Wednesday morning dawned damp. While there was no rain, there was a wetness in the air. I rose early, showered, broke camp, and hung out at my campsite, my cell phone charging in the car. The campground was two miles from the Visitor Center of World’s End State Park, where I was to meet Ian and the noble hound Baxter for the start of out backpacking trip. My FIRST backpacking trip. The one I was told I couldn’t do because I was too “too fat to backpack.” The –
Even writing now, a month after the trip, I’m still caught up in the personal significance of what for Ian was just a walk and camp in the woods. And my nerves were even more on edge then. I tried to calm them as I waited for my guide and his dog. I feared an upset stomach, so instead of cooking something heavy on my camp stove or driving to Forksville for breakfast I drank water and ate a banana and some trail mix. Sprinkles of rain fell as I tried to nap on the benches outside the Visitor Center. But sleep eluded me, as it did last night.
As I waited, I reviewed the plans: Ian was bringing a hammock, tarp – what on a tent would be called a rainfly, quilts – which are sort of blankets, and a cookset for my use. I was carrying them, as well as my clothes, food, water, and personal items. Ian would carry the stove. We were to hike an 18 mile loop consisting of the Loyalsock and Link trails over three days. I read and reread the hike descriptions until the words began to blur.
Ian and Baxter arrived, and we drove to our starting point, Scott’s Run. I had previously registered my car at the Visitor’s Center so it could remain on the lot for the length of our trip. Scott’s Run is about five miles by road from the Visitor’s Center.
Ian quickly arranged his pack, and then rearranged mine. I hung on his words, because this was more than just a chance to go backpacking, this was the opportunity to learn backpacking. Finally my Osprey was packed, and it was time to weight it. I held my breath….
“23 pounds. That’s great for a first timer.”
And a minute later the 23 pounds was on my back.
And the next minute we were off.
Baxter, too, was loaded down.
At first the trail was level and fairly well marked. The Loyalsock is a rocky creek, and there were some rocks on the trail, but nothing I couldn’t negotiate. I felt confident, and Ian was marvelous company. He seemed to know everything in the woods, but he wore his knowledge lightly. The nervousness I normally feel around strangers disappeared. And being amid nature helped too.
My first challenge was a detour on the trail. Thanks to a washout the Link Trail climbs up a switchback to PA 154, and then back down. I felt the switchback up was a challenge, but the switchback down was frightening. At one point I had to negotiate a steep step down and became paralyzed with fear. I went into a full blown panic attack while Ian stood there wondering what was going on. I calmed down a little and got down the step by the seat of my pants – literally, as I slid down on my butt.
The trail continued along the creek, crossing a feeder stream and then requiring hikers to walk on some very slippery slate. We stopped and had lunch here, but I ate very little, as I was trying to keep my footing. Ian stripped down and dove into the Loyalsock while I drank in the view. Once we were both refreshed, our hike continued.
However, by this time I was getting scared of negotiating slippery rocks, and instead of following the blazed trail another 150 feet before it left the creekside, I spied a shortcut drainage path straight up the side of the hill. I told Ian I was going to take this shortcut and I would meet him up top. My boots dug into the loose gravel and I climbed up to the road, only to find I couldn’t swing my legs far enough to get onto the pavement. Ian arrived and watched as I rolled up and onto the roadside. I lay on my back, on my backpack, trying to figure some way to get onto my feet.
Finally, I said to Ian, “I’m not going to be able to hike this entire thing. This trail is already pushing me further than I’ve ever gone. Let’s just do this as an overnight.” Ian had probably been reaching the same conclusion, because he readily agreed.
Somehow I managed to get to my feet, and the hike continued. We crossed PA 154 and headed up a steep and beautiful glen. The climbing came as a relief after hiking along the Loyalsock. While I wasn’t as fast as Ian or Baxter, I just planted my boots and poles and moved up.
Eventually the trail leveled off, and we began to take an old logging road. When I’d read the term “logging road” in the hike descriptions, I had in mind the sort of gravel roads usually found in Pennsylvania forests. I was wrong, because the logging road was a rocky, uneven mess. I had to pay attention to where I placed my feet, in particular my mildly dropped right foot, and the going was slow.
The hours were catching up with me. Our hike began six hours before. For most of that time I was carrying a 23 pound pack over what was to me difficult terrain. I’d not been drinking. My lunch, and breakfast before that, were not calorie dense. I was flagging, both physically and mentally. My optimism was falling apart.
I began to rant both internally and externally. Every bit of negative thinking in me knew now was the time to strike, and I was tired enough to babble it. “Ian, how much do you think I could get for the backpack on Ebay? …. I run a website encouraging people to get into the outdoors and I can’t even do this….. I’m going to cancel the contract to move my website to its own URL as soon as I can. The whole site should go dark. I’m a failure as an outdoorsman and as an outdoor writer. I’ve made a fool of myself and I’ve ruined Ian’s trip.” How much of this Ian heard I don’t know.
Finally we crossed Cold Run Road. Ian knew of a great campsite a few hundred feet from the road, along Cold Run. We arrived after seven, and Ian quickly got out hammocks set up. I tried to pay attention to his instructions on how to set up a hammock, but I was so tired I found it hard to focus.
I followed Ian’s instructions as he gave them – on how to get water from Cold Run, on how to filter it, on what went in the bear bag…. while he prepared camp, I ate some tuna and drank some water. I tried to urinate but next to nothing came out.
Ian began to start a campfire to warm up and cook, but already I knew I was in trouble. Cold Run Road is home to the Canyon Vista overlook, and that meant we were near the top of the mountain. I was sweaty and the air was damp all day. The temperature was dropping and I began to shiver, shivers that went through my whole body. I remembered the last time I felt this way, January 2008, after a bike ride. It took me an hour to get warm and feel normal then. I knew what I had to do. I turned to Ian.
“Ian, I’m dehydrated and I’m bonking. I can’t stop shivering. I need to get warm immediately and I can’t wait for the fire. Will you help me get in my hammock?”
My friend led me to the hammock, and helped me lay in it the best way. I don’t remember if I took my own boots off or not, but soon enough I was in suspense and under the insulated quilt. The last thing I remember is saying good night to Ian, and praying that I survive the night.