Belated journal: Harpo’s first solo backpacking trip

Sometime in August: After hiking more than 6000 miles with Groucho over the past 3 years, and sleeping more than 300 nights outside, I realize I’ve never taken a solo backpacking trip. Sure… I’ve hiked and wandered by day on my own, but unlike so many friends… I’ve never shouldered the pack, set out on foot, pitched camp by myself and made it back home, alone.


Sometime in September

in the middle of Wyoming -a state of open spaces, bison, guns, dust, sun, solitude and wind – I feel like I need some space. I want to be more alone than I already am.

My thoughts are only directed at the misery and trap of the thru hike. I’m irritable and desparate. Turns out I contracted Giardia which maybe contributes to my fatigue and grumpiness as well as the smell of rotten eggs coming out of my butt. (Sorry mom).

But more importantly I feel a need to digest. Literally and figuratively. Literally I need to get better in order to digest food… and figuratively I want to settle down for a minute and reconnect with a sense of home and community and process what the heck am I doing with this little life. What does all of this mean?

I begin to talk to Groucho about my dreams of heading home to the NW. And as the weather worsens and my parasites take hold, my resolve sets in. I will head home. But not until I’d have a few days on trail by myself.

So we fly back to the NW. Grab some supplies. And with one week of solid rain predicted, we make a romantic gesture: we grant each other space and time. 5 days to walk away from each other. Then toward each other. Than away again. than toward. We resolve to hike the 95 mile wonderland loop around mount Rainer – in opposite directions.
Herein lies my journal:


September 19

Longmire to nickle creek

14 miles
We get to the trailhead at longmire around 10am. We have no issues getting permits but it is already drizzling rain. I have all the gear. I’ve already walked 1300 miles this summer. But I feel fear. This is new. I put on the brave face and stall at the cafe over breakfast which I can’t eat. Nerves or Giardia?
We set out around noon and take a half hearted video at the trailhead. I feel ready to be on my own …soooo ready. I’ve been with Groucho every day all day for months. But I’m scared too.

I speed down the path. Ready to be at camp and have my first day done. It turns out it’s not Groucho that’s my problem. It’s hiking. It’s me. I’m tired and sick and 10 lbs underweight and it’s cold foggy and damp. 14 miles feels like forever. This sucks. This is not Groucho’s fault. It’s me. I’m the problem.

I see a deer buddy. A river. A box canyon.


I make videos. Ones for YouTube and ones for Groucho. I don’t pick up litter even tho that would make our friend “FutureDad” sad. It’s not like me. But I just don’t care.

After seeing Rainer peek from the clouds my head is filled with gratitude and my heart suddenly misses Groucho. I stay optimistic and type in my phone “It’s like physical therapy for your heart. Sometimes it hurts to be apart. That’s how you know it’s working.”


The sun sets on my first solo backpacking night at the Nickle Creek campsite. I feel nervous but also confident. Set up is easy enough. Mostly i really am thinking about Groucho. I thought I might feel carefree or light without needing to consider his needs. But Instead I feel sort of blank and empty and depressed.

I pullout my gear and it’s damp; My pack has failed. I put on the layers knowing they will dry out overnight. I eat snacks and it takes too long. (Why does it matter how long it takes to eat?!) I make a video and cry a little. Why am I such a mess? I head to bed and sleep warm and well.

SEPTEMBER 20 -day 2

Nickel creek to white River

19 miles
A good day. I wake up calm and enjoy clear skies all morning. Tho I find frost at 5k feet and take pictures of Crystalline Entity-like ice structures. (Shout out: STNG)


I take long morning breaks to enjoy the sudden and surprising presence of sun.
I dry my gear in one such supercharge burst around noon. I’ve gone about 9 miles into my day. I talk to 3 men who treat me like a celebrity. Although they are ultra marathoners this is a big deal backpacking trip for them. They have too much gear and at noon they’ve only gone a mile or so today. They take my picture and I feel embarrassed.
Later in the afternoon I regret my morning breaks as the clouds condense. A storm approaches. I hustle.


In the highest points of elevation I encounter majestic marmot buddies keeping watch.


Food is a problem. I hate Giardia. My nateropathic remedies are frozen so the parasites are partying. All I can stomach are cashews. 5 at a time. the rest of my food bag sags heavy and useless. The uphill jaunts grow particularly gross as My body expels puffs of sulfur. I need rest stops far more often than a thru hiker should.
I decide to call dinner at 3pm, only 3 miles from camp, praying the weather holds. I Need to force food in for the power. A cool ranger checks my permit and chats for awhile. It’s nice to have company.
I get to the huge white River campground around 5:30. It starts raining right as I put up my tarp. Then hail. Then rain.
I think of my buddy Groucho….Now halfway around the mountain. Hoping his small poncho/tarp holds. Knowing he sleeps a bit higher elevation tonight. I feel luxurious spaciousness with our double tarp tent all to myself.
And it feels like Christmas Eve because -tomorrow morning- I will start to walk toward Groucho again. With any luck I’ll see him tomorrow afternoon.

SEPTEMBER 21 – day 3

White River to carbon river

17 miles

This day begins extremely cool and crisp. The ground crunches with frost and snow. Rainer is Large and in charge. And I’m powered by her presence.


