Listening to All of Nature

Well...this is awkward...

Months ago I was feeling an itch to get back into the wilderness: away from work, the city, and all of the day to day happenings. While I really love where I am right now in life, I wasn't feeling as connected to the larger ecosystem as I had when I lived on an island or in the mountains. Thus I started to plan a six day solo hike through the Laurel Highlands.

Now I had done a solo hike before: over Easy Pass in Washington State. While the start was anything but easy (basically a straight climb up a mountain) the rest of the four days was a breeze. Thinking that even though this was 70 miles, I felt like I could complete it in six days. A nice pace.

What makes this post awkward is that I had planned on hiking from Sunday, August 12th through Friday, August 17th. Today would mark day three of my hike...so how am I posting this?

This tale is a classic example of how once again, I did not listen to all of nature.

Roald  ready for adventure!

Roald ready for adventure!

Sunday morning started off rough: I had only gotten five hours of sleep prepping for this hike all of Saturday. I didn't feel like I had enough time the following weeks prior due to a combination of very busy weeks at work complied upon being sick. But I had done all of the checks, and I had all the equipment and preparation done.

Heading to my parents' place, Mom was kind enough to drop me off at the trail head. The Laurel Highlands Hiking Trial is a 70 mile hike starting in Ohiopyle and ending in Johnstown. I decided to go north, ending my last day with hiking a few miles with my dad. Such a good plan.

While my pack was a little heavy (50-60 lbs) I tend to take a Gimli mindset: I can carry anything as long as I have the time. That's why I prefer going alone so that I can go at whatever pace I want. But it felt heavier this time. Shaking it off, I started up the trail.

Lunch didn't set well with me, but I thought I just needed to drink more water. Just before mile marker 4 a dog startled me that literally made me weak in the knees, and at mile marker 5 I was stung twice by bees. At the time I thought "A little rough start, but I'll be fine as soon as I reach my camp tonight!"

But upon reaching camp I couldn't eat. This is the first time I had ever experienced anything like that on the trail. And it wasn't even something new or gross: this was my favorite ramen alfredo! Thinking I was just dehydrated, I just sat and drank more water. As a thunderstorm was approaching one little thought started to surface. It wasn't until the storm was on me that I threw up and realized I was too sick for the trail. Both my body and the weather were telling me "do not continue with this trek!"

So the next day I took the emergency road out to the train tracks, and walked back to the trail head. Luckily both my sister and Hubi had off yesterday so they could come pick me up. At this point I was feeling terrible both physically and emotionally. Sure, I was weak in the knees and my stomach was upset, but I had been planning this for months! I needed this re-connection with the forest! I'm stronger than this!

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Out of no-where a pig walked up to me. I kid you not. There was no person around that I thought owned it, and it seemed pretty tame. It walked close, sniffed me for a bit, and then kept on the lookout for more treats.

At this moment I started to think the following thoughts:

  • That pig shouldn't be here; if it is wild then it is invasive and if it is domesticated it needs to be watched.

  • Even though it shouldn't be here, isn't it still a 'part of nature?'

  • If that pig can be a part of nature, am I?

It has been years since I taught in Mountain School, but one of the things we always ended on was saying "YOU are a part of nature" to every student. The mindset of this was if we acknowledge the fact that we are animals in the larger global ecosystem, we will see how connected to everything we are and care for it.

I had done all of the preparation, and I had all of the gear, for whatever external challenge nature threw at me during this hike. But I had failed to recognize what the nature of my body was saying until it sang with the thunderstorm "don't continue on this trek!"

So instead of a solo hike through the wilderness, I'm going to listen to all of the nature around me; both that in my body and within walking/biking distance of my apartment.

If anyone has any good ideas of places to explore during this 'staycation,' please let me know!

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