and I Didn’t Die

[remembering back 3 years ago tonight]
 
That first day on the trail was a doozy. Up at the crack of dawn, hustle bustle packing up packs, breakfast with strangers in the Hiker Hostel, making a mental note of what might be my last time sitting on a genuine flush toilet for a while, getting picked up by a young FB friend I’d never met and her parents …. this part was solace and comfort to both our families.
 
Slippery icy switch backy dirt roads up to the Springer parking lot. Trusting this stranger to not the car slide off the mountain. And then we were there ….. nothing to do but get the packs out and do it. Blustery snow whipping our faces, we pull hats and collars snug and shoulder our packs which must weigh a half ton each. Quick g byes and we’re off!
 
Half skipping, we jump rock to rock avoiding ice patches pausing to shout, “OMG can you believe we’re doing this???” and the wind rips the words from our already cracking lips. Here! The terminus! Rock, plaque, logbook, pics, and move on! Hike on. and on. and on. She didn’t think to bring gloves or mittens so pulls out her thick wool socks to use as mitts. We pass 2 guys with a whimpering cringing dog who’s trying to not set her feet on the rock solid mud. They have no choice but to turn back.
 
On and on and on we hike. She’s 26 to my 59 years, lighter and faster which is exhausting for me but at the same time motivating. Of course I want to stop for pics and use those brief moments to catch my breath. Adrenaline moves me onward. Hawk Mountain Shelter…. how many people are here? 30? 50? She sets her hammock; I set my tent. Get water. Use the privy. Eat something hot from my JetBoil. Anything would have been welcome right then.
 
Several of us gathered around a large fire, singeing one side while the other side froze. I finally slowed down enough to really look around.
 
Then it dawned on me. It was really cold. No … it was freezing. I looked at each innocent face in turn around the fire and my thoughts ran like this …. It’s getting down to maybe 10º tonight. Wait! That’s too cold. We’re going to die. All of us. We’re all going to freeze to death in our sleep. Look at these poor people! Don’t they know we’re all going to freeze to death tonight? How awful for tomorrow’s crop of hikers to come through here and find several dozen of us all frozen stiff and blue in our sleeping bags. They’ll be traumatized.
 
But wait. hmm… No one seems upset. And they are talking about the temps so they know ….. right? Ok…. ok …. Maybe just MAYBE they know something I don’t. Maybe we are prepared and … Maybe we’re not going to die.
 
Changing into sleep clothes, hurrying to spare the nips from freezing and falling off. Heaven knows that was a distinct possibility! Wooly socks, heavy thermal bottoms, mid weight wool ¼ zip pullover, balaclava, wool cap, wool gloves, AND my down puffy pulled snug around my face. Thermal liner inside the fluffy down bag. 
 
Sleep found me finally in fits and starts, wrapped in my nest of down and wool with a mylar emergency blanket against the tent’s back wall to shield me from the wind …. and then …. Bladder called and Eyes opened … groaning with annoyance …. Wait who was shining a headlamp on my tent?
 
The bladder will not be ignored so unzipping unfolding unraveling myself from the warm cocoon, I crawled out into the crystal clear still dark to look up and bold the glory of the night sky. Moonlight bounced off every icy crystal on each single pine needle, on each snowflake on the frozen forest floor. The sky above was filled with a million zillion glittering stars. Sinking into the moment and barely daring to breathe with the glory above and all around me, ah yes …. THIS!!!

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