Elevation: 4400 ft
I am at the top of Tray Mountain, high in the Chattahoochee Natonal Forest. The Moon is full and heavy behind me. The summit is rocky but there is a small open space to the left of the trail, just level enough to allow for a comfortable nights cowboy camp. There are many bushes, I believe they are laurels, yet I face a clearing. Now, all I can make out in the distance are the faint lights of a city below. I hope to take in a beautiful sunrise.
Today was pleasant. I did not pass many people while hiking, but had conversations with three different groups as they came, collected their water, and made there way from the stream to a nearby shelter. I sat eating my lunch of cold soaked couscous, making small talk with each (I was feeling far more social this afternoon. Which one better be, if one plans on making themselves comfortable at a water source). Some were thru-hikers. Others out for a night or two.
One group, a father and son, spoke to me about some of their struggles on trail. The father had some experience hiking with a heavy pack from time spent in service, it was his sons first time hitting the trail. He mentioned that his pack was overweight and he was uncomfortable, and his son spoke of the awful pain in his feet. They were going to leave the trail a bit earlier than planned, but did mention that they would pick up where they left off. “Have you heard of 2nd degree fun?” I asked.
2nd degree fun is a term I learned from my hike last year. 1st degree fun is instantaneous. Riding a roller coaster, going to a petting zoo, opening a gift–these are examples of 1st degree fun. 2nd degree fun is something you work at, but upon completion feels wonderful, leaving one feeling accomplished and happy, ecstatic even. Examples of this are climbing a mountain to reach the top and gain amazing views otherwise unattainable. Or completing a really big mile day and pulling off your shoes and–oh my–that feeling of reclining! I have been asked how I manage to sleep on my thin z-rest sleeping pad, and the answer is: If I put in enough miles, this is never a problem. Hiking is full of 2nd degree fun. As I packed up to leave they asked my name and called me “the real deal”. That’s sweet, I thought. I hope they keep at it.
The days are so beautifully long this time of year. I hiked into the night and did not need to utilize my headlamp until after 9 pm. I walked by the moonlight for as long as I could, stumbling over the rocks and roots just a tad more than normal. I only travelled about three miles in darkness. I enjoy night hiking. It is when the small critters creep or crawl or hop their way along the trail. I gave myself a fright once or twice when my sleeping pad made a hissing sound as it brushed against nearby trees. It sounded as would an aggressive snake. I have yet to see a snake or a bear, but I am hopeful. The black bears are actually black here, not brown like those out West. At one point on trail I did here some rustling in the distance. It sounded heavy and as if it walked on all fours. I paused and surveyed my surroundings, but the trees were to thick and obstructed my view.
There is a chill in the air. The wind is growing stronger. I will slip into my down sleeping bag with the excitement of what’s to come. The beauty of pondering this: the possibilities are endless!