Needing some Macho Meditative Solitude™, I made my first overnight backpacking trip. It must be true that “God takes care of fools, drunkards, and the United States,” because I identify with two of those things and I survived my own rash enthusiasm.
But I did get in a little trouble. I was taking The Belgian Backpack (45# including food and water) through the Marijuana Highlands and down logging roads to a stream below, and I misunderestimated the distance: not 8-10 miles but fully 13 miles to reach water.
I quickly learned that, in this climate, the difference between “Happy as a Clam” and “Really Not OK” is running out of water. I actually began collecting Unappealing Remnants In Nalgene for Emergencies and, so help me, I was moments away from adding some grape flavoring and drinking it to stave off the first dehydration symptoms when, hallelujah, the stream came into view. I jumped in, whipped out my filter straw, and in moments I was happy again.
Happy but footsore and delirious. I’d had to make the trip on 3+ hours of sleep, and I still had to make camp, eat the disgusting food I’d brought, fix my feet, treat water for the next day, and lay things out so I could strike camp in the dark without losing stuff.
The morning’s walk back up was much easier and went as fast as yesterday’s descent. Apparently I can climb hills alright; after decades of squatting and deadlifting, my legs hardly slow down. But when I go down rocky slopes, as yesterday, I pulp my feet and if I have to walk in direct sun, I get feeble like Superman confronted with kryptonite.
Along the way I met a young woman parked along a trail, the only person I’d seen for 24 hours. A friendly sort, she offered a ride and an invitation to spend a week camping with her. I was bowled over by her interest, especially looking and smelling as I did, but then I’m pretty sure she was on meth. So I consulted the Boy Scout Handbook, which advised, “Stay out of trucks with strange women on lonely roads, even ones in mesh tank tops. One way or another, you will end up in a hole in the ground.” So I pushed on.
But people in the foothills amaze me with their friendliness. It’s striking that I have only visited that area seven or eight times but already know as many people there as I do on my own street. (Granted, since pot growing provides most of the local economy, you hear of ornery recluses who are not friendly to strangers appearing on their land and you need to take “No Trespassing – Keep Out” signs seriously. But everyone I’ve encountered there has been exceedingly friendly, in a way that’s unimaginable even in a small, laid-back town like mine.)
As it happened, at the end of this odyssey I had to go directly to two dental appointments, without a shower, and I had to warn the ladies there apologetically that I must smell like a galley slave. They smiled kindly, but I noticed they did not deny it.