Overlooked

Something I always seem to forget when I haven’t been backpacking in a while is just how badly I sleep.  At first, I thought it was about equipment.  I gave up on the ultra-light sleeping pad and invested in a Big Agnes inflatable mat.  That was a nice upgrade.  A big, thick, insulated, cushy air mattress that really didn’t weigh a whole lot more.  I still didn’t sleep well.  There are several factors involved:

  1. Noises.  These range from bears to my husband snoring (he claims it’s me), but there always seem to be noises I can’t ignore.
  2. Fluids.  I drink a lot of water when we’re hiking.  Unfortunately, particularly in cold weather, this leads to having to get up many times in the middle of the night.  The whole process of managing getting out of the tent and then wandering out into the cold and/or rain has a pretty significant impact on sleep.
  3. Discomfort.  Backpacking uses muscles that don’t get used while sitting at a desk all day.  They don’t even get used in yoga class, rowing, biking, or the gym.  These muscles start screaming as I struggle to find a good position for my head.  At home, I sleep with two pillows to keep my neck and lower back comfortable.  Perhaps I need to find light-weight pillows for backpacking.
  4. Time Shift.  When one backpacks, there is little to do at the campsite after dinner if there’s no fire.  We rarely have a fire.  In many places, it’s not allowed.  In places where it is allowed, it’s often a lot of work.  Sometimes, it’s just impossible.  For example, when it’s pouring down rain.  So, once dinner is over, the dishes are washed, teeth are brushed, the supplies are appropriately stowed, and fatigue from the many miles of hiking sets in, it’s bedtime.  When bedtime is very early, this contributes to waking up throughout the night.

Rain suddenly pounding on the metal roof above our tent caused noise issues.  No pillow and sharing a tent with both a man and a dog created discomfort issues.  Going to bed at 7:30PM contributed to time shift issues.  The only thing I did well was taper off on water consumption.  None-the-less, I felt like I’d gotten no more than 15 consecutive minutes of sleep all night.

I think Tisen felt the same way–he wouldn’t get out of the tent in the morning.

But, we made it back on the trail eventually.  On the way back, we discovered Tommy Overlook, a highlight of the trail we’d missed in the heavy rain the day before.  We were making good time on the trail–all of us walking double-time in some unspoken agreement that we wanted to get home as fast as possible.  We stopped for a good 15 minutes to enjoy the view of the 3 gulches converging.  I couldn’t help but imagine what it would look like in a few weeks when the trees are in color.

The Next 6.3 Miles

Mentally embracing the rain, we started down the trail, determined to make it the next 6.3 miles to a place called “Hobbs Cabin.”  We couldn’t help but hope the cabin (a rustic, first-come, first-serve arrangement) was available.

After about 10 minutes of hiking in the downpour, we realized hiking in the rain on a hot day was quite pleasant.  Instead of feeling stinky and sticky with sweat, we felt cool and refreshed and there were no bugs while it was raining.

Tisen, on the other hand, was not so enamored with the feeling of cool rain. He did his best to walk underneath the overhang of our packs to try to avoid being rained on directly.  He ended up just as wet as the rest of us, but there must have been something comforting about feeling like he had a roof over his head.

When we got to the first overlook of the “gulf”  (apparently that’s what a gulch is called in Tennessee), the rain had taken a break.  The sky was overcast and it was hard to tell it was noon.  The break in the rain was nice, as was the breeze blowing up from the valley below.  But, alas, we were trying to cover 6.3 miles before it got too late in the afternoon, so we couldn’t stop long to enjoy it.

As the trail veered away from the edge of the gulch, we re-entered the woods, and perhaps a time from the past.  It was easy to imagine the first settlers finding their way through woods like these when such woods covered much of the Eastern US. Of course, they would have all be old-growth forests back then.  But, these woods, mostly free of invasive plants, made me feel like we’d been transported in time. Thankfully, our gear wasn’t transported back to historical equipment–I think we would have needed a wagon.

At long last, we arrived at Hobbs Cabin and were relieved to find it unoccupied.  A tiny, dark, uninviting shelter, it was equipped with 6 bunks and a table fastened to the wall.  The bunks were wood planks that would require sleeping pads and bags to make comfortable.  The small windows on the back wall let in so little light that even with our flashlights, we had trouble seeing inside the cabin.  I had a hard time imagining spending the night in there.

I proposed we pitch the tent on the front porch, screening out all insects, putting us where we were sure to get a breeze, and under a great big roof to keep up out of the rain.  We hung the rain fly in position just in case we started to get wet, but planned to sleep under just the screen for the night.  Tisen was more excited than a child to crawl into the tent with us, even though we decided to call it a night around 7:30PM.  It was the earliest we’ve ever gone to bed.