Elk Garden; Crazy Larry’s Hostel (1696.6)

Real talk: today sucked.  After yesterday’s long and snowy hike and last night’s low temps, putting my feet into my literally frozen boots and leaving the shelter early this morning was a mental struggle.  After a couple of painful miles, I stopped and shoved some of Smiles’ hand-warmers into my boots.  My feet felt better after that, but my heart just couldn’t pull it together.

We saw some more ponies this morning, which was beautiful, then we took turns crying about the bitter, biting wind we were walking into.  We decided to get off of the trail after only 9 miles, where we ran into some hunters at a parking lot who were heading home for the day.  One of the hunters graciously drove us into Damascus, where we checked into a hostel and talked really seriously about going home for a few months and coming back to finish in the spring.  Even during my struggles up in Maine, I never truly considered going home an option, and I was miserable up there.  (Matt can vouch.) So, this just goes to show how intensely rough the cold has been.  I think knowing that we have 5 to 6 weeks remaining during which it will likely only get colder is what is stressing me out. 

Luckily, we have encouraging and supportive  (❤, 💵) families who are willing to help make the rest of the trail more bearable.  We are  literally gonna do what we have been grappling with for a few weeks–pay for hostel stays and shuttles to and from trail wherever feasible.  There are stretches where multiple nights of camping will be necessary, but when it’s not necessary, we won’t.  We have just had our fill of winter camping.  Even the coldest days are manageable when we know we can get somewhere warm and dry come nightfall.

We have a shorter day of hiking tomorrow, then back to the hostel.  This sort of shuttling back and forth to town is often referred to as slackpacking, because it allows hikers to carry only what is needed for 1 day out, lightening their load.  We won’t be truly slackpacking for 2 reasons.  1) I haven’t slack-packed for the first 1700 miles of the trail and, even though I know no one would care if I started now, I would care.  2) It is too cold for true slackpacking to be a safe option.  If an injury or storm or other unforeseeable disaster occurs, we don’t want to die.  Carrying a tent, all our clothes, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, etcetera, feels like a smart way to avoid that.  (Our food weight will be notably lighter though which, I have to admit, will be nice.)

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