The pros and cons of backpacking, Part 2

10-7-2006

The new knife is sharp. Damned sharp. I was so annoyed that I couldn’t get a Swiss Army Knife with a corkscrew at Gander Mountain that I decided to buy the $19 minimalist model instead of a $29 job with scissors and two types of screwdrivers. Even more shocking: it isn’t red, it’s silver. It hardly feels like a real Swiss Army knife. I had been tempted by a “hobo tool” that included a fork and spoon. Dammit.

Did I mention that it’s sharp? I’m flicking it closed after slicing some cheese for my dinner and it opens a three-quarter-inch gash in my hand between my thumb and my forefinger.

“Shit,” I say as blood begins to seep to the surface. “This could be pretty bad.”

Mauro comes over to take a look. “That doesn’t look too bad — it’s not spurting!”

“Umm… do you have a bandage? I definitely have one, but…”

“Oh, sure,” he says, and he fishes a first-aid kit out of his pack. He offers me a choice of a tiny toddler-size bandage or a massive six-inch long thing. Clearly the kid bandage isn’t going to do it (is that Spider-Man on there?), so I settle for the unit that could have been used to cover a shrapnel wound.

It’s not too bad, actually. There’s definitely no spurting.

Mauro had been joking, but after dinner, I wander around the campsite looking for a nice, solid stick. At least my knife is plenty sharp for this. I start by whittling off a piece at the end, about 7 or 8 inches long. Next, I shave off all the bark.

“I’m going to create the invention that will finally earn me a million bucks,” I proclaim. “It’s the Eating Paddle: Half-spoon, half stick, all Man!”

“You’re really going to do this?” Mauro smirks. “You’ll probably be better off just looking for a stray spoon alongside the trail.”

“What are you talking about?” I grin, trying to make the best of the situation. “Who would want a spoon, when they can have a hand-made work of art?”

In about 20 minutes, just as the valley floor begins to darken, I’ve created something that looks like it will probably work. Here it is:

Mauro and I share an ounce or two of Scotch, then, as the sky turns black, squeeze into his tiny tent for a fitful nights’ sleep.

10-8-2006

I get up and get dressed as soon as I notice the sky beginning to brighten. It’s still indisputably dark, but it’s almost 7:00, I’ve been in a cramped tent for more than ten hours, and I need to get out. I head down to the creek and filter three liters of water while Mauro sleeps.

Mauro and I have both brought Quaker Instant Oatmeal for breakfast.

For today, we’ve planned about a 6-mile hike, up to Laurel Gap, at 5,600 feet. I’m hoping that the trees at that elevation will have lost enough leaves that we’ll be able to see some of the fall colors below. It’s pretty early in the leaf season, though, and it doesn’t seem very likely.

When Mauro finally wakes, he shows me how to make my oatmeal right in the pouch. Since the pouch is just paper, I’m skeptical, but it really works. So does the Eating Paddle. I consume my entire bag of oatmeal with nary a splinter.

We’re on the trail by 8:30. It’s a gray, dismal day, about 55 degrees. Perfect hiking weather, but it makes the scenery rather less appealing, especially on film. Here’s Mauro at a typical stop:

He’s a joker, that guy! Always smiling!

Despite the weather, the woods are absolutely, hauntingly beautiful. It’s not the gaudy beauty of a crisp autumn day with bright red foliage, but in some ways, that makes me appreciate it even more.

The occasional glimpses of the larger mountainscape — and there are just three or four the entire day — seem almost like gifts.

At 2:00, as the rain begins to increase, we reach the shelter at Laurel Gap. It’s already populated by 5 men, who appear to range in age from about 25 to 65. They all seem to share an appreciation for fart jokes. These are the men we’ll share the next 16 hours with.

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