The Party Foul

April 29, 2018

Destination: Maupin Field Shelter Today's Miles: 23.20

Start Location: Stealth Campsite at mile 819 Trip Miles: 842.20

Three Ridges view, Virginia
"How bad could the wind be?", I had wondered just before dozing off.... I woke at about a quarter to two in the morning and it was howling and pummeling my poor tent.

My campsite had turned into a ridge line turbine wind tunnel, and I was fairly sure I was going to die, or my tent would break, but probably both! I had my head by the vestibule of my tent. Looking down at my feet, the wind was blowing the  left side of my tent so hard that the central tent pole was bending down to my knees. The top of my tent was repeatedly being blown down and sidewise such that it would get close to my knees if I bent my legs! On top of that, the temperature was dropping to around freezing and the wind added an extra bite to the air. It wasn’t like the wind would gust for a bit and then stop, then gust again - it was relentless! I lay there for a few minutes just watching and observing it. I knew it wasn’t good. I also thought about the trees around me. What if one blew over and turned me into a human pancake? This thought made me hungry.... I knew there was one dead tree nearby. I had pushed on it before setting up camp there and it still seemed solid, but trees collapse all the time. I considered the option of leaving, but standing up outside in this freezing wind in the dark just sounded like a bad idea, not to mention the potential for gear to blow away and get lost in the dark. I actually had a cell signal at camp (another selling point for me on the spot). I sat there and googled Big Agnes tents to see if there were an my wind ratings for mine. Yeah, I actually did this. I came up with nothing. Why didn’t I fasten the upper two guy lines on my tent tarp?! Because I never do, that’s why, because usually I don’t set up my tent behind a jet airplane turbine. I could see myself, like Billy Bob Thornton in  the movie Pushing Tin, being blown backwards like a tumbleweed off the mountain. I decided I would hunker down and stick it out. My tent hadn’t broken yet.... My next challenge though was that I had to pee. Ugh! I didn’t want to go outside! I probably should have gone outside, but I had this irrational fear that something bad would happen - that the tent would blow away without my body weight, or that I would get blown over. I mean, they were probably only 40mph winds, so neither of these things was likely to happen. It was the middle of the night though, and so that’s what ran through my mind. I then had an idea: I would just utilize the vestibule area! I had heard of other hikers doing this. I can’t exactly kneel in my tent because the ceiling is not high enough. So instead, I kind of scrunched a little sideways and worked my way to the edge. As I’m doing this, the wind continues to howl defiantly. I reached the point of no return and started to pee. This was not doing to be a small delivery - I really had to go! It only took two seconds for me to realize that this was going to go horribly wrong. I should probably never be an engineer. I had failed to notice the slope of the land within my vestibule; it all slopes back towards my tent. All I could do was semi lay, semi propped, watching my pee flow backwards between my tent and my tarp. Awesome.... When it was over, I crawled back in and zipped up, defeated. I had made my bed, peed under it, and now I would love with it. I went back to sleep. Maybe a tree would fall and crush me to avoid me waking up to my secret shame.

No dice. I woke again at 3:30, and again at some only-the-dead-should-be-awake hour, and then again at 6. At 6, enough was enough - time to evacuate! I checked the vestibule and saw the damp spot under my tent and on my tarp. Great memories there.... I took a wet wipe and tried to reach my hand out and under the tent to wipe it a bit. It was less than effective, but mentally made me feel better. I kept telling myself, “urine is sterile,” but I kept thinking about this rug we once had that the cats had soaked with their pee. I was going to live the rest of my trip in my cat pee tent. My Hungry Cat pee tent!! I organized my stuff into my bag and put on most of my clothing, including puffy and rain gear, to deal with the biting wind and cold. I exited my tent and yanked my pack out after me. Huh.... the wind didn’t seem SO bad once I was out. It had also definitely calmed down a little bit, albeit my tent was shaking and shifting around. I carefully disassembled it, almost losing the rain fly to a large gust of wind. When I pulled the tent off the ground cover tarp footprint, I noticed that my pee was frozen to it. Awesome! I could enjoy that again later when it thawed. I stuffed the violated items in the outside mesh pocket of my pack. Lastly, I had to get my food bag down, which was miraculously hanging from its branch still, albeit it was swaying somewhat violently. I ran out of camp with stuff sticking out of my pack in weird ways, like a burglar caught mid job.

