Backpacking the Hammersley Wild Area

One of the things that all backpackers learn about the ground in Pennsylvania is that it is hardly ever totally flat. It is loaded with roots of trees and rocks of all sizes. And it tilts, quite frequently in a direction you may not want to go.

I ended yesterday's tale of our first day backpacking in the Hammersley Wild Area with me, cozily in my tent and quickly falling asleep. I awoke during the night, on the slide. My tent was on a slight tilt and my sleeping pads had slid toward the edge of the tent and left me in the lurch. My body ended up well to the right of where it had begun the night.

Even worse, I had told you that I fell asleep the minute my head had hit the pillow. I awoke to find that I had been so tired, I had never even prepared a pillow (or "pell," as my husband and I say) for my head to rest on. I grabbed a fleece jacket and tucked it under my head, straightened the pads, admired the fantabulous star show going on over my head, and went back to sleep.

In the morning, I awoke to hear a tiny bird that had perched atop my tent frame sing its delightful welcome song for the dawn. The golden line of light came down from the top of the hill next to us. Gold at the top of the trees, then gold down as far as the middle, and then - WHOA, full golden sunlight on my own face - as the light hit our campsite for the first time.

I've told you about my cozy little tent and even shown it a time or two, but I'm including in the extras a photo of myself in one of my native habitats, which is to say inside my tent enjoying an icy cold Diet Pepsi in the morning sun, in the middle of the Pennsylvania wilds! Now, isn't that just . . . civilized? :-)

Behind me, you can see the golden meadow just below the shelf we camped on. Further behind me, in the right of the frame, is the little clearing on the other side of the creek that was the site of yesterday's coyote photo. So you can get a sense of the layout of our camp and its relation to the creek.

One of the things about chilly mornings is that it can be tough to get out of your tent. Our overnight low was quite chilly, about 24 degrees F, and there was frost on the side of my tent. When I came out for a quick look at things, I could see my breath. So I went back in.

Hanging out in my tent feels to me like being a little kid again playing house, so sometimes I just lollygag in there as long as I like. But there were places to go and things to see and streams to cross, so by 10 am, when the temperature hit 40 degrees, I got out of my tent and began actively packing up.

This means that everything that came out of your pack yesterday somehow has to go back in again, which can be a challenge. But with almost all of the beverages drunk, we were each a couple of pounds lighter than the day before just based on liquids alone.

Once we were mostly packed up, we walked down to the creek to look for coyote tracks, but we didn't really find any. We walked over to the spot where I was standing when I took yesterday's coyote picture, and I animatedly retold the tale: of where I was standing, what I saw, how quick and how magical it had all been. My husband told his version again, too. "Sometimes there's a bit of suffering involved here and there, but you sure to take me on some amazing adventures!" I said to him, as we laughed in the sun.

We left our campsite (which we have begun to call Coyote Camp, for obvious reasons) before noon and began the long walk out. While the day before, I had been anxiously reliving and worrying about the first creek crossing where I had nearly tumbled in with all my gear, I awoke cool and calm and collected on this morning. I just KNEW I could make the hard crossing. I was mentally prepared. I had FOCUS. I would NOT be afraid!

And I meant to tell you that there were actually TWO stream crossings the day before. There was so much water that we had to cross in the beginning in our water shoes, then change into our hiking boots, then change back into water shoes for a second crossing, near some cabins, then change back into boots for the final part of the hike. And so it was on the way out, but in reverse.

Here's a thing about backpacking. I pulled something on the outer edge of my right shoulder a year or two ago, and it gives me fits when I pull daysacks and backpacks off and on. So every stream crossing meant another taking off and putting back on of the pack. Coupled with sleeping on the ground the night before, the off-and-ons of the pack were making my shoulder ache.

But we made our way back down the stream without incident. We managed the first stream crossing easily, hung out a bit on the swinging bridge (that I somehow never got time to mention yesterday), and found ourselves once again - the moment I dreaded, the moment that probably showed up in my dreams as my newest nightmare - at the edge of the raging creek, ready to make that final crossing.

I realized that one of my issues was mental rather than physical: I had been unprepared for the fear that I felt as soon as my gear had started getting wet, and it had made me lose my focus and mental clarity. Especially my camera: I was so afraid of getting it wet and ruining it.

The second thing that made it really rough was that the creek got unexpectedly MUCH higher near the far shore, and I hadn't been ready for it. I don't know how you feel about difficult things, but I prefer to get them out of the way first thing. (In college, I always volunteered first for things I hated or feared, like giving speeches, just to get them over with.) I guess what I'm saying is that if I were doing a tough stream crossing, I'd rather do the hard part first! And this time, I got my wish.

So I tightened up the camera strap so the bag itself would ride higher on my shoulder, well above the water line, and I tightened and raised my fanny pack as well. I had my shorts and water shoes on once again, and I grabbed a walking stick, thinking I'd use it to help steady myself while in the creek. I'd also done a better job of cinching up everything on my pack, and it was riding firm and steady on my hips.

Oddly enough, as I lifted the pack on for the last time, just before the crossing, my right shoulder popped! And it felt as though everything that had been wrong with my shoulder had suddenly slid right back into place where it belonged! Time will tell if this is a lasting improvement, or just a temporary thing.

We looked around and found a spot mere feet away from where we had crossed the first time that seemed significantly shallower, and into the water we went! This time, I was prepared. I walked slowly and carefully. Step. Step. Step.

I reached the middle of the creek, and the swirling water currents snapped my stick in half like it was a mere twig. So much for the walking stick. I tossed the rest into the current, watched it float away. For a moment, I just stood in the middle of the creek, refusing to give in to any fear. Then I continued walking forward, one short step at a time.

I tried to both LOOK at the water and the rocks beneath me and NOT LOOK at them, as I remembered the moment the day before when it had all swirled around me and I felt myself begin to fall. "Keep your eyes on the prize," I admonished myself, and focused on the shore on the other side.

And then the stream crossing was over! And I was whooping and jumping around, yes, even with a backpack on! We walked over to the car and put our gear down and I felt so light, I almost felt like I could fly! I pranced back over to the creek and stood by it and simply ROARED, like a lion!

"That's for making me feel afraid!" I shouted, and I gave the creek "the finger," in stereo. (That means: with both hands.) And I roared some more, just for good measure, good and long and loud. What can I say? I'm usually a pretty nice girl, but I hate to feel afraid. I despise weakness in myself. Conquering that creek, and conquering my fears, made me feel fierce and strong!

Now, I realize I haven't said a word about the main photo yet. This is a picture of my husband with his backpack on, surveying me from a point ahead of me on the trail. The water in between us . . . well, that used to be a road, kind of, sort of. I took this picture about mid-way on our walk out of the Hammersley, on what turned out to be about a 10-mile round-trip backpack trip. (His pack weighs about 50 pounds; mine about 40.)

And where did we go next? Well, we were headed for FOOD, of course. Never mess with a starving backpacker; we had our sights set on Kentucky Fried Chicken in Lock Haven, and that's exactly where we ended up next. Yum!

My husband and I have both agreed that the song to accompany this posting has to be about WATER. How about something from the Badlees' album River Songs? Here is one that I think quite aptly applies. For I WAS afraid, but I am not afraid anymore! The song is the Badlees, Fear of Falling.

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