In order to get to the top of the second look out, there was a massive, steep, and polished boulder that needed to be passed. BDawk couldn’t and didn’t want to try and pass it. He had become spooked of steep boulders while hiking the AT in Virginia that summer. It was evident that the experience in Virginia had a profound effect on his willingness to climb. I continued to encourage him to climb on his own, thinking he would try to get up the rock if he knew I was up there. I even tried to help him, but his lanky legs resisted every inch. Suddenly, he became so spooked and agitated that he darted off into the thick brush, disappearing within seconds.
“It’s okay,” I reassured myself. “He does this on trails at home and will always make it back to me.”
Five minutes passed. I continued taking pictures with my phone from the top of the vista.
Ten minutes passed. I walked around the trail and vista point to see if I could find him.
15 minutes passed. I sat, panicking, at the top of the vista, thinking about my mom telling me, “Make sure you don’t lose BDawk!” Damn, her and her fucking comments.
20 minutes passed. An old, stocky, weathered hiker asked me if he has a bear bell on him. “The bear bell would at least alert the bear, before he could sneak up on it.”
21 minutes passed. I’m frantically thinking about BDawk’s lack of bear bell and how that could prove fatal.
28 minutes later, I hear the jingle of his collar. A sigh of relief came over me, as I had just resigned myself to the notion of coming home without a dog. I tried one more time to get him to go over the boulder, to no avail.
“What the hell am I going to do,” I questioned myself. That was the only trail I had considered, my only option. Quickly, I started to trouble shoot. Thoughts of abandoning the trip popped into my head. “I’d feel like a failure if I quit now,” I thought. I still had something to prove to myself.
My mind immediately thought of the trail split, at the lake a quarter mile back. I took out the map to evaluate my options. At the lake the trail did split, the trail to Giant Mountain (which I was on) went right and to the left a trail to Roaring Brook Falls. “It is the only other option,” I sighed, disappointed that I couldn’t follow through with the original plan. But seeing that I didn’t have any other options besides abandoning the hike altogether, I decided to go with it.
The hike down the trail seemed more difficult than I had expected. The steep incline of the trail seemed exacerbated by the fact that I was heavy with emotions of anger, disappointment and anxiety. I hadn’t anticipated my dog not being able to complete the trail with me, what could go wrong next? In addition, each new group of hikers we passed seemed to rub it in that I wasn’t going to reach the very top, a subtle yet still painful dig at my self-confidence.
We returned to the lake and I took a minute to take in the beauty surrounding me, while trying to regain composure over my emotions.
I started thinking about my hiking partner, my ex-boyfriend who had been on all of my previous hiking and backpacking trips. He always kept me in a positive mood. But this time I had to rely on myself to keep my emotions in check. This time I had to rely on myself for every aspect of the trip. Fuck. I took a few more pictures to quiet my mind and to remind myself that I am surrounded by pure beauty.
We continued on the trail towards Roaring Brook Falls until I found a decent place to set up camp. After setting up the tent, I emptied the gear, organizing the necessities that I would need for starting a fire, setting a bear bag, making dinner and feeding B-Dawk. I was able to put up the tent and bear bag effortlessly, a small victory since I had never been in charge of either task on my previous trips. These small victories kept me positive for the time being.
Finally settling in at my “campsite” for the night, my mind continued to race with thoughts of my incompetence. Swiftly, in a desperate rush to avoid the negative loop, my mind shifted to another thought.
“Fire! I must start a fire!”
I thought if I could start a fire and keep it going, then maybe I would feel less incompetent. To me, keeping a fire going was a matter of my survival for the night. The ground was wet and there was a damp, chill in the air. I was skeptical that I would even get a spark to catch, yet I scavenged around my campsite for any kindling that was remotely dry. Then in the distance, I spotted a Birch tree shedding its bark, in large, papery stands, perfect for starting a fire. I grabbed two handfuls of bark, and returned to the kindling I had scavenged. Methodically, I broke down the tree branches into more manageable pieces, continuously thinking about how to start the fire. I decided to lay down the largest piece of bark on the ground and tear the other pieces into thin strips, easy enough for any spark to catch hold of it. I put the meager pile of strips down, hoping that my logic would work. I took out my zippo lighter (yea, I cheated, you backpacking purists) and struck the cog. Instantly the spark started to smolder and caught hold of the bark, creating a tiny flame that continued to consume the thin strips. Immediately seeing the flame, I felt a simultaneous feeling of accomplishment and urgency.
“I can’t let that flame go out!” I told myself. In my mind, letting the fire go out would add to insecurities and incompetence. I hurriedly yet strategically placed the kindling over the flame, hoping it would grow. Slowly it did.
For 3 hours I sat staring into the fire constantly thinking about life: my recent breakup with my ex of 5 years, a failed attempt at dating a coworker, a run in with a crazy man who threatened me and my dog with a knife 20 feet from my house, a recent car crash that totaled my car, an unstable father and his ailing health and the various emotions that went along with all of that. As much as I was nervous to go out backpacking by myself, I felt like I needed this time. It was time I needed to escape the crazy, to sit in silence and reflect on what had happened, what was happening and try to figure out what needed to happen next.
I started thinking about what all of these recent events meant. I started second guessing my breakup. Maybe I really did want to focus on a family, settle down and that traveling was not as important to me like it once was. I sat by the fire and let the warmth surround me. I hoped it would fill the emotional void I had in the pit of my stomach. As the darkness consumed the light of day, the fire died down and the kindling ran out. I decided to go to the tent and read to quiet my mind.
I took out On the Road by Kerouac and started reading. I was temporarily comforted in knowing that Sal, Kerouac’s protagonist, would have been able to relate to my fear of being alone despite my quest to find solitude. I read until my eyelids became heavy and then disappeared into my cocoon of a sleeping bag to go to sleep.
Although I was heavy with emotions, I slept lightly. The mixture of the cold air, hard ground, and my own anxieties did not provide a good night sleep. In addition, B-Dawk, who was not equipped to sleep on the cold ground without a crash pad, was shivering profusely. He huddled next to me to absorb any heat from my sleeping bag. Eventually, I ended up giving him my jacket to use as a blanket.
In the morning, I made breakfast, gathered our things and decided to head back to the car. The three day adventure was cut down to one night. My emotional state and lack of gear to keep B-Dawk warm at night prevented me from wanting to stay any longer. We returned to the trail, taking in the beauty one last time before returning to our car. The remaining time, I decided to take a trip to Lake Placid, see the Olympic training center, and then over to Lake George just to say I saw it. I was disappointed that I was unable to finish the trail, get to the top of Giant Mountain and spend a few more nights out on the trail.
When I came back home, friends and co-workers had asked about the trip.
REFLECTIONS ON THE TRIP:
It has been two months since going to the Adirondacks. Reflecting back, I can say that if I had been in a better state of mind and not dealing with all of the emotional crap, I would have enjoyed the trip. I have later realized that the trip was not as bad as I felt while there. The disappointment of not finishing the trail was the most painful part of the trip, but I have decided to try again in the Spring. Most importantly: I SURVIVED! I was skeptical that I would even survive a night alone in the woods. I also learned some valuable tips about backpacking/hiking that I only could have learned through experience. Talking to other more seasoned hikers, it only gets easier with experience. In addition, looking back, it was a trip that needed to happen. I needed the growing pains as I learned a lot about myself, about what I want out of life, and my limits physically and emotionally. In the end, the trip wasn’t as perfect as I had expected it to be, but such is life, imperfect. It is the imperfections that keeps life interesting. Here’s to more life experiences full of imperfections, mistakes and the knowledge, strength and courage to overcome them!