Extremely cold natured, she could run several miles during a sweltering Atlanta summer and hardly break a sweat. Why on Earth I agreed to letting her go with me is still a mystery. I suspect because I knew I didn’t have a choice–her Mama Bear instincts were alive and strong (and secretly, I loved the idea of her going with me anyway).
So off we went, up Standing Indian Mountain, near Franklin, NC for a night of fun and “relaxation” while we celebrated the pending arrival of 1995. Her with a ill-fitted pack and a sleeping bag that was probably rated at 40 degrees, both bought at Walmart just before we left. Me with a bunch of new gear I had recently purchased from the money I saved during my summer job. I had trouble with my new stove that night and we were finally forced to eat a pot of cold potato soup for dinner. I remember lying in the tent with her and asking her repeatedly if she was warm enough. I’m sure I insisted she sleep in my new sleeping bag, rated much lower than hers, but I’m also sure she probably wouldn’t trade with me, insisting she was just fine. She never complained once. She was that kind of awesome.
I thought about that trip a lot this past weekend, as I traversed another section of the Bartram Trail. While the miles ticked by, I came up with my “Top 10” list of why winter trips are so inviting to me:
1. There are usually very few people sharing the trail with you so I worry less about encountering creepy people (which rarely happen anyway, if the truth be known).
I did, however, come across a semi-creepy scene on the ridge line–this old, abandoned school bus. I can’t seem to find the story behind its presence there, but it was kind of spooky to me since it was miles away from any road crossings!
Since I thought I might get a little lonely and need someone to talk to, I brought a little buddy along on this trip–“Darwin.” Mama gave him to Aidan, my son, when he a toddler. She bought all kinds of cute outfits for him to dress him up in, and to this day Aidan still enjoys changing his clothes and takes him with him on hikes. He was happy to let me borrow him and he made for a very agreeable companion.
2. I can hike faster when it’s cold and I don’t get stinky and gross as quickly. This is as much of a bonus to my family when I return home as it is to me when I’m hiking!
Not everyone agrees that you should be hiking further though. I encountered an older gentleman on Saturday morning, volunteering his time to do some trail maintenance. While we talked, he asked me how far I was going. I told him where my family would eventually pick me up later in the day and he looked at me seriously and said, “That’s an ambitious hike. You’re doing all that today?” “Yep!” I replied. “Well,” he said, “you’ve got to go up and over that mountain over there….and then you’re not finished yet. You’ll still have lot of miles to hike and you’ll be tired after climbing Scaly Mountain.” Mind you, this was not an intimidating distance at all to me–13 miles and very manageable. It made me chuckle though. In his mind, perhaps, I should have been sitting by a fire at home knitting and drinking hot tea with the other women folk (which, in fact, I am also happy to do on a cold winter’s day).
3. The views are more accessible with the missing foliage and you can see the contours of the mountains much easier. I love the canopy of summer, but there’s something exhilarating about a mountain view at nearly every turn.
4. The days are shorter which forces me to set up camp and have a lot of time to just “be” which I don’t do nearly enough of in my daily life.
On this particular trip though, I had difficulty finding a campsite that suited me (I can be a bit of a campsite snob and want it to meet certain criteria before I’ll “accept” it as my sleeping quarters), so I didn’t stop hiking until nearly dark on Friday. I quickly set up camp and retreated to my tent, making my dinner just outside it while I got cozy in my sleeping bag. It was hard to beat the view, especially in the last light of day.
5. I don’t worry as much about bears. Really, I don’t worry about them much anyway. I’ve never had any scary encounters with ones I’ve seen, even a big ol’ Grizzly across a river from me in Yellowstone National Park on a backpacking trip…but I still have a healthy respect for their strength, especially when I’m alone. And snakes don’t scare me all that much but I’m still jumpy when I come across one on a trail, so I’m thankful for the winter when I know they’re tucked away far from my feet or hands landing on one of them!
6. I can bring a bigger variety of food and it stays cold and fresh. My friend Diana laughs at how much food I pack on trips. I always overestimate what I’ll need and scold myself as I’m unpacking when I find enough food to last me a week at the end of a 2-day trip! But when you’re sitting on the top of a mountain eating a bagel with lox on a Saturday afternoon, life feels pretty grand.
7. I tend to notice the details of the forest floor and every pop of color I encounter. In the summer, everything is so lush and I often don’t take the time to stop and differentiate one patch of color from another when I’m on cruise control during a hike. There is also a kind of beauty that only the colder seasons can provide–ice and snow.
9. No skeeters or other flying insects (like yellow jackets)! Surely, this one doesn’t even need explaining!
10. The distant, now 20-year-old, memory of my first winter backpacking trip with my cold natured Mama at my side. Yes, indeed, I revisit her undying love, devotion, and companionship each and every time I set foot on a trail in winter. And I always will.