Less is more (usually)

I’m preparing myself for a minimalistic future. Something around 90 square feet, if all goes as planned, so needless to say I have some changes to make. Today I took my first step in downsizing. I just chose one clothing item to start with. Dresses. This shouldn’t take long, I thought.

I was wrong. That dark, cobweby corner of my closet housed not 10, not 15, but TWENTY-SEVEN dresses.

Considering that I only wear three of them, this discovery was shocking. I made a rapid discovery that 70% of them did not fit me. I can’t tell you how fantastic that corner of my closet looks now that I’ve pared the twenty-seven down to six. It’s stressful, really, to look at clothing you never wear. I always think “Man, I should buy a shirt to wear with that.” or “I really should iron that so I could wear it.” But I never do, and so it all just piles up and makes me feel guilty.

I’ve been hiking backwoods trails for the past six months, and I’ve worn the same shirt nearly the entire time. I have an entirely new relationship with clothing these days. I mean, I’m not quite ready to wear the same shirt for six months. Not yet.

But, simple is fun. It leaves time for more adventurous undertakings.

There is one downside to minimalistic wardrobe that I really should mention, however. That is this: if you lose an item, things go downhill with surprising rapidity. When your goal is to climb mountains, this is not good. It’s not good at all.

I remember setting out on the Appalachian Trail in the mountains of Virginia one particularly foggy April day.

Fog envelopes the forest on Whitetop Mountain, Virginia

 

Kaio, my long-distance hiking buddy, and I had been waiting for spring weather ever since our journey began, and today it felt like spring had finally arrived–there was just the right combination of damp and wind and subtle humidity in the air.

Our blazes followed the Virginia Creeper Trail for a few miles, and there was a invigorating hint of danger in the dark-tinted clouds that sped across the higher, whiter cloud cover–a stark contrast to the reassuring civility of the Creeper Trails smooth, evenly manicured gravel.

Kaio was hiking ahead of me that day and was already out of sight, her short, quick strides difficult for my long legs to match. I wished she was with me as I entered a dense pine thicket.

I’d always told her that a pine thicket would be the place where some gruesome tragedy would befall me, if anywhere. It was just the sort of lonely place an animal with ill intentions would choose to lurk (at least, that’s always what they show in the movies) and the grey drizzle of rain made the setting even more eerie.

I hadn’t gotten halfway up the first 1,000 foot climb before the heavens opened and poured their bounty upon the earth–and me. The raindrops bounced off my hat and I knew if I tried to quickly don rain gear the pounding drops would soak through the shoulder seams of my rain coat. It’s called a rain coat after all, not a Dryness Preservative. No rain jacket is truly waterproof, I reminded myself sternly, so I just decided to enjoy the storm. I sang and splashed my way up the trail (it was really more similar to a creek) with the greatest enjoyment.

I felt exactly like my former 8-year-old self who used to come up with excuses to go outside any time there was a summer rainstorm. It was grand, let me tell you!

An upbeat song bounced through the rodedendron thicket surrounding Lost Mountain Shelter, and I rounded the last bend to see that it came from the fingers of my friends Canuck and Moonboots, huddled in the shadows of the overhanging roof, both playing their travel-size ukuleles and waiting out the rain. I wrote “Yay for coffee! -Nike” in the logbook, took a healthy swig of the same, and was on my way. Moonboots looked discouraged, and I wished I could stay and cheer him up.

But I was soaked to the bone, and knew if I stopped for more than five minutes my blood temperature would drop dramatically. So I wished him well and scurried on my way.

The wind bit deep near Buzzard Rock, and I began to question my sanity for allowing my clothes to get soaked. My skin was cold to my own touch, and I was not yet at the days highest elevation. “Jesus, please keep me from being stupid.” I breathed over and over again, and kept on hiking, on and on past the rocky, mysteriously cloud-swept summit of Whitetop Mountain and down the wooded northern side. The parking lot for the summit trail was foggy and deserted.

 As I descended the mountain, my blood pressure dropped and I felt the first shiver come on.

I knew it was time to get dry, so I dashed into a rhododendron patch to riskily ditch my wet clothes and change into my rain pants and rain coat. My raingear was a significant buffer against the wind, and I felt confident and warm once again. I refused to worry about Kaio. “She’s experienced.” I told myself. “Her backpack contains everything she needs to stay warm.”

I bounded down the mountain towards Route 600, and was shocked to hear a voice call out my name from the woods near the parking lot. “Nike!” It was Kaio, who had decided to set up camp early, along with most of the other hikers who had passed me earlier in the day.

“Cool Dad said that anyone who climbs up to Thomas Knob Shelter in this weather is crazy!” Kaio said, “And who are we to prove him wrong?”  I laughingly agreed, relieved that my friend was safe. I was more than happy to set up camp and change into my fleece hoodie and down vest.

Kaio had a pile of wood gathered in no time, and we soon had a fire blazing. It was a tall, impressive blaze, and I must admit we looked down our noses at the smoky, floundering fire of our neighbors. We never said it, but of course we were thinking the same thing.

“Front-country people. They have no idea how to thrive in rough conditions.”

I held my rain-soaked shorts beside the blaze, waving them gently to avoid spark holes. Kaio did the same. It took only a little while for the shorts to become nearly dry. The remaining dampness would dissipate inside my sleeping bag tonight, I knew, so I folded the shorts and set them on a warm rock on the opposite side of the fire ring, away from the flames.

I was feeling pretty tough, to be honest. Kaio and I had gone from near-hypothermic to dry in toasty in just two hours, and had cooked dinner and dried our clothes to boot. Not too bad for a pair of beginners!

I bent down to pick up my folded shorts… but–what was this? My shorts were in my hand but a small ashy pile remained on the rock. Confused, I flipped the shorts around and gasped in dismay. Two brown-rimmed spheres smiled back at me.

“They melted!” I gasped.

Sure enough, the rock had been hot instead of just warm, and the polyester fabric at the back of my shorts had shriveled away. Kaio laughed and held her own shorts towards me in response.

I yelped again. “What!!?” She had scorched her shorts too, in a sudden burst of flame. We dissolved in laughter. Great, just great. We were about to enter one of Virginias most popular state parks, the Grayson Highlands…. and now we’d be sporting large burned spots on the back of our shorts. I could just imagine a faint trail of dusty ashes floating in our wake as the scorched polyester continued to crumble and fall.

As if people didn’t already have enough reason to feel sorry for us.

There are places where duct tape patches look snazzy, but we were pretty sure smack-dab on the glute muscles of two hikers was not included on this list. Yet, through-hikers do not carry a back-up set of hiking clothing. A ride to Walmart would cost the same as 9 pairs of shorts.

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but creativity surely never has.

Kaio cleverly concealed the faltering remains of her shorts under her trail skirt. I mournfully parted with mine at the privy waste can, and resorted to my rain pants. It was an incredibly humid experience inside those rain pants, let me assure you. Consequently, I was forced to wear them on the longest day of our entire hike–25 miles.

Maybe the forever-lingering hint of sweat on my expensive rain pants will remind me not to snoot my nose at other campers who don’t know how to start a wet-wood fire.

At least, it has so far.

 

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2 thoughts on “Less is more (usually)

  1. Nice post! Regaining confidence after shedding wet clothes and putting your rain gear on really resonates with me. Knowing my gear, it strengths and limitation is my key to getting closer to ultralight hiking. Thanks for sharing. Happy Trails!

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