“For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
After an internal debate, I decided that we would head out to do our small section hike last Friday. Charlie and I had been sick, but not so much so that we were unable to do a light backpacking trip. The plan was to leave right after school on Friday and head north to Pennsylvania. After a bit of a delay, which made me a bit prickly, we left with our gear in tow to spend the night in Chambersburg near Caledonia State Park. Although the fauna was sparse this trip, the flora was on fire – figuratively and we found so much quartz (in full disclosure, I don’t think it was actually quartz, but I also stopped correcting my kids about the fact that the “shrimp” they were hunting in CT was actually not shrimp) that James nicknamed the section of the trail “Quartzlyvania,” so I chose this as the spirit guide. We hiked a total of 15 miles over 2 days with an ascent of 2,333.3 feet and a descent of 1,736,9 feet. This trip rounded out about 250 miles hiked on the Appalachian Trail for me.
We woke up fairly early Saturday morning to a slight hiccup. Part of Charlie’s water reservoir had leaked, but luckily just the outside of his pack was wet, not the clothing inside the bag. We were able to dry it off with hair dryers, grabbed some coffee and met the shuttle driver only a few minutes late. Caledonia State Park looked different from the last time we had been there, nearly a year ago. It was a freezing cold Friday morning last time I was there, the day after Thanksgiving. Last weekend, the trees were full of vibrant fall colors, and the white blacksmith shop stood out against them. Our shuttle driver helped us load up our gear and we set off for Woodrow Road. Woodrow Road is up a hill, so we essentially started high, and basically walked flat or downhill for the majority of the trip. I immediately noticed the color of the leaves, even brighter at the higher elevation. The yellows in particular were brighter than I had seen in awhile. Charlie was wearing my old Camelbak with some extra clothing for the boys, light down jackets and water. His pack didn’t weigh much. I borrowed a medium sized pack from my friend for James, and he had to carry two sleeping bags, water and two sleeping pads. Surprisingly his pack weighed about 18 pounds, which was more than I expected, but due to size constraints it was that or nothing. As we started out the hike, Charlie began to complain, but not really James.
The boys had not been backpacking in a few months, but they had been hiking, playing sports and working out and the terrain was easy, not even that rocky for Pennsylvania, so Ken and I were surprised by how much Charlie was complaining about his pack, and wanting to take breaks after less than an hour. We, well everyone but me, freestyle rapped to pass the time until we got to Birch Run Shelter a little after noon. We stopped for lunch, and the kids dug into their protein bars, jerky and trail mix, picking out the almonds of course. I had planned to have us complete 7 miles Saturday, and 8 on Friday, but that would have put us at our tent site around 1:30 pm, so we decided that we would walk a total of 12.5 miles instead to make it to Quarry Gap Shelter. The shelter had great reviews on Farout plus there was only one minor climb between us and our destination.
With full stomachs we started walking again, and Charlie’s complaints quickly grew louder and more frequent. Ken was doing his best to motivate Charlie, but at a certain point we were both baffled by why he was saying that he was having a hard time. He became irritated with everyone, and visually upset that we weren’t going to stop. He would stomp off ahead, try to lag behind, and talked back several times. It reminded me of one time when Ken wouldn’t stop at Starbucks because he thought we’d hit traffic if we went out of the way, and I became irate. Conflict is inevitable in all relationships, and it is always best to learn how to fight with those you’re closest with. I told Charlie that I felt him on a molecular level, I knew how pissed he was with Ken. I had been that child at times and that little inner Lizzy still comes out.
Walking through a pine grove the needles on the ground felt soft, and we had Charlie and James walk ahead of us and they began to talk about Fortnite and what they were going to play once they got back to their dads house. I had noticed the colors of the leaves on the trees, but it wasn’t until the grove that I realized that we had been crunching leaves underfoot. James began to slow down a bit, and Ken and I decided that we would carry their packs for a few miles to give them a rest. Just as we put their packs on our packs, something was brought up that created a bit of an argument between the two of us, and this also was at the bottom of the only climb of this trip. So as we are walking up a short, but fairly steep incline, Ken and I are talking through an issue with extra-extra weight on our backs. The Pennsylvania section of the AT is often referred to as “Rocksylvania” and although the first part of our hike was not physically rocky, it was a bit of an emotionally rocky few hours. Sometimes I idealize hiking, backpacking and the AT itself when I am sitting in my classroom not wanting to do work. The truth is that it’s challenging, even when it’s not physically challenging. Just because the four of us were out in nature (which is proven to help reduce amygdala activity) does not mean we are not immune from getting annoyed with each other.
In the last few miles of the day, the terrain did get rockier and James was the one who picked up everyone’s mood by planning our guess the country game. He even said he wanted to play to get his mind off of how the pack was feeling heavy on his shoulders. Charlie’s mood had improved by this point and he was playing along with us. We got to Quarry Gap Shelter around 5, which was the most miles my kids had ever walked in a day. The shelter is so well maintained. It feels like an oversized fairy house in the middle of the woods. There are fences, hanging flowers, a bench swing, a regular bench decorated with pumpkins, tent pads, a bear box, a nice privy, etc. There were several other backpackers, and I felt bad because my kids were a little loud and crazy on the swing, but I really felt like they deserved the play time. We set up our site, cooked our food, ate dinner and went to sleep.
Sunday we only had 2.5 miles remaining to get back to Caledonia and it went by quickly, mainly thanks to my kids never ending “yo momma” jokes. James told me that he was a little sad that the hike was ending already, and we agreed that we were both a little bummed that it was back to school and the real world on Monday. James’s favorite part of backpacking is the work, and the internal reward of finishing something hard at the end. Charlie likes the visuals of the hikes, and being out in nature. For me it is a combination of the two. Either way once we got back to the truck, we were all happy we had gone out. I was the only one still a little sick, which just meant that I snored and kept everyone up as I slept peacefully. We had endured several emotionally charged moments with one another and stepped back into the “real world” with stronger relationships for it. Spiritually quartz is often used as a healing mineral, especially for clearing blocked emotions, bringing calm and increasing energy levels. