as seen in Meet Me Outdoors: The Outdoor Guide to the Tri-State; Fifth Edition
Written by: Eric Hagen
Small nuances like the sound of running water from a stream a quarter-mile east of where I stand now. The songs of birds nestled in among the swaying branches of an old Carolina pine under which I had slept. I had made a nest of my own from their discarded needles the night before, and the smell of their sap still lingers on my now three-day unwashed skin.
I have heated some water in a small backpack stove, mixing in small amounts of pine needles from my temporary shelter and loose chai tea from a small ziploc bag I keep in my hip pocket. The feel of silky warm water does wonders to chase the cold of the night away. I had not built a fire last night, pine sap is notorious for quick combustion and the last thing I needed to do was repay the forest by burning it down.
I pulled my socks out from within my thermal pants where I had placed them the night prior in an attempt to dry them. The moisture doesn’t really dissipate as much as diffuse, but it is always better to have drier feet than thighs. My legs were sore, according to my map and measurement I had covered just shy of 14 miles yesterday before the sun began to dip below the horizon and I was forced to make camp. Smears and flecks of mud dotted my stained shirt everywhere except for where the straps of my pack had ridden across the shoulders and along my waist.
Time loses meaning in the woods. When the day is determined by the amount of sunlight left, ideas such as “two o’clock” are arbitrary. Do the trees care how many years they have been growing?
These are the things I think about as I sip my morning brew, contemplating the day as I will, planning distances, charting, feeling important.
My face itches from having not shaved, I swear the beard grows faster in the wild. Having left behind all of my comforts to come here now: razor, cell phone, indoor plumbing.
I see a doe grazing a few yards off with her two fawns. She is keenly aware of my position under the pine as no doubt the smell of my tea has betrayed my position. Were the time different I would have found this awe inspiring to be so close to Nature. Now, however, I feel simply at home; as if that doe has always been there and I have always been here, our neighborly bond no more than a quick hello while grabbing the newspaper. Wild Kingdom Suburbia.
I inhale the aroma of pine and chai, having thoroughly shaken the cold off with the help of the newly risen sun. I wonder how life could honestly be considered lived without knowing this type of freedom. No textbooks, no papers to grade, no conferences to attend or professional developmentto make me a better teacher. I find peace in the simplicity of knowing that social trappings are finite.
I spread my weathered map of the area out across the dew-ridden grass and mark where I am in regards to where I hope to be by nightfall. As my food supplies shrink I am able to move faster, so judging by the terrain, I should be able to cover 8 to 10 miles before breaking for lunch, there is a small river tributary I will need to cross there, a good place to cool down and refill my water bottles.
The logic behind packing food for a long duration is to keep your rations low, dry, and compact. Eat your heavier foods first thing in the morning, this will give your stomach more to work with through the day, and it will reduce weight on your shoulders early in the day, meaning you go further with a lighter load. Foods such as almonds, nuts, items with high fat content digest slower and leave the hiker feeling fuller for longer. Water is the main culprit of excessive weight, but it is also the universal agent in survival. Always plan water stops.
I eat a handful of raw almonds and pemmican while swallowing my remaining tea. As I clean the pot, I notice how blackened it has become over the years of use. Countless oatmeal packets, freeze-dried meals, bannock bread, all of which has left my little titanium vessel yellowed and blued. It never fails, every time I step out of society for a time, it is as if it is for the first time.
I run a quick check: Two water bottles, one filter, sleeping pad, rain jacket, etc. I place the frayed National Geographic topography map into the top hatch, zip it shut and hoist it all once again onto my back. My shoulders scream in dull ache as I pull the slack out from the waist belt, each day a little more, and I head west.