Anyhow. While I dream of distance hikes, the reality remains very different. The longest hikes I take, of late, are a) back and forth across the floor of a very small restaurant-- which can add up to four or five miles during the course of a shift-- or b) a few miles down the perfectly flat C&O Canal towpath, and back to the car. Even the latter have been occurring only a few times a year, at best, due to schedule limitations and the limits of my teenager's interest. Several things are true that I don't want to be true. I am out of shape. I am getting older. I am afraid to hike by myself (not afraid of injury or misfortune or of animals, but of men). On the other hand, I rarely have anyone to hike with, and I am constitutionally much more suited for doing things on my own-- I hate having to talk all the time, and I like being able to make my own decisions. I'm not the hiking club type. So, except in my dreams, very little hiking, let alone backpacking, actually takes place.
That is about to change, just a little bit. And I am suddenly scared out of my wits.
So, sometime when we were still living in fantasy-land, my kid and I agreed that it would be fun to do a multiday hike along the C&O Canal towpath. We have a fantasy of someday walking the entire trail (184.5 miles), and so far we have accomplished... 20 miles. In about 2 years. Of course, we've actually walked twice that, because each time we've parked our car, walked a few miles, and then retraced our steps. Still. Progress is slow. So... wouldn't it be fun if we could get a good chunk done all at once, and NOT have to retrace our steps? My kid enjoys camping, and we have never camped together (WHAT?? this just illustrates how distorted my self-image is). So I suggested a backpacking trip. To my surprise, kid embraced the idea.
So excited!! I lived with this vague fantasy excitement for months. And then, it hit me that this venture is actually supposed to happen in just a few weeks. And I realized that I have absolutely no idea what the fuck I am doing. Somehow I imagined kid and I walking along in the usual way with our daypacks full of small lunches and water bottles, maybe a book or two for rest stops, but with the luxury of days ahead of us and one night reserved in a real lockhouse! Um, the lockhouse part is real. Other than that: I think we might need a few more supplies. Like enough food for three days and more water (although thankfully there is some water availability along the trail). Like a tent and sleeping pads and light sources and raingear and ways to deal with inevitable blisters. Pocketknives and sunscreen. All the stuff you need to have with you when you are fucking camping. And, surely, we will need proper packs to carry all this stuff in, which we do not have: either the backpacks, or quite a few of the other items. And also. Kid and I are not in great shape, we have not practiced carrying loaded packs, and I have perhaps hugely overestimated how far we can walk given the heavier load. 10 miles a day, give or take, doesn't sound like much under normal circumstances-- but the thing is, every time I have tried to go this far with kid, there has been much complaining, about feet and back and hips and knees. This is without loaded packs. Do I really expect the greater romance of a backpacking trip to entirely overcome kid's achy feet and intolerance for pain? And why am I blaming kid?-- I am the blister queen. In fact, I have one right now, just from wearing a particular pair of sandals on a walk of about a mile and a half.
What if we only last for 3 miles and then need to call someone to pick us up, and our cell phones don't work out there? My cell phone doesn't work fucking anywhere.
This could be really, really bad.
So, the up side here, for those of you unfamiliar with the towpath, is that we will be quite close to civilization. The trail, for the most part, runs between the Potomac River and various access roads. We will probably not die out there of dehydration, and there aren't any cliffs to fall off of. (Well, there are, but they are not on the trail and we will be careful not to fall off them.) If we can't cut it, we will probably be able to figure out how to bail.
But I don't want to bail. And I don't want my kid to bail. I want to do this. I want to push through hardship-- and, yes, I know I have set us up for hardship-- and succeed, and meet whatever we encounter, which hopefully will not include men bent on violence, but I digress. Another reason to bring a pocketknife, though.
This afternoon I am going to REI to check out their backpack rentals, and maybe take advantage of their equipment expertise in general. I say "take advantage" because I know I do not want to pay REI prices for most things, and feel vaguely guilty about browsing without much intent to buy. But maybe I can get a better sense of what I need and want, how much it weighs(!), and whether it makes more sense to rent or to purchase outright. I'm doing this preliminary scouting without kid, so that I can't be talked into any impulse purchases.
Really, though, the rentals and purchases should probably be made by next week. That gives us two weeks to do things like practice putting up our tent, and try walking around with the loaded packs, and think of all the small items we need that we almost forgot to bring. June 30 is the day of reckoning. In my heart, I know that I am going to love this.
*But, also, Bill Bryson! Jennifer Pharr Davis. Leslie Mass, who somehow managed to irritate and bore me (along with, it seemed, many of her hiking companions), and yet stick in my memory like no one else.