Don’t start here! Make sure you read Part 1 of “The Hijacked Backpack!”
Curled up next to the fire on your leafy trash mattress you assume the fetal position. It is darker than the inside of a cow and colder than a well diggers rear end everywhere around you with the exception of the small bubble of golden light and warmth your fire provides. You are uncomfortably cold but not shivering. However, the night is young and there will be plenty of time for that. The orange and yellow flickering of flame combined with warmth and exhaustion eventually lull you to sleep. This is short lived as you wake up shivering and in the dark with your fire out! Sitting up quickly, poking it with a stick and blowing vigorously, you stroke it back to glorious life. Dragging a couple of large pieces of wood onto the bed of coals, you hope that it will last a while before needing any additional attention. Yet again, you drift off to a slumber only to be awakened, what seems like seconds later, to your teeth chattering and the disappointment of your precious fire being gone once again. Rinse and repeat for hours upon hours until this time you wake up reaching for a large stick of wood and find nothing! Well crap!
Stretching your cold, stiff, sore and battered body out you dig into your pocket and find a small flashlight and engage in a game of firewood-flashlight tag. Slipping your freezing cold and still wet boots onto your bare feet because you are too lazy and tired to put on the socks, you place the light in your teeth and drag whatever appears to be flammable back to camp. You are really uncomfortably cold. Your fingers and toes are numb. The temperature feels like it must be in the 20’s and you are shivering pretty hard. Stoking the fire and relieved to see it back in action you attempt to warm all 20 of your digits. Begrudgingly you knock out 50 pushups, and try and do some squats next to the fire to generate some much needed body heat but your hip hurts way too much for that nonsense! Having no idea what time it is or how much longer you will have to endure this shiverfest of fun, you huddle around the fire sitting on your bag and hugging the warmth with open arms.
At last! You can hardly believe it has finally come. A wave of relief but still no warmth washes over you. The sky begins to change from a black star filled scourge to hints of a yellow and blue redeemer. As soon as you can see well enough to move around without tripping and further injuring yourself you break “camp”. This consists of dumping the contents of your trash bag and stowing it in your pocket. That’s pretty much it. Now it is time to cross the creek and climb back up the mountain to find the trail and make the long trip home.
Keeping your boots off, you roll up your pants and step into the freezing water and wade your way across. Glancing at the boulder you had the altercation with yesterday, you “lovingly” say your goodbyes. You pull on your dry socks which feels incredible. Then slip on your still damp boots which is not so incredible. Luckily it is not too difficult to follow your tracks back to the trail. You were not exactly graceful in your descent and your path looks like a herd of hogs rooted their way down the mountain yesterday. Your hip is really sore this morning and you feel every painful step back to the top. It feels like someone wacked you with a Louisville and sleeping on a bag of leaves didn’t do much for it. “Aha, my hat!” is what you say when you discover the lost piece of clothing. After 20 minutes or so you emerge out of the woods and onto the trail. Fortunately, the painful climb has at least warmed you up. Unfortunately, you are very thirsty and were so eager to get moving this morning that you failed to get a drink at the small stream. There is a pounding in your head that could be the result of missing your morning brew but is more likely caused by dehydration.
Turning in the direction of your truck you take the first of many thousands of steps. There is no shortage of water in the Appalachian mountains so it is not long before you run into another small fast flowing stream. Without any convenient way of purifying the water and due to your current state of fatigue and dehydration you just drop down on all fours like a dog, stick your face in the water and drink your fill. Immediately you feel better. You can almost feel the hydration flowing into your sore, bruised and cramping muscles. The water may or may not make you sick days from now, but you are betting on the fact that by that time you will be home to a hot shower, soft bed and the required medical attention. Luckily, walking is much easier without the burden of the heavy pack but you are exhausted and your hip stings with a dull pain every time you take a step. The downhill sections seem to be the worst and it forces you to slow down and do sort of sideways shuffle on the steepest parts. Refusing to spend another night in the woods as miserable as the night before you continue on. Stopping at each stream to get a drink and rest for a moment feels great at the time but inevitably makes your joints and muscles stiff as they cool. Each time this requires a significant amount of willpower to overcome and get moving again.
Dragging yourself along step by miserable step, you develop a blister on one heel and another on a toe. The knee on your uninjured leg is starting to have something to say. Your altered gait from the injured hip is having a not so positive effect on the opposing leg. The time and the miles pass one by one as you attempt to break the distance up into tolerable pieces. You say to yourself, “Just get to the next creek” and “just to the top of this hill”. You have got to be getting close now. Once again, the light is fading and the temperatures are falling but you just don’t care. You just keep going and going and cursing and grunting and going. As darkness falls you pull out your flashlight, test it and then keep it in your hand only to be used when absolutely needed to conserve its battery. There are a few trips and stumbles but no real wipeouts to speak of. Well into the night you keep walking because now that it is cold, stopping is not an option. You are wet with sweat and way to tired mentally and physically to set up another makeshift camp to rest. Stopping now would mean certain hypothermia and you most likely will not survive. The reality is at this point is make it to the truck or die. In your mind there are no alternatives. You push on with every limp becoming more and more painful. You begin to fantasize that around every turn there will be the trailhead. Turn after turn, no trailhead. Finally, when you think that you just cant walk anymore, you switch on your flashlight to scan a rough section of trail and there it is! Not more than one hundred yards away you see a yellow reflection. You pick up the pace and then as you get closer, the bouncing beam of light reveals your trusty steel steed! Hallelujah, God bless America!, and Yahtzeeeeee! You fish out the keys, that only by the divine intervention you put in your pocket instead of your pack. You unlock the door, crank up the engine and turn on the heat. A huge feeling of relief flows through you as you settle into the well worn seat that is perfectly molded to your backside, put the truck into gear and head for home!
Its easy to be the arm chair quarterback. It is easy to criticize and say I would do this or that when hearing a story of survival. We think or say things like: “If I was there, things would be totally different.” “I am more prepared, better trained and make better decisions than that guy.” The truth is, in the heat of the moment we all do dumb stuff. We all make mistakes and sometimes circumstances are just out of our control. However, by being prepared with good quality equipment and layering that equipment starting with what we carry on our bodies everyday can make a big difference. Dressing appropriately in quality clothing is our first layer of shelter. Carrying a cutting tool, fire starter, some sort of waterproof shelter sheet, a bit of cordage and a flashlight can make all the difference. What you carry in your pockets is dictated by your mission, area of operation and your preferences. It can be the difference between just a miserable couple of days and becoming an ice cube. Having thought some of these potential scenarios through will enable our minds to be that much more prepared. We will be able to make better choices and possibly prevent any sort of catastrophe. Keep your pack with you, your clothes dry, and pockets full.