The challenge hit immediately. My legs, already tired from skiing, screamed with my first step. My sled, with two tie-down straps wrapped tightly around it, had zero glide. Pulling it by hand was a ton of work and quitting crossed my mind, fervently, for the first mile. In fact, I almost did quit a couple of times, but was lucky enough to realize what I wanted just slightly more than quitting was success. I visualized the lake not my car. So, I trudged on with the mantra one foot in front of the other for hours. I'd set a small goal, force myself to reach it, then do it again. Sometimes I only aimed for a spot two trees in front of me. Five feet of trail. That's how hard pulling that deadbeat sled was. But eventually, something happened. The going got easier, my goals grew further apart until they disappeared completely, and I made progress.
My hiking partner had been smiling the whole way,
so eventually, I forced myself to smile too.
It helped. By smiling, I recognized that I was happy. Happy to be me, in the woods, and on this trail. Happy to be under the sun and the tall trees. Happy to be in the snow with my dog, the cold air biting at us, reminding me just how alive we were. I drank it all in and continued on. For we were almost there.
Then, the last half mile hit. The half mile that was supposed to be cake. The half mile of downhill coasting. The half mile when I lost my load a total of six times and my mind six times more in frustration. Perhaps I was tired and not tightening the straps correctly. I don't know, but I do know it was hugely exasperating and I was done. Fini. Cooked.
But isn't that precisely the moment we find otherwise? The moment we find some untouched batch of strength that carries us to the goal line? So, I swore and I cursed and I reloaded that sled over and over until finally, I made it to the lake.
Once there, I found a handful of snowshoers and cross country skiers ready to watch me with interest. I also found a lot of snow. Between the two, I immediately lost all confidence. I believed I had no idea what I was doing. What if I couldn't get the tent up in all the snow? What do I do about a fire pit? Would our water keep from freezing in my sleeping bag without me in it until bedtime? I had snow-camped one other time when there was maybe six inches on the ground and much warmer temperatures. Here, I guessed, lay three feet. Everything was covered. I texted my partner, Kimi, and said all I wanted was to be home. I feared I was in over my head. Plus, all these people were watching me like I knew what I was doing. Essentially, she responded with, "That sucks" and "Can you go back to the car?" That's when I knew Wisdom and I were there whether we liked it or not. There was no way in hell I was dragging that sled back to the car. My hands ached from pulling it and I had rope burns on both thumbs. No. We would be sleeping on the snow no matter what. So, I thought, might as well get to it, and I began to make the woods our home. About that time, three of the nicest people stopped to say hello. I expressed to them some of my doubts about the night ahead. They were supportive and so excited for Wisdom and I to be out on such a great adventure, and their positivity was catching. I became excited again too. I got the tent up and knew Wisdom and I would be fine. But I have to work on that confidence thing and not be so quick to discredit and discourage myself. We can do the things we dream.
I spent some time digging out the fire pit and finally got to rest and savor camp. The day hikers were gone and Wisdom and I had the woods to ourselves. With the fire crackling at my feet, I enjoyed a hot dinner, a mug of tea, and even drank whiskey with the moon.
But night comes early in the winter and by 730, it had been dark for three hours. With the fire nearly out and the cold creeping in, the time was right to call it a night. I tucked Wisdom into a down jacket I'd brought for her and supplied her pockets with hand warmers. She was asleep in minutes.
It took me a bit longer. My legs ached and the tent was cold. Sometime overnight, however, I noticed the temperature inside the tent had increased. Eventually, I figured out it was snowing. My tent now had insulation! The next morning, I was curious to know how much.
Almost 4 inches had fallen, it was still coming down, and breakfast in bed sounded good.
Without delay, I crawled back in the tent and boiled water for tea and oatmeal in the vestibule from my sleeping bag. The heat from the stove warmed the tent providing the perfect ambiance for a 5 star breakfast. Happy and proud of myself and Wisdom for doing something that took some guts, I began to think what I would change the next time- an improved sled set-up (one that hitches to my body instead of having to pull it by hand), more wood to be able to stay out longer, and a gas lantern for light and warmth inside the tent at night. I almost couldn't wait!
Just before lunch, I broke camp and we started for the car. The hike back was easier because it was mostly downhill, but still, that sled lacked all glide. Not once did it bump up against my snowshoes. Oh well, I wasn't failing now. Wisdom, bounding down the trail in front of me, appeared ready to climb another mountain.
Next time, she's pulling the sled.