and the official Asker say the first thing that comes to mind. Perhaps they both say "Big Bang Theory". If they do, then the Special One must give the group the next letter of his word. This continues until all of the letters are revealed or if an Asker asks the right question. Pretty fun. And wouldn't you know it, you all as readers just got at the top of the drainage in the story after that explanation. Woohoo!
Eric was the Leader of the Day and did a great job navigating the group. About a mile after the drainage, we made the consious decision to start bushwhacking to the West, knowing that we had to go West to reach a valley that contained our X. Not 5 minutes later, we stumbled upon a game trail, and were able to follow it all the way to the valley. So our day that was supposed to contain at least a couple miles of off-trail navigation contained about 5 minutes of it. We got to the camp about a half hour after finding the valley, giving us a total of about 4-5 miles in about 4 hours. Nice easy day.
After our debrief and scouting for camp, the Wilderness Funk returned to give me one more blast of terrible shivers: That I still hadn't found what I was looking for after 2 weeks in the wilderness. That I still wasn't sure what was next. I was sitting out here in the middle of nowhere, hiking around, and failing at one of my major goals for coming out here. This caused a rage in me as I sat on my backpack staring at the majestic mountain in front of me. I asked the mountain why they hadn't helped me figure it out. I truly thought, when coming out here, that the mountains and the wilderness contained some magical elixir that would answer my questions, that this landscape would flip a switch to some sort of truth in my brain that I could then begin to ascertain and work towards. I was mad at the mountains, this place, myself.
But then, the reality of it all hit me, as if the mountain spoke directly to me, this guy sitting slumped by his backpack, sunglasses on at night (Great Song
, by the way), contemplating life and everything humanly possible that there is to contemplate. The mountain said a simple phrase: "I can't give you the answers because they're already within you." For some reason the mountain spoke in a thick Scottish brogue. I suppose all good looking mountains should speak like that. But it, or whatever made that thought dawn on my brain, was right. I couldn't look to the mountains to solve my problems. I had to look to myself to conquer them. And then the cause of my Wilderness Funk the last few days had made sense. Instead of just enjoying
this scenery and this place for what it was, I was trying to use
it and mold it for my own purposes. The whole point of this trip wasn't to dote about the future, it was to live in the now. To enjoy the simplicity of life outside of society's constraints. And after the trip, it could be reflected on to glean the important life lessons for which I was looking. How can one glean lessons from a previous moment if it wasn't actually lived, but instead spent worrying about the future.
The Wilderness Funk slipped away like a professional art thief from the Lourve in the dark, summer night. I was free.
The rest of the night was very nice. I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. That damn Wilderness Funk had been eating too many Cheetos and was overweight, I swear. Carrying him was annoying. But now he was gone. And he wouldn't come back for the rest of the trip. On this night I made it a point to stand for a few minutes and observe the scenery around me with no purpose but to realize that it all existed, I existed, and life was flowing through my veins. I think everyone could use that reminder on a regular basis. We humans possess life, a soul, the ability to think and make decisions and do what we want. We should remember that more often. And allow ourselves to live for ourselves and no one else.
My bed was quite comfortable on this night, and a few seconds after hitting my lovely ThermaRest, sleep enveloped me with open arms.