A couple people on the trip were having serious blister trouble, enough that our supplies of tape, moleskin, and other blister remedies wouldn't last the rest of the course. Therefore, at re-ration, Annemarie sent a message with the horsepackers to drop a cache of medical supplies at a predetermined GPS coordinate that NOLS has used before in similar situations. This required the first group to exit the wilderness to go on hunt for the cache. To my delight, I happened to be in the first group!
After a class on public land management, where we learned a little bit about the four different land management agencies, and a class on using the handheld GPS device, we embarked on our hike. About a mile into the hike, we arrived at a ranger cabin which indicated that it was time to break from the trail and proceed towards our GPS coordinates. We dropped our packs in a small bed of trees. Boy, was it lovely to hike without a massive pack on my back for once. I sincerely forgot what that felt like! We crossed a river and hiked up to an actual 4WD road, and had to get out of the way as an actual car passed us. That was a very weird experience, not having seen either for over 3 weeks. The rumble of machinery was unsettling.
Annemarie had a really good idea of where the cache was and she led us right to it. It was housed under a pile of rocks next to a tree and contained everything we would need for a few more days on the trail. This find, however, was secondary to a sight of monumental importance, so awe-inspiring it might as well have had an angel's halo above it: A bathroom. One by one, each group member delighted in using what might be the most fundamental advancement in the history of society. I, however, decided to abstain. I'd already come to terms with digging holes for 30 days; Why take a seat with less than a week left? I saw no good reason. Being near civilization, even only for a few minutes, was definitely a very weird feeling. But not as weird as the real re-immersion would be. More on that later.
But it wasn't time to leave for good, and back into the wilderness we went. Our hike for the day brought us through another significant tree burn, the landscape all around dotted by charred hulks of organisms once happily full of life. We'd come to find out a couple days later from people on the trail that the burn only happened the previous year. I can't imagine what we would have done had it happened this year. Probably make one heck of a detour. We completed the 4.5 mile hike in about 4:30, the hour's time to get the medical cache included.
Our 2nd to last First Aid class dealt with making splints, the purpose being to have a general idea of how to handle a broken bone should one occur on independent travel. We don't carry a "splint kit" or anything of that kind. You simply have to make do with what you have and whatever you can find around you. In my group, Lily "had a broken right arm", and we ended up making a splint by tying a 2 foot, 1 inch thick stick to her arm with handkerchiefs, wrapping her arm in a long sleeve shirt for padding, then by putting her arm in a sling with my blue hoodie. Lily couldn't move her arm at all. Victory for Team Win.
Everyone in my group was feeling a quite hungry and tired that night, so we decided to leave no stone unturned in getting the squad back to full strength. And so began the cooking of 2 full pounds
of macaroni and cheese. The 5 smiles nestled around the stoves beamed with delight, as two pots of pasta cooked simultaneously. Not a single shred of food was left between the 5 of us, and once hungry, unhappy stomachs lay satiated as the pillowy, orange clouds of dusk floated overhead. Great backdrop to a great meal.
After dinner, we had to conduct one final group activity before being allowed to travel in independent groups without instructors, such travel being scheduled to start on the next morning. We had to complete a first aid scenario, where an instructor pretends to have a particular ailment while the group identifies, and if possible, corrects the issue using the skills we'd learned over the past 3 weeks. My group had Noah, he already being a Wilderness First Responder and not in need of practice with diagnoses, as a patient. It ended up being a somewhat hectic situation, knowing that the results of our scenario would determine our ability to go on the independent trip on the next day. We ended up having to immobilize his head because it hurt, putting pressure and cleaning up a cut because it was bleeding, and splinting his ankle because it appeared to be broken. Though, we didn't find everything as quick as we could have and completely missed the need to immobilize the head until Annemarie came over and hinted about it. Oops :). By the time we finished, it was completely dark and our headlamps were the sole source of illumination in the burned valley.
It ended up being a tough scenario for everyone, but the instructors said afterwards that we all took it as seriously as it needed to be taken and did very well, given the fact that we all had only had a few classes in First Aid under our belts. As such, we were all allowed to go on the independent trip! Woohoo!! I volunteered and was accepted to be one of the leaders of the trip, which excited me greatly. We'd be split into 2 teams, with Charlie, the other leader, and I responsible for making the groups and writing the RAD Plan for safely getting to the X. As it was already late, we decided to get to bed and start it early in the morning.
Before bed, though, a few of us took in the equivalent of nature's fireworks: A meteor shower!. The night was calm and quite comfortable with a long sleeved shirt and pants. We laid out on the ground staring up at the sky. The stars were out in force, the Milky Way radiating a dull luminescence as a backdrop for it all. Saw a few small shooting stars here and there and made the requisite wishes. But I was not compelled to go to bed until I saw the most amazing sight: A shooting star that streaked across the night, with a tail as wide as 30 pinpricks of light in the sky. I'd never seen anything like it before. It was as if the heavens took a scythe across the sky, letting the bright light of the Eternal in for a moment before the sky could heal it's wound and return to normal. And of course, a big shooting star means a big wish as well! It was a damn good sight on which to end the night.
----Each day starts as a small seed
Its lifetime one cycle of day and night
A man is the sole provider of feed
To raise the day to life or blight
A smile is like vitamin-rich water
Worry is an axe of poison
Reaching a goal is bright, soaking sun
Looking to tomorrow invites the wolves
When the sun has set, how will the seed have grown?
A dead, broken hump of wood?
Or a colorful, flowered tree fully flown?
The choice is solely yours to brood.
For what felt like the 10th time on the trip, we ate hash browns and cheese for breakfast, and they just kept getting better. Instead of hydrating them before putting them on the frybake, people began cooking them dry whilst gradually adding water. This gave them the browned, crunchy taste you expect from delectable hash browns. A pound of cheese with copious spice added in and, well, you've got yourself a masterpiece certainly greater than any critically defined "masterpiece" that came out of the Italian Renaissance. Take that Michelangelo. Your Sistine Chapel was just beaten out by a wilderness-made breakfast. Maybe.