Lately, the way our mileage has worked out means our days start with a big climb and end with a descent.
With my knees still hurting, I would so much rather prefer it the other way around. I can race up hills (and generally faster than the rest). I love bounding up into the mountaintops, and it has come as a bit of a surprise to me – a girl who despises cardio – that uphill is my forte.
Going back down is the issue.
I have to take it suuuuuper slow, as in, a third of my uphill pace slow, to not put too much pressure on my knees. Often, I’ll have to stop every couple kilometres and try to stretch out, which gets infuriating when I just want to get to camp.
And good old switchbacks.
Our love/hate relationship continues.
Knowing how fast it would be to scamper straight down versus wanting my legs to actually work afterward is frustrating. But it is what it is. At least they are impressive: zig zags carved into the side of a mountain, back and forth too many times to count.
Because we’ve been finishing off with descents each day, I’ve been the last one to roll into camp.
Tonight was no different.
Except, it was a little different.
Knowing the Hiker Biker Gang, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that we slept in, and started mid morning. Then had a long lunch. When we finally kicked into gear for the last long chunk of the day, it was late afternoon. And it was a steep down – so it took me a while.
The sun started to sink.
Which happened doubly as fast, because I was also sinking lower and lower in elevation, until the mountaintops we had recently been sitting on top of swallowed the sun entirely.
This valley floor seemed to have more trees than others we’ve been in.
Or maybe it was just because it was later getting to camp than usual, that it seemed eerie.
Eventually, I had to get out my lantern to see my steps.
And I was fine, at first.
The darkness was heavy and so complete, I wanted to get a picture to show you:
And then it started to feel oppressive. Uninviting. Menacing. Scary.
I plugged my music in, and sang along louder than I usually do. In between songs, I whistled. I made a little racket as I made my way as quickly as possible. I figured, a startled bear might jump out or attack, while a bear that heard me and saw a light approaching might be afraid of me and head the opposite direction. That’s what I hoped, at least.
Every tree I passed seemed to be hiding a something behind it.
Every shadow cloaked someone waiting to jump out at me.
I worked myself up, for sure.
People have asked me along the way, “Have you ever felt scared out in the woods by yourself?” I generally answer with a confident, “Nope!” but tonight was different. My heart raced way faster than it should have, even with my faster walking speed. I had committed to meet HBG at a certain way-point next to a river where we’d all camp together, but the darkness made me want to find some flat ground, whip up my tent, and sleep away the rest of the night under the safety of that thin orange material.
I didn’t stop, though.
I hiked the scariest two hours of night hiking I’ve experienced out here, until I saw a crudely made ‘HBG’ out of sticks laid out across the path.
I nearly cried with relief.
Prodigal saw my lantern, and came out to give me a hug. He told me Nemo had rocked up an hour previously, and was camped up on top of a big rock. 2Beers had arrived only a half hour before me, and she was off to the side next to other campers. Prodigal was back a ways in between trees, and had left me a space right up next to the trailso it’d be easy to find if he had been asleep already.
It seems we have hit the bubble of NOBOs.
Tent spots will be harder to find, as we run into those coming north and all vie for the ‘good spots’ with flat ground near running water.
I don’t actually mind though. With the way my thoughts were going today, at least more people on trail means someone will be closer to help if I do get attacked by a bear and need to scream for help.