Tales from the Trail: Moments of Beauty and Terror

I made my way through the basin, slowing my pace a bit to take in the absolutely stunning scenery around me.  I was also marking water sources down on my GPS for future reference after I made camp.  After crossing a little stream, I decided to just sit down on a boulder and look at everything in front of me.  The sun had just crossed the apex of its dance, and was starting to slip from the sky, igniting the peaks around me.  I thought about what I was doing there, what I planned for the future.  At that point, I had just last month decided to hike the PCT and I was worried about whether or not I could even pull it off.

As I looked at the dry grass blowing in the wind, listened to the small trickle of the stream next to me, and feeling very small looking at Kings Peak in the distance, I decided: “Yes.  Hell yes I can do it”.  I clenched my jaw a bit fighting tears away.  It had been a rough year, and now I was sitting in this amazing place.  A seed was planted, I started to think about whether or not I’d keep going along a typical track in life and pass up all the beauty in our world, or if I could live meagerly and have more opportunities to experience moments like this.  It’s something I continue to think about more and more.

I wiped my eyes and pressed on to find my campsite.  A forest ranger said there’d be a couple of signs on the trail, and a the second one I could turn left and make my way up a hill off-trail to some great camping spots.  I found a great spot and started to set up my camp.

I did all the camp chores:  Filter water, gather sticks, etc.  Before I knew it, the sun made its final descent over the mountain behind me, and it was getting dark.  My fire was defiantly shining its light against the trees around me, and I sat there for a while just feeling content with everything.  I decided to use one of my two freeze-dried meals as a victory dinner, saving the last one for when I got back to camp from my ascent.  I laid back in the dirt for a while watching the sky transition, and eventually put out my fire and awkwardly crawled into my tent.  I fell asleep soon after.

Snap

WHAT WAS THAT

Snap

It’s coming closer

Shuffle

What IS that?!

Sounds in the dark forest below me had startled me awake, and the stickbreaking inched closer and closer to my camp.  My tent was nestled in a small cluster of trees, and while I felt very protected by them, the front of my tent was peering out into the dark canopy.  I started to become paranoid.

This was new for me.  I’d been backpacking for years, but I was always with people.  I never paid much attention to the sounds in the night, but being alone sharpened my senses in a way.  I started to feel rhythmic thumping move me in my tent.  My bag was subtly sliding against my sleeping pad, and I realized my heart was beating so hard that it was actually moving my body.  I grabbed my headlamp and shined it out against the dark to no avail, it was just illuminating the mesh on my tent door, I couldn’t see anything.

Note:  This was taken much later, but this is roughly all I could see.

I laid back down and didn’t move a muscle.  Whatever was out there was now in my camp.  I started to think about the many ways a bear could grab me from my tent, or a cougar silently creeping up and tearing through the mesh behind my vestibule.  I was freaking the fuck out.  I eventually decided even if it was a predator, there was nothing I could do.  I put my head down and fell back asleep.

I was a little disoriented, I couldn’t tell if I was dreaming or just laying in my tent.  In this ‘dream’, I was laying in my tent, headlamp clutched tightly in my fist, when suddenly I heard my vestibule rustle a bit.

“It’s just the wind dude, chill out” I think to myself.

Then something touches my head.  Something fucking touches my fucking head.  I realize I wasn’t dreaming, I was awake the whole time, and there was something touching my fucking head! I shot up and turned my headlamp on with one hand, the other frantically feeling around for my knife.  It crosses my mind to just start yelling to scare off whatever was out there, but I couldn’t find my voice.

I look out my tent, and all I can see are eyes staring back at me.  Me and this guaranteed predator stared at each other for a moment.  My body felt like it was on fire, my heart felt like a hand grenade ready to go off, and I was shaking like crazy.  I couldn’t move, all I could do was sit there with a knife held sheepishly in my hand, I didn’t even have the blade out.  This moment lasted longer than I would have liked, and I started to take a closer look at the ferocious beast in front of me.

Icy black eyes, long snout… pointy ears… Oh god, it was just a deer.

I collapsed and felt like I was breathing for the first time in my life.  I was trembling, the adrenaline dancing through my body.  I can’t believe that just happened.  Did that even happen?  Is this even real?

The deer eventually wandered away from my tent.  As I lay on my back, I notice a bright light shining against the roof.  Is it morning already?  Was I actually able to sleep through the night?  My headlamp was off and my eyes were re-adjusting to the dark, and I could make out all the rocks at my camp, and the trees surrounding me.  It had to be morning.  Thank god, the night is over.

I poked my head out of my tent and scanned the horizon.  I didn’t see the sun, I see the moon hanging high in the sky.  It was a full moon.  I look at my watch: 11:00 PM.  I had only been asleep for a few hours.  God dammit.

I pull myself back into my tent, put my headlamp on over my Buff, knife clenched in my right hand.  I was still shaking off the adrenaline itching its way throughout.  There was no way I would fall back asleep.  I stayed awake for hours constantly checking the time.  By around 1:00AM I finally fell back asleep, only to wake up around 5:00AM.  The sun was due to rise soon, its light would burn up the forest demons and I would once again feel safe.

As it modestly poked over the peaks, I fell back asleep.

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