#WanderlustWednesday - Into the Woods!

Last week on #WanderlustWednesday, I shared how The Husband and I prepared for our first overnight backpacking trip. This week, we're into the woods!

Perhaps you don't remember, but when we first stepped onto the trail we were greeted by this lovely map. This lovely, yellowed, sun-faded map. About the only thing the map was good for was freaking me smooth out.

Friends, if you have not spent much time in your adult life traipsing through the woods, and then you bring your husband and your two sweet puppies out with you, there is much planning that occurs. And much worrying. And much snake bite kit purchasing. And much researching.

I was so ready, you guys -- so ready -- until my eyeballs met the sign announcing that we had just entered "Bear Country."

Nothing good can come from humans and dogs running around in any country designated for bears. I'm just sayin. The sign gave some helpful tips: don't cause a commotion, don't run, don't raise a ruckus, don't breathe.

Basically, don't hang out with bears.

But on we went, bears be damned.

The first thing I noticed as we left the wide grassy area outside the first line of trees was that the trail was much more narrow than I expected. How narrow? Well, let's pretend that you had just spent the day scribbling madly with a green pencil across a piece of paper. And then let's pretend that someone had a magical green pencil erasing eraser and then drew one thin, straight line across all that scribbledy green. The half-white mark left in the eraser's wake? That's the trail.

I was an elephant coming down this trail. My lightweight spaceage boots may have been light on my feet, but they were loud. As the trail became slightly wider (not so wide that two people could walk side by side, mind you -- what do you think this is, a sidewalk?), it also filled with rocks bigger than my head and small downed saplings or large branches from the trees that rose above us. Try as I might, I spent most of my walk tripping, skidding, stumbling, and rolling more than any actual walking.

Aw, a little heart-shaped rock of forest love!
The Husband trudged on ahead of me, as nimble as Robin Hood slipping silently through the forest, his trusty canine companion happily keeping up at his side. When I felt confident enough to take my eyes off the rock-littered trail and look at the forest surrounding us, I couldn't help but smile, slow my pace a bit, and breathe in deeply the sights and smells of the forest.

Of course, every time I fell back, my Grimm would run back and look up at me patiently, waiting until I caught up before he turned and led the way forward again. It did not matter how slow I became or how often he had to stop, he did so over and over again without complaint. There is something very comforting about a dog that will wait on you in the forest. I'm thankful I had him with me.

I alternated between watching my feet, searching for the white and yellow blazes on the trees we were following, and watching for deadly death-bringing snakes of doom in the brush bordering the trail. We trudged forward in a hurry, having left so late in the day. I wanted desperately to make it to Cedar Lake by nightfall.

I've already mentioned in an earlier post how I felt about not making it to my intended campsite. I couldn't bring myself to tell The Husband, and thus reveal my true inner-lameness, but the lake meant oodles of other campers, non-primitive campsites, and the possibility of a privy. Sadly, none of these things were in my immediate future. As the sun began to sink below the tree line, we found ourselves beside a river; an excellent camping spot.

We made the final decision to set up camp before crossing the river, since a big troop of scouts was on the other side and it didn't feel like there was much room on the other side. Although I was disappointed that I wasn't a "good enough" hiker to make it in record setting time to the lake, I warmed up to the riverside camping spot. I took off my hiking boots and let my feet rest in the cold water. It was heaven. The dogs ran into the riverbank, drank their fill of the clear water, and spent their time exploring the nooks and crannies created by exposed roots and slick rocks beside the river.

For dinner, we boiled water and poured it into Mountain House Freeze Dried meal bags, finishing up our tent and sleeping pad setup as we waited for it to be ready. I wasn't sure what to think about freeze-dried meals, but it just took one bite to realize the truth -- they are delicious! Or perhaps after all that work remaining upright on the trail, anything would be delicious. Either way, it was nice to have a full belly before bedtime.

Mmmmm, dinner!

Night came quickly then, and in what felt like minutes it became impossible to see even a foot in front of my face without my headlamp on. The frogsong rose up from the river, louder than I had ever heard it before.

I was ready to enter the safety of our tent.

Our tiny, two-person, bubble of a tent.

I cannot even begin to explain how narrow this sleeping pad is.
With the two sleeping pads, sleeping bags, and discarded boots at the foot of the tent, there was barely enough room for us. I laid down and couldn't even maneuver myself into my sleeping bag. The Husband quickly fell asleep as I listened to the sounds of nighttime in the forest, which seemed to be much louder than any other camping experience I've been on. The frogs were alarmed, the owls were angry; the coyotes were closing in with each howl, baiting their prey with their terrible laughter. I felt my heartbeat quicken, along with my humiliation.

What kind of strong, independent woman can't even sleep in the woods?

I closed my eyes, convinced I could force myself to sleep.

That's when I heard something -- a large something -- crashing through the branches just outside our tent.

Then, a thick, wet, ground-snuffling grunt.

So close. So impossibly, horribly close.

The dogs growled softly. Lily let out a quick yelp, like a kid trying to sound tougher than they really are.

My eyes popped back open, my hand swinging out to hit The Husband on his side.

I couldn't breathe. I knew we were about to die. I was a child consumed in the middle of a night terror.

I recalled a story of a woman that was hiking alone, who pitched camp for the night. Along came a bear, who grabbed her food and sat down right on top of her tent (which, must I remind you, she was inside of) and had itself a lovely midnight snack before ambling back off into the night.

I prayed for such an easy fate.

I whispered The Husband's name again, grateful when I heard him stir beside me.

"Something is outside," I said, my voice hoarse.

Next week, I'll share all about my midnight forest adventures, and how we nearly didn't make it out of the woods on day 2!

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