Writing: Maiden Voyage: Hiking the Finger Lakes Trail, Part Two

Photo by Aleathia Drehmer

Day Two: Finishing B1 and Starting B2

I was the first one up in the morning, as I am always awake by 5:30 in the morning. I witnessed a beautiful sunrise and wrote in my trip journal. I did my best to center myself each day to prepare for the challenges ahead and to build my morale. My body was sore, but I felt eager for day two. I woke everyone else up so we could stay on schedule and, as a group, we decided we had enough water to start the trip. This section of the trail crossed water several times, and we would be able to refill as needed.

Photo by Chelsea Kehrli

We hiked in a mile or so and found an excellent water source, which was also a lovely, meditative spot. While we worked together to fill water (#teamwork), Chelsea read a passage about self love and caring for yourself as an example for those around you. It was something for us to contemplate on our journey until the next stop. We each spoke aloud our thoughts on the reading and what we wanted to think about before we packed up and started walking again. This part of the trail was very enjoyable and not too taxing. It spit us out onto a road, and we had to walk uphill and then downhill on pavement for a good portion. We took in nature and played guessing games to pass the time.

About a mile before we were to ascend again, we stopped for a snack in the shade as it had been warmer on the road. The valley was lush and green. It gave me a deeper appreciation for the place I live. We are blessed with so much wilderness. There was another short decline down the road and the last thing we saw before starting up the abandoned logging road was a cute half blind horse. She made us all smile. We would need it for the steep incline that would go on for three and a half miles.

Photo by Monica Larkin
Photo by Chelsea Kehrli

This climb was challenging for me and several times I was disappointed in myself for how poorly my body felt and how quickly my mind went along for the ride. There was a deep regret for some of the pack choices I made.  A mile and a half before we crested the hill, we came upon an abundant patch of wild raspberry and blackberry bushes. We foraged them like children and stuffed ourselves with the fruit’s sweetness as if it were candy. It was enough to get me to the top.

Photo by Monica Larkin

We had a flat walk through the woods a bit farther until it opened up into a massive field of wildflowers and sunshine. There was a cut in the trees that displayed the expansive vista of the valley and the hills on the other side. We ate lunch here with our boots and socks off letting the breeze cool our feet. We laughed at the hill we had just climbed and I marveled at how quickly the body and mind forget such pain once it’s gone. Lisa read another passage after lunch. This time we learned about local tribes of Seneca and how they believe we have to set examples for the seven generations that come after us as did the seven generations before us. 

This was a powerful notion considering the current political and world climate we live in. We thought about leading the youth today through our own positive actions and choices. The view and the idea of how we are all connected would be my favorite highlight of the entire trip. As we packed up our gear and prepared to descend the hill we had just worked so hard to climb, I shared my chocolate covered espresso beans with the group (charity, again).

Photo by Aleathia Drehmer

A mile or so in, the descent down the hill was a bit thwarted. Lisa had purchased a map for this section the night before and checked the website for any trail changes, but when we got down into the woods rather far, we saw that all the orange trail markers had been blacked over. We were at a loss of what to do because going back up and out was not an option if we were to make shelter in time before nightfall. We followed a logging road downward until we realized that this would not lead us where we needed to be. It was a bit nerve wracking as it was trespassing so we went back uphill to where the trail should have been and bushwhacked our way out of the property until we found the road. 

Later we would discover that this easement had been taken away around March. This was not readily noted without having to scroll several pages on the website. We walked a short distance on a dirt road until we found the orange markers that would get us back into the woods and on the trail.

Photo by Aleathia Drehmer

On the large downhill section off the hill, we stopped to rest just before the end of B1. Chelsea had set her pack down in the logging road and then sat down to relax. About ten minutes later, she noticed the tiniest tick on her arm. When she started looking, they were everywhere on her body. The rest of us checked ourselves to make sure we hadn’t walked through a nest, but we had no ticks on us that we could see. It was determined that she had probably set her bag down in a seed tick nest. We were there twenty minutes while she and her girlfriend picked ticks off of her and they lost count after thirty. It was definitely a morale dumper at that point as the threat of Lyme’s Disease is very heavy in New York, and its long-term implications can be life changing.

It was then that I realized I hadn’t voided since we left camp around 7:30 am and it was 2:00 pm. Everyone else had stopped on the trail several times to void. Being a nurse, this concerned me. I’d been drinking a lot of fluid, but it was warm, and I was in pants and a very thin long sleeve shirt (to battle both ticks and sun exposure). The overexertion of the first hill mixed with heat exhaustion made everything in my body hurt. I chalked this up to being overweight and not acclimated to this type of hiking. 

With this concern, I thought I should at least try to see if I could make urine. It was scant and coke-colored and I knew I was either in the throes of severe dehydration and on my way to rhabdomyolysis. This is a potentially dangerous health condition that I knew could ruin my kidneys and at its worst, cause death. I worked hard on consuming more water and carbohydrate gels to see if this would help. It seemed to ease the ache in my muscles for a short time. We were traveling downhill in the shade, so this helped.