Water at the high elevations sparkles with ice. My fingers are cold, even with gloves.


Around 11am I see a herd of mountain goats. And the descent back into the trees. It feels tough. I pass the campsite Groucho will sleep at tonight.  I leave him a wilderness graffiti made of twigs. H 💛’s G


I walk down down down. The wonderland is hella beautiful but the ascent and descents are no joke. Pretty steep elevation changes.
Around 3:14 I run into Groucho. We backtrack to a sheltered spot for a coffee break. I feel calm and happy to see him. We share snacks. I tell him about Giardia and he tells me about his xtreme allergic reaction.

At 4pm thunder claps and rain break up the party. We part ways. I am buoyed by our interaction. I get to camp and am granted a super cute site. I throw my tarp up just as it begins to rain. Eat half my snacks and then throw up. Stupid Giardia.


SEPTEMBER 22-day 4

Carbon River to Golden Lakes

18 miles

The First hours of the day are familiar! i’ve done this section before a few years ago.

I’m soooo tired. It’s a steep and long climb out of the carbon River valley. I really can’t wait to be done and keep fantasizing about cutting the trip short. I am dreading the ford I know will come at the end of the day.


At Mowich lake I try to dry my tent while conversing with some really nice ladies from whidby. They know my friends at MAHA farm. They are out here for a few days going off trail into the spray park! With just map and compass. So cool.

There are hella cool mushrooms


This is the day no one can believe what I’m doing (95 miles in 4.5 days) and so I keep feeling behind my schedule and then believing them that I’m not going to make it.

Then I ford this river I’ve been dreading for 4 days. And It turns out I am awesome. And smart about it. and brave.  I see a man trying some Herculean stuff to help his gal cross and I giggle. He’s dragging huge logs trying to make a bridge for her as the current just keep sweeping the logs down stream. They would be better off without their fear. I am a superhero.

The last uphill climb is long but feels easy and there is company as I take a snack break and Hercules and his lady friend catch up and we exchange stories. They are pretty cool.


I reach camp At 6 or so. Feeling happy. It’s the home stretch. I’m not hungry and fog is rolling. I pitch tarp too low and pray it holds in the winds and storm predicted for tomorrow.

——–


SEPTEMBER 23-day 5

Golden lakes to Longmire.

25 miles

I have a crazy Lucid dream. And then wake before dark. I’m hoping to get to the trail head early. I want to be done.

But the Day is super tough. Like everyday this week there is over 5000 feet of elevation gain today. And it’s relentlessly wet. And Cold. Mystic and foreboding. I’m Pretty lonely.

Around 10 I run into the three ultramarathoner men again.  They keep trying to share their snacks. I keep rejecting their advances saying we shouldn’t share germs. They laugh it off. I want to say “no really you dorks I have Giardia” but I’m too tired. After a few photos and dried apricots we fistbump farewell.

The day feels long and interminable. The big lady always shrouded. I can’t feel my toes. My gloves are soaked. My fingers are numb. If I could feel… I’d feel bummed. Instead i’m coldly resolute. A depleted machine with a homing beacon back to the car. Only 5 more hours to go.


I run into a couple on a ridge. They are out here for days more. I feel sorry for them. It’s so damp and windy. I don’t know how they are staying dry. I care little about being wet. It’s cold but I’m headed to the car. The car. The car. And Groucho.

After a long climb I realize I need more snacks. I’m too cold despite the incessant walking. I have food.  it’s not appealing….But I have to force it down if im gonna make it. In the rain I pause to grab something from my snack bag. It takes me 14 minutes to tear a small hole in the hazelnut butter packet. I try to press hazelnut butter out the hole but my fingers won’t squeeze anymore. Literally I can’t press my thumb and forefinger together. This is not good. but I still have teeth. I slobber and masticate all over the metallic packet until some nut butter warms enough to ooze out. This goes on for 3 miles as I continue to walk and slowly consume the minuscule calories seeping out, suck by slobbery suck.

I get to a suspension bridge. there are slats missing. It’s super Kathleen turner vibes. I pass 3 day hikers! This means the end’s in sight!  Tho still 3 hours to go.  I pass them and feel relieved they are behind me. If I die before the trail head at least they will find me. These are the irrational and morbid thoughts that go thru my brain in the cold. Biology of cold works hard to slow us down enough to gently accept death. Luckily my familial obligation is strong and for my mom and dad I feel resolute to continue. And if I keep moving I will make it


I run into two ladies at the end of the day. They say I’m close! As I descend the rain let’s up and it gets 10 degrees warmer. My fingers feel better. Then a trail runner and people wearing jeans!! I must be close.


Then signs. And I practically run to the parking lot. And Groucho is dry but cold I the car having beat me by 2 hours.

And I did it.

2 thoughts on “Belated journal: Harpo’s first solo backpacking trip

  1. Stubbs

    I really enjoyed reading this post! I can relate, since I’ve only really hiked with my other half (splitting gear, camp tasks, and always having someone to talk to), and have always wondered how well I would handle it all hiking solo. Hopefully when I get around to it I won’t have Giardia; hats off to you for pulling it off sick! Wonderland Trail is on my bucket list too and really enjoyed your pictures! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Reply

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