Sunday, November 9, 2008

Slept In A Puddle

Saturday, November 8, 2008
Crawford Notch, NH

It was a dark and stormy night.... no really it was. It was a humid 53 degrees at the Ethan Pond Trail Trailhead in Crawford Notch NH and rain continued to pour steadily down. My destination for the night was the Ethan Pond Shelter below the western flanks of Mount Willey. The "Amped Up" class from the University of NH was all ready out there, by now fast asleep given that its 9:30 pm. Rachel and Jared are the trip leaders. Jen and I were supposed to lead our own trip but our plans fell through. Thankfully we were able to join up with the Amped up group to help satisfy our requirements. I gave Jen my tent the other day for her to carry to the site and set it up. Thoughts of a dry place to sleep as the rain continued to fall rambled through my head.

I needed to get back to these mountains. Crawford Notch is a place where my soul is forever embedded. I was excited as I threw on my last articles of rain protection, turned my head lamp on, threw on my back and wandered off into the darkness. Some might call me crazy... maybe I am a little. But what's the big deal really? The boogie man himself dare not come out on this night. As I lifted my head to watch for the White Appalachian Trail blazes to help guide me the way, my breathe rose so thick that it quelled the powers my headlamp once possessed. The rain let up for a time so I let my hood down. I dropped my red blinking light... damn! I had to drop my pack and run back to find it. I found it way back at the car, picked it up and went back to my pack. I put my ipod on and let music tell me a story tonight. As I trudged uphill for what seemed like forever, the shine from my light is all I knew. The rest of the world around me was dark, lonely and forgotten. I walked forward, traipsing through puddles and streams, soaking my feet with each chilly step into the night. For once nothing else mattered except for this moment. This moment of self preservation, self governance.

As I reached higher along the mountainside, I wondered if I had missed the Kendron Flume trail on the right. I didn't need to take it but it would have been nice to see the landmark. Small water-bars were now roaring brooks as rain is once again dousing the land. Mud is deep, the leaves are retained every speck of water that falls from the sky. I'm very warm, sweating even.. just continuing on into the night as only I know how to do. It hasn't been long when I reach the junction of the Willey Range Trail and the turn that Ethan Pond Trail takes to the left. I stop only briefly to admire the craftsmanship of what appears to me new trail signs, and then I carry on further into the night.

The fog is thick now as I am obviously in the clouds. It feels like its getting rather late. I have no idea what time it is, how long I've been walking for. It doesn't even matter. The music plays, the world is still dark and I'm inside my tiny window of light. I have trouble seeing very far ahead of me. The trail is now a labyrinth of bog bridges and stone stepping. They mean to be helpful but are not, given that the trail is mostly under water now. My feet are soaked, getting cold, but I'm sweating. I've never been over here before, yet I'm far from nervous. "Maybe I'll just skip the camping and wander all through the night.." I think to myself. I come to a sign on a tree indicating my location and the need to remain on the trail and camp in designated areas. I'm getting close.. any minute now. I soldier on.

How long of a mile is this? The longest I've ever known thats for sure. I'm certain I've past the junction now. Its too late to care. Maybe I could sleep in this river? No.. the tent will be dry. I see another sign up ahead and I say, "If I've missed my turn I'm going to laugh." Indeed, I've missed it.. and a chuckle resumes. I turn around and take out a second light to help cut the dense fog. I wander along slowly, being careful not to miss it again and then out of the darkness appears a sign. I take a left and walk to the shores of Ethan Pond. I can't see the pond tonight, the rain comes down in sheets, the wind whips my face.. I'm getting colder now. Where is the shelter? I hop along the rocks, placing each step carefully so as to not fall in the pond. Once on the other side, I look up and see my light reflect off of a tin roof. 10:30pm..I'm home..

I walk to the front of the shelter to see it filled with the students from Amped up. They are fast asleep, some snoring, all packed in like a bunch of sardines. I turn left and follow the trail to some tent platforms and see a reflection in the wood. I walk quietly forward to see my tent on a platform. I quietly step onto the platform and perform the necessary duties I need to get myself dry, warm and safely into the tent. Jen is sleeping. The tent is saturated, nothing is dry. I now know I'll never enter quietly. I unzip the rainfly, unzip the tent and look inside. The floor of the tent is soaked... soaked... so much for a dry place to sleep. Jen is smartly sleeping on a mat of some kind, tucked quietly away in her sleeping bag. She's wearing a smartwool hat... looks warm and cozy. I unfurl my sleeping bag and lay it onto the damp tent floor. I wish I had brought my therma-rest, but opted to keep weight and bulk down. I'm about to pay the price for laziness and efficiency. I crawl into my sleeping bag and Jen wakes up. We talk for a bit about how the trip has gone thus far, bringing me up to date on all of the groups dynamics and developments. And then I spot a problem.. there is literally an inch of standing water in the corner of the tent. I take out my pack towel and start sopping it up.. I open the door and wring it out numerous times.. its about to be a long night.

I take my rain pants and place them beneath my bag. The platform is hard and uncomfortable, but I'm so tired it doesn't matter. I enjoy conversation with Jen as we work to keep the tent dry. The rain lets up.. we fall asleep. A few hours later, we awake to a monsoon. Water is once again flowing under the tent, into the tent, dripping on us, around us... this is a slice of heaven for sure. I head out of the tent once the rain lets up again to see a star filled sky. I'm chilled but not cold. I'm damp but not wet. I'm content, happy.. just enjoying life for what it is. I've been in worse environments, I've been colder, wetter... in pain, agonizing.. this is nothing.. its just uncomfortable at most. I can handle it... and after sopping up more water, I fall back to sleep.

As the sun rises I wake up shivering. Jen heads out to see what the rest of the group is up to.. I ask for her help as I am now starting to shiver uncontrollably. Its damn cold out here now as the fog has once again lowered onto us. Rain falls lightly and the Grey jays have come out to play. I grab what warm dry clothes I have in my bag and meticulously apply to to try and warm my core. Any longer and I'll be hypothermic.. yet I'm still smiling and enjoying this greatly. I emerge from the tent and feed the jays over breakfast. I have no problem sharing my bagel with them, and some of Jen's food of course. We make oatmeal and hot chocolate. We pack up our soaking wet gear and stuff it where we can. Snow begins to fall, first lightly and then vigorously mixed with rain. Its cold, the wind howls across the tree tops. This has been quite the adventure all ready. We head to the shelter where I share with the group some history about Ethan Allen Crawford and JE Henry and his Logging Railroad. They seem appreciative. We saddle up.. and head for home.

As we make our way back into the valley, the clouds begin to break, the fog lifts, the rain and snow stops and the sun emerges to greet our faces. Some faces are weary, my remains happy and rejuvenated. I love these mountains.. the mountains are home. It doesn't matter if I slept in a puddle, or that I was chilled to the bone. What matters is that I returned home to where the heart is. I once again had life breathed back into me through the mountain air and I shared this magical place with a special few.

I opened my eyes
and looked up at the rain,
And it dripped in my head
And flowed into my brain,
And all that I hear as I lie in my bed
Is the slishity-slosh of the rain in my head.

I step very softly,
I walk very slowly,
I can't do a handstand-
I might overflow,
So pardon the wild crazy thing I just said-
I'm just not the same since there's rain in my head.
~Shel Silverstein - Where The Sidewalk Ends