As I hiked out, I saw the group of weekend campers I had met before. Their spot was pretty windy too. I wondered how they had  faired last night. I hiked furiously to get down to a lower altitude. I arrived at the north fork of the Piney River to a spot that was not only not windy, but had a twinkling of sunshine through the trees, some beautiful large boulders, and a few lovely, flat, tenting spots near a fire ring. Had I walked one more mile last night, I could have camped here. When I say the trail provides though, it doesn’t mean I always get what I want. As The Rolling Stones song goes, “you can’t always get what you want, but you’ll find sometimes, you get what you need.” “The trail will provide” means I will get what I need, even if it is not apparent to me at the time. Maybe I needed a swift kick in the butt, lest I get overconfident with my hiking. Maybe I needed that lesson on altitude ridge camping and wind. Maybe I needed to learn to pee outside of the tent or suck it up and use a Gatorade bottle. It’s not for me to question or to try and understand. It just is. Shortly after Piney Fork I stripped down to my shorts and t shirt and just left my rain jacket on. I decided I would hike to The Priest Shelter (in The Priest Wilderness) and have my morning coffee and a snack there.  

I was a little beaten down hiking to The Priest. There are so many parallels between this journey and my nine years of Catholic school and visiting the confessional. But I don’t have time to go there in detail now. Let’s just say that I was tired and feeling a bit shameful for violating my tent. There must be jokes about this. “You know urine the woods too long when urine your tent and your urine....” So I walked towards The Priest hoping for some sun to dry things out and some relief. One of my favorite woodland creatures that I see all the time, all over the trail, is the chipmunk. It reminds me of my cat Lucy. They are reddish like Lucy, very shy and love to eat! That’s Lucy! Usually when chipmunks see me, they just run for their hidey holes. For the first time this morning, a chipmunk let out a tiny, but very audible, scream as it ran away from me. It SCREAMED! Of course my slightly downtrodden self told myself that it was because I was so gross, etc. I terrified the poor chipmunk. He probably has chipmunk PTSD now. 

I got to The Priest Shelter and there was a weekend hiker there. I spread my tent and tarp out to dry. It conveniently already smelled like pee by the picnic table, so that made me feel better. Honestly, I don’t think my tent smelled, but it was good to have a mask just in case. I chatted with a weekend hiker there for a while while I filtered water and made coffee and trail crepes (tortillas with Nutella). I felt better after having a snack, drying out my gear, and chatting with her. I realized that in my haste to get to The Priest I had passed by the Spy Rock overlook, which is supposed to be good. Oh well. The rest of the day would treat me to good views! 

I hiked on and started the climb up to The Priest. I briefly met two thru hikers, Bones and Garfield. They were equally glad to be done with the wind and we talked a little about the night before. They also asked if I had seen the pacifier guy. He’s been the talk of the trail!! I decided in my head to give him a trail name. I love the idea that we all get to hike our own hike. So what if he wants to hike with a pacifier? Kudos to him for being brave and doing what he wanted to do! I feel like we need to support that, and therefore I feel like he deserves a trail name. In my head, it could be Binkie, but that might not sit well so I think it could be Pac-Man. Pac for pacifier, but also he had a really determined walk, kind of like Pac-Man gobbling up ghosts. Pac-Man, if you’re out there, good for you for owning your hike! You’re trail famous!

Anyway, the views at The Priest were great and from there I headed downhill to the Tye River suspension bridge. After that it was an uphill climb for the rest of the day. It was tough, but I hiked all the way to Maupin Field Shelter. I climbed past Chimney Rock up to the peak of Three Ridges mountain. The views along the way and at the top were amazing! There was a cool overlook called Hanging Rock and I enjoyed the panorama there as well. I got to Maupin at 7pm. There were a lot of tents and one guy in the shelter, but everyone who was in a tent did not emerge, presumably as exhausted as I was. I was efficient about setting up camp and cooking and fell asleep by 9:30. 

Today I was so grateful to be out of the wind, warm, and at a tent site that was not on a ridge! I was thankful for the views and such awesome hiking today, as well as for the strength to get to Maupin safely.  It was a good day, and my pee tent was comfortable and odor free! Home sweet home....

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