The romanticism that enveloped me yesterday, and the dry heat from the fireplace last night are distant memories already.
I think it was Jefe who told me months ago that the more calories you eat before bed, the hotter you’ll sleep. Your body has to burn those calories, and keeps itself warm doing all that work during the night. I didn’t realise how true that was, until now.
My fingers are barely even functioning enough to write this down.
I wonder if this is what hypothermia feels like.
Another hiker, a NOBO that is still further south – we’re yet to cross paths – he just lost a couple fingertips to frostbite. Not kidding.
Up until now, the cold hasn’t been too bad. We’ve almost always had a chance to dry out our tents after rain, so apart from the discomfort of soggy shoes and no other walking layers but my bike shorts, singlet and rain jacket (which I try not to get wet, because that also happens to be my ‘warm’ sleeping layer), the cold hasn’t been life threatening for us.
I am seriously wondering if it is life threatening tonight.
It’s certainly teeth threatening – the amount my teeth are chattering together, it would surprise me if I cracked one or two. Never in my life have I experienced such bone chilling cold.
Last night’s cabin was pure bliss.
After I scrawled out those few words yesterday afternoon, the sun was soon to set, and rain soon to set in around about the same time. It got to the point where I put on my Spice Girls mix, thanked Jesus (and Tania and Aunty Jan) for my waterproof headphones, and blasted some upbeat tunes for the last two miles so I could jog the rest of the way there.
I wasn’t sure I would make it, and with not knowing exactly what to look for (How well hidden would it be behind trees? Would there be light shining out from the cabin? Is it right on trail, and if not, how far off/in what direction would it be?). I’m glad my eyes were peeled and I have such a keen sense of how far I have travelled on land now without having to double check, because I reckon I might have missed it otherwise. Just look how dense that forest is behind it! The trail is back up in there somewhere!
But I got there, so it was okay.
In stealth mode, I made a meal of couscous and tuna with sun dried tomatoes and dehydrated spinach. Nemo, 2Beers and I whispered quietly in the unlit shack, trying not to wake any of the dozen or more sleeping hikers who were packed in like sardines on the floor. They’d already found spaces on the floor and hung their bags along the walls so mice couldn’t chew their way through. I found a peg, found some room, blew up my mattress and slept right there. The dry heat from the still crackling fire lulled me to sleep in no time; I didn’t even need a sleeping bag.
Next morning – this morning – we played cards before setting out.
Obviously, taking full advantage of that fireplace was the smart move.
I’m glad we did.
Because otherwise, I doubt I’d even remember what ‘warm’ feels like.
A fire ripped through this part of Washington years ago.
Someone said it was decades back, even – and please bear with me if that’s incorrect. Regardless of the timeframe, the devastation is still evident everywhere. And these charred, skeletal remains do nothing to provide warmth or shelter.
After lunch and a hot chocolate shared between the three of us, we continued on.
The rain began to hurt.
Do you remember the Great Bishop Shakedown? That’s where Jefe taught me about calories before bed. Because part of the shakedown was to say goodbye to my walking tights and puffy jacket (and twelve other pounds). He taught me that while I’m walking, I shouldn’t be too cold – just keep moving, right? Keep my thermals to sleep in, and when I pair that with my rain jacket, which locks in all heat like a personal sleeping warmth bubble, I should be fine. And, props to him, I have been fine.
I realised why the rain hurt.
I’m in bike shorts and my infamous blue singlet.
I wanted to keep my rain jacket dry, so I could sleep in it.
The rain was hitting my bare skin.
But it wasn’t just rain.
It was ice.
It wasn’t quite hail, I don’t think. I’m not sure of specifics or technicalities, but it seemed to me that the freezing temperatures and altitude worked together to freeze the rain before it hit my cold, stinging arms and legs.
Needless to say, the jacket came out.
And so we found ourselves, at 4:30PM, looking at a small copse of trees and agreeing to set up camp and escape the elements.
Our dry tents were dry no more, as the ice turned back to sleet, and rain, and all three of us dove for cover the second our guylines were staked out.
We were close enough to have a conversation through our tent walls. Sitting there, listening to the wind howling, laughing a little about how warm we had been only hours ago, cooking up dinner in my pot there was a paradox of isolation and community. My people were right there, within metres of me, but all I could see were my four tent walls and my foggy breath.
The cold had sapped our spirits, finally.
It must have been 5:30-6PM and we had all curled up, trying to sleep away the night and cross our fingers for better weather tomorrow.
And I didn’t eat much.
The cold had taken my appetite as well as energy.
And now here I am, after only three hours of broken sleep, having already watched two episodes of Hart of Dixie, downed three king sized Snickers and the rest of my precious potato chips. At this point, I don’t even care what will happen tomorrow – I was planning on those chips and Snickers being my rations for three days yet. All care has been tossed to the wild wind, and I’m only hoping I wake up tomorrow.
I have never experienced such a bitter, piercing, chill before.
This intense cold is new territory.
And thinking of that hiker just ahead of us, with the way my entire body is shaking and stinging, it wouldn’t entirely surprise me if I wake up with frostbite myself.