The Near Disaster

Day 18: May 11, 2019

Destination: CDT Mile 411.5

Today’s Miles: 29.9

Start Location: CDT Mile 381.6

Trip Miles: 335.8

Today started out like any normal day on the trail. I woke early, and saw the sunrise as I got ready to go in my tent. It was in the 30s when I woke, but not raining! I was excited by that.

I skipped down the trail. My target today was a big one. If I felt ok, I really wanted to make it all the way to the start of the road walk into Pie Town. That walk is 13 miles, so I figured I would get up early and saunter in late morning. It was 30.4 miles to the road, so it was a lofty goal.

I needed water. More precisely, there weren’t a lot of water choices, and past a certain point there wasn’t any water until Pie Town. I had worked out that the best-sounding reliable water source was a spring only three miles away. On the way I had the delight of seeing what I am pretty sure was an elk! When I got there, I set about chugging my water to hydrate as much as possible. I had trouble getting water at the spring. It was a slow trickle and there was a lot of filter-clogging algae getting into my water container. I finally gave up and just got water from the cow pond (fed by the spring). It wasn’t great looking, but it would do.

I then lugged about 5.5 liters of water down the trail. When I bought the new Sawyer filter, it came with two half liter water pouches. I don’t know why, but I decided to keep one. I used it this time, but in the end it was overkill. I think I’m just a five liter guy.

Ironically, and sadly, I carried all of that water only to find a clearer, flowing stream near another cow pond. It wasn’t much better as it was coming out of the pond, but it felt better, so I dumped the water I had and filled up with that. Curses! If I’d only known that water would be there!

I hiked on a bit and it started to warm up. There were some steep climbs on this section. The sun came out and I decided to stop, have a big lunch to eat some of my extra food, and dry out my gear. I did this, though I’m starting to think that drying out gear is just asking for more precipitation on the CDT. You’ll soon understand why.

I kept hiking until I got over the main mountains and into a valley. There were still some hills, but they were tame. I was able to make OK time, but some of the flatter sections were frustratingly muddy. It was the kind of mud that looks like solid earth, and then I would step in it and it stuck to my shoes. Every ten feet my feet had five pounds of mud hanging from them. I would stop and scrape them off.

Still, though, I made decent time. After a while, I noticed some ominous clouds forming behind me. I could tell that the mountains I had passed through were getting slammed with rain. I had a headwind, and so it seemed that the clouds were stalled over the mountains. I decided to press on.

I got to a point where the tree line disappeared and all I could see was open pasture. Still, the storm seem stalled. I decided to push on. I reasoned that in a few miles there would be more free cover. Several miles later, there were no trees in sight - only a few clouds. My headwind was gone, and the dark clouds behind me were building, and moving faster.

At this point, I wanted to stop hiking. I had gone about 24 or 25 miles. My feet were sore and I could feel a new blister forming. But, when I looked back at the mass of clouds, I will admit I was terrified. It looked like the kind of big thunderstorm clouds we have back on the east coast. I had no where to hide!

I decided to hike as fast as I could. Maybe I could find tree cover near the road if I could make it there. I knew it meant close to 30 miles, but I was too afraid to just stop in the open field. I was the tallest thing for miles! I pictured myself just relenting and holding my trekking poles, steel tips up to the sky, waiting for the arc that would maybe name the field after me. Hungry Cat’s Field. There would be a little plaque, just like that creepy one on the AT where that child was found dead. It would say: “This is the exact spot where Hungry Cat became a human smore, his pale, marshmallow-like body melting into the dirty brown grime of his clothing, wrapping around his trekking poles like a rubber Gumby doll on fire.” Or something like that.

But I didn’t give up. I hiked like the wind. I hiked hard and it was painful. The irony of it all was that I got within half a mile of the road, and there was no cover whatsoever - it was still just open field. My heart sank as big rain drops started to fall. I did the only thing I could: I set about erecting my tent as quickly as possible. As I went to insert my lightning rod trekking pole into its proper place to hold up my tent, I realized my tent was broken! Specifically, the Zpacks Plexamid tent has a carbon fiber brace that the trekking pole slides into. The brace gives the peak of the tent structure and stability. The tent now lay like a limp dishrag over my pole.

Trying to outrun the storm

I might have panicked just a little. I couldn’t go any farther though. My feet hurt and I was about to get pummeled by the storm. I set the tent up as best I could, there my pack in, and got out my headlamp. It was getting dark and the storm made it dark as night. My only other light was the occasional lightning bolt, which I was convinced would soon turn me into a piping hot campfire snack. I looked at the broken spot in my tent. There would be no patching that!

The wind moved in and the heavy rain started to fall. The tent shook violently. I did the only thing I could do - I held that trekking pole to make sure it did blow over in the wind, and tried to come to a quick acceptance of the situation. The rest was out of my control.

It took about an hour for the storm to pass. It was mostly rain, wind, and hail. I manned the pole like a desperate stripper clinging on to his only lifeblood for that entire time. When the storm passed, I finally unpacked my bag and took off my rain gear. I had somehow made it!

In situations like these, I have learned that it isn’t comforting to pray for safety, to suddenly “find religion.” You know - “if you’re out there god, if you can just get me through this ONE thing....” Personally, that feels more like bad karma to me. It’s my ego thinking that I’m special enough for situational divine intervention. I’m not. The universe is going to execute on its plan, and whatever that is isn’t going to change because I’m suddenly scared and don’t want to be scared anymore. I find it much more relieving to say this to myself: “I’m scared, and that’s ok. I can’t control any of this, so I should just relax and let it unfold. What will be will be.” Anyway, it doesn’t always take the fear away, but, for me, it injects a dose of calm that carries me farther towards acceptance of the situation, which helps me a lot, on trail and in life.

I went to bed exhausted, but grateful to be in one piece and, amazingly, pretty dry! I would get up early and walk some 13 miles to Pie Town in the morning.

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