Photo by Monica Larkin

We dumped off the trail into a flat meadow and the view was amazing. The path continued along the roadside for a short while and then we dipped into another field. As we entered this part of the route, I was a little crestfallen. This was the final leg of the trail until we reached camp for the night, but it was all uphill and I already felt terrible. The entire ascent, I was behind the pack just trying to will myself the energy to make it, but the more I climbed, the worse I felt. About a mile from camp, I had to stop and remove  my pack. The dizziness, nausea, and all over body pain was crippling. My breathing was shallow and fast. My Garmin had my heart rate at a steady 160. I stood there, knowing I was on the edge of shock. The cure awaited me in camp but I had to get there first.

Photo by Chelsea Kehrli

Chelsea, who was also struggling, had fallen behind and Lisa was by her side. Mo and I moved up the trail a little to wait. We stood there a good while before Mo, walked back down the trail to see if she could do anything. I had taken my pack off again to try and get cooler, to see if I could drop my heart rate down to something more respectable. When it stayed steady at 130, I put my pack back on and began to walk very slowly and meditatively up the hill. I needed to lie down, and doing this on a trail butted up against a ravine didn’t seem like the safest bet. 

I started to lose focus on reality. The shuffle of my boots against stones. The eerie stillness of the forest. The way my own heartbeat sounded like a metronome. The metallic strike of my trek pole on hard earth. In all of this, I talked to my father who had passed away years ago. I asked for his strength. I looked for something that connected us. The entire last mile tears rolled down my cheeks. I was emotional and exhausted.  I had underestimated how hard this trip would be and overestimated, with hubris, how it wouldn’t be that tough for me.

A hundred feet from camp, Mo caught up with me, and as we approached, we noticed there were already people at this lean to. I almost started sobbing because they had put their tent inside the structure, and I needed to be able to lie down more than anything in the world. I wasn’t sure what we would do. Mo had a different perspective. She was happy to see others on the trail and had no problem engaging in conversation. The lingering effects of this pandemic and constant isolation had really ingrained itself in my social skills.

Photo by Monica Larkin

After talking to the man and his son for a while, and playing with their dog, Sky, we learned he was an experienced hiker there with his son and his father. Three generations of hikers together. He removed his tent from the shelter without us having to ask and cleared the camp table so we could make dinner. The older gentleman wasn’t staying for the night, though remarked he thought we were such a nice group that he wished he’d brought a blanket so he could stay. The son and grandson hiked him back to his car, which gave us a chance to change clothes, eat, and set up. I wasn’t hungry but forced myself to eat oatmeal. We still had to hike down the trail to refill water before I could lie down, and I pulled every ounce of strength in my body to do this. Our water supply was nearly dry by the time we entered camp and refilling was vital.

Photo by Aleathia Drehmer

By the time the man and his son returned, we were settled with our places to sleep. I’d already been lying down for some time trying to rest and hydrate. Their dog Sky, a chocolate lab, came up on the platform and snuggled in with me. It was all I could do to keep from crying. She was a comfort when I was feeling defeated, physically and mentally. Sky was a sweet and well behaved trail dog. I’m not sure my morale would have risen without her there to calm me. I hurt everywhere, and in my mind knew that I was physically in a dangerous place with no way to fix it in camp other than the purified stream water I was drinking. 

Part of me knew my pride had me in the situation I was in. I could have gotten off the trail as we crossed the main road before the second ascent. I’m sure if I would have told Lisa how bad I was actually feeling, she may have insisted I call for someone to pick me up. But I wanted to finish. I needed to finish. I watched as my new friends built a campfire. I fell asleep to the sound of everyone talking and the crackling of wood. Even the hard surface didn’t bother me as I drifted off hoping for a better tomorrow.

Around midnight, I woke to the sound of a coyote howl in camp. It was so loud that I thought it was right in my ear. I’d slept with my head toward the open sky because of the extensive amount of spiders dangling from the boards at the other end. Waking up with one in my mouth was not on my to do list. The cry made me sit up quickly, causing dizziness and a pain that coursed through my legs. I couldn’t even stand up to move back to safety, and I knew I couldn’t reach the knife in my pack. The darkness and my weakness made me vulnerable. I pushed myself back deeper into the lean-to with my arms and then held still. I heard the coyote moving around the camp and then a rustle from the man’s tent. It gave another howl, and then it ran in front of the lean-to. I was in pure survival mode between the dehydration and this threat of bodily harm.

Of course, this is when my body decided to fill my bladder to the brink. I’d been waiting all day and this was the most inopportune time. For safety reasons and because I don’t see well in the dark, I sat in the lean-to for almost an hour before I ventured out to pee with my trek pole in tow as a weapon. I did go a good amount. Though I couldn’t tell the color, it satisfied me that my kidneys were on the road to recovering.

I slept on edge much of the night due to being alone inside the shelter. The pain from hiking and the severe dehydration made me ache all over, and the anxiety from the possibility of the coyote making another pass through camp had me skeptical that I would be able to get any rest. I slept despite all of this, mostly from pure exhaustion, and I even had strange dreams.

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