Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Art Loeb Trail, part one

(Since it's easiest to eat an elephant one bite at a time, I'm taking the serial approach to telling my story of my recent hike on the Art Loeb Trail. I hope you'll stick around.)

Asheville has been unseasonably warm this year, with temperatures averaging 50s and 60s as daytime highs. I’ve been running a lot, but haven’t been backpacking as much as I’d like. A few weeks ago after an inspirational discussion with Sylvia about following passions, I returned home and contacted three people that I knew would have interest in backpacking – Viking, Marcus, and Sourdough. I made arrangements with all three to plan some upcoming trips.

Within a week Marcus called and said that he would soon have a couple days free from building his tiny house (from scratch!) while the blown insulation cured and off gassed. On Tuesday we decided to take a three-day, two-night hike on the nearby Art Loeb Trail. We decided this (as I decide on many of my trips) with impulse rather than research. I felt certain it could be done in 3 days but wasn’t quite sure of the mileage until I talked with Andy about it a few days later. Andy had hiked it last year in five days with four feet of snow over MLK weekend, and he assured me the 27-mile trail could easily be tackled in three days.

Thursday Marcus and I discussed arrangements to drop my car off at the northern terminus of the Art Loeb Trail at the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp. Friday as we returned from leaving my car there we talked about the cold weather now forecast for our weekend of travel, the merits of each packing two sleeping bags, and whether to bring micro-spikes for our shoes.

I awoke to snow in Asheville on Saturday morning and a text from my friend Jay who was going to take us to the trailhead in Brevard. He was waiting for me and Marcus at Greenlife where we’d get stocked with coffee and muffins before the hike. I believe hikes should be punctuated with caffeine and sugar, and I’ve always liked the way Spanish adds exclamation marks to the beginning of sentences.

As we drove south the snow-cloud skies cleared and the sun began to shine. As I pointed this out to the guys I think I did a little dance in the seat of Jay’s Matrix. My enthusiasm for the weather to cooperate wasn’t dampened by the fact that earlier that morning I had checked the weather to learn that a Winter Weather Advisory had been issued for high winds and single-digit temperatures in the mountains. After all, the sun was shining! 

Marcus, Jay, me along 276
At the 276 wayside near the bridge over the Davidson River Jay’s Matrix idled while we borrowed a bit of duck tape. Marcus fiddled with his hiking poles, and I put on my gaiters. Gaiters are practical piece of hiking gear for keeping snow or debris out of your shoes, but I also think knee-high gaiters are kind of cute. It’s difficult to explain how I strive to be a sensible fashionista even on trail, but it relates to how looking good and feeling good are interconnected. I don’t think of it much once I leave a trailhead and embark on the journey; one’s relative distance from a mirror does impact one’s concern for appearances. The style of it doesn’t matter within a day, when my hair is matted and my nose is running constantly in the cold and it's red from being wiped by a bandana, but the gaiters would keep my legs a bit warmer on this winter hike. We thanked Jay for his generosity in driving us all this way to the trailhead. He wouldn’t even accept our contribution for gas!

We crossed the footbridge and turned right, heading toward the Davidson River Campground. We turned around when we got there and retraced our steps to the footbridge where the sign on the left side of the bridge clearly indicated the Art Loeb Trail. We had overlooked this in a flurry of talking and in the haste to warm our bodies in the chilling air. The wide, compact trail by the river led to a small wooden footbridge and a junction where the Art Loeb Trail begins its ascent of the ridge. We snapped a couple photos here. This felt like the start of our adventure.

As we climbed the ridge I never once begrudged my load. It was cold and I knew that I’d rather carry a bit of extra weight than suffer the misery of feeling frozen. I replayed in my head my familiarity with backpacking in the cold. I’ve hiked in the cold and snow throughout the Southern Appalachians, in Utah, on the PCT, and in British Columbia. As long as I’m prepared with adequate gear, I know temporary bouts of discomfort in the cold will be rewarded with spectacular views, the feeling of freedom, the spaciousness of breathing deeply in this world, and the physical and psychological “reset button” I compress when I just carry myself and what I need with me. I escape a fast-paced world to move quietly, under my own effort.

I replayed in my head important details for survival in cold temperatures. Drink plenty of water. It improves your circulation and helps you feel warmer. Remove layers as you warm up so you don’t soak all your clothes with sweat because as it evaporates you will be cold. If you’re cold in your sleeping bag at night, try eating something or doing some sit-ups to warm your insulated space by burning calories (your own or the food you consume). I recalled the symptoms of hypothermia, as much as I could remember, from my own experience (I think I’ve experienced mild hypothermia before), from stories I’ve heard from others, and from my Wilderness First Aid training of last year.

Getting out to explore new places is fun. Sometimes it gets easy to become complacent with where we hike because logistics are easier the more familiar we are with it (for me, returning to hike on the A.T. is always easy logistically). New places mean new or adjusted expectations; trails may not be as ardently maintained, signed or blazed as I’m accustomed. Water source reliability can be hard to assure. Extreme weather conditions, especially when they arrive suddenly, also create a sense of the heightened awareness to their potential dangers. With all the unknown elements of any adventure, I sometimes have to remind myself that I have the skills, knowledge and experience to excel and enjoy the experience ahead of me. That’s what this little video is about – trusting myself in the experience and welcoming the cold. It is as much a journal entry for me (since I forgot my to pack my journal in my thorough efforts to pack for every other cold-weather necessity) as it is a contemplation to share with you.

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