Category Archives: Hiking

Packing it in

Well, I did go backpacking this weekend — only the second time in my life and perhaps the last.

A group of twelve — nine men and three women — hiked from the trailhead to the Cecil Cove campground, in the Buffalo River National River area, a couple of hours east of Fayetteville, Ark.  The scenery was, as usual in this area, gorgeous, and the hike was short, only 2.5 miles at most. But my new pack, which is supported by neither external nor internal frame, cut into the small of my back pretty hard and I was in pain.

Frost flower
Frost flower.

On the way out, the pack was lighter, for I’d drunk most of the water I lugged in and eaten most of the food. But first, we had to get there!

I knew only two or three of the twelve that comprised the group, and they were all decent sorts. A campfire was lighted Saturday night, which blazed high and kept us warm after we’d cooked our separate meals. But I felt anxious soon after the fire was lit, unable to enter into the conversation, or contribute. I found the topics trivial and tedious — maybe because I was fretting about “doing” something, or getting something done, being productive, or, in short, working — and soon enough lapsed into silence, then retired long before all the others, about 8:30 pm.

Camp fire
Sitting around the camp fire.

It was no easy task sleeping in my little pup tent. Though I had a pad and a sleeping bag, it was damned cold that night, getting down to 23 degrees, and the bag was not warm enough, the ground soft enough. I tossed and turned practically all the night, putting on an extra layer at one point but never able to find rest. I might have slept a couple of hours, earlier in the night.

Stone wall
Stone wall built by former inhabitants of the area, perhaps around the turn of the 20th century.

Though weary, like most of the others, who confessed they hadn’t slept well either, I was cheerful in the morning, getting my coffee and oatmeal going, chatting with everyone. We broke camp about 10 am and returned, most of us, the same way we’d come in, to the trailhead. (Another, longer and more scenic route was taken by the more energetic.)

I want to go back to Cecil Cove to hike the whole seven-mile loop, the short route in and the longer route back. But not backpack there, or anywhere, ever again, could be. I think I’ve packed backpacking in.

 

Camping or comfort?

So the horns of this particular dilemma on which I’m being tossed are these:

  1. Stay at home & experience all the bliss of home comforts, including our new memory-foam king bed.
  2. Go backpacking & camping with a troupe of pals, into the Buffalo River Valley, and experience the beauty of nature, the rugged exercise of the hike, and the sleeplessness of a night on the cold, hard ground.

Hmmmm, hmmmm, hmmm. A toss-up, you say?

I too am torn, hither and thither. Should I toss a coin? Should I sleep on it? (In my ultra-cushy memory-foam bed?) But, no, if I’m going, I have to pack my backpack, and it takes a good while to get stuff together, doesn’t it? It’s not like slamming a few odd bits in a bag and taking off.

Yes, home is comfy, and home is work too, useful if not always beautiful work. At home, but not in nature, I can read and write. I can garden and organize my garage. I can (at least try to) sew that laundry basket of old, torn, button-popped pants and shirts. (Please, dear wife, can you help me?)

Ozarks hike
Typical Ozarks hike on a chilly February day.

In the Buffalo River Valley, I can gape with wonder at the rocks, the hills, the rills, the streams. I can lug my 35 or 40 pound pack over slipper trails. I can exhaust myself for a good cause, which is to get out of town, get out of myself, out of the purview of earthly comforts to which we habituate ourselves.

Bourgeois comforts, boys and girls? Or the glories and hardships of nature? (Tune in for further developments.)

Adventure and danger

Took a hike this last Saturday with my son Gabe, granddaughter Ruby, tutee Aneeka (like Ruby, 8 yrs old), and her lovely mother Rupali. We went to Tanyard Creek up in Bella Vista, a stream that plunges down from the spillway at Lake Windsor and winds among the woods. The hike was only 2 or 2.5 miles, but with the girls darting and playing on the rocks and in the water it took us an hour and a half or so.

What a glorious day it was. Lots of people were hiking, as families. Groups of teens appeared to be camping, at least day camping, by the stream, as they hung out hammocks — and then just hung out. Everybody was smiling.

The girls had a lot of fun — Ruby leading the way, charging  on with her hiking stick raised high and Aneeka charging after. Signs along the route warned not to get off the trail, as delicate habitat could be destroyed. But this didn’t hold back the girls, especially Ruby, who is high spirited and not very mindful at times.

Gabe, my son, and I kept calling her back, but she wouldn’t listen. Finally, as we returned to the parking lot, Gabe said, “I admire Ruby’s adventurous spirit.” Which I do too. The problem is when adventure comes to equal heedlessness. Every parent wants his child to be safe and may hold him back for that reason. So there’s a constant tug between safety and security, on the one hand, and adventure and growth, on the other.

base jumping
Extreme base jumping, which may lead, in extreme situations, to extreme unction.

At what point does adventure equal danger, heedless danger? That could be different for each of us. There’s extreme sport, after all, and base jumpers, who fly wingsuits among mountains, through crevices, and sometimes, alas, into the mountain faces. May they rest in peace, and we hope the thrill of the flight was worth the instant annihilation of the end.

Most of us are less extreme. I remember that my one-year-younger brother Bob and I would run away from the car and clamber up rocks when our family motored from the Twin Cities to the Black Hills of South Dakota. We might have been 10 and 11, or 11 and 12. Our parents kept calling us back, but we didn’t come. Were those knucklehead boys about to spill their brains on the rocks? Well, we didn’t spill ’em, though we might have.

As we might have, when older, drinking too much and clambering up on roofs. My brother died of alcoholism, in fact, when he was 46: he’d climbed too many roofs, in effect, and fallen plump down on his head. Drunk once, in the 1990s, at a rented cabin on Lake Superior, I climbed the roof one night, which was pretty shallow, to chase off the seagulls. I had no business being up there, drunk as I was, but there was no mom or dad to bring me down. Instead, my wife and friends encouraged me not to spill my brains, which were, they pointed out, all I had, but they could not compel me to get down.

Ah, yes, let’s adventure on, boys and girls. But not too much booze, please. Nor speeding on the highway. Nice and easy does it, it could be. Let’s get down off the roof, off the high, and see what adventures the mind itself can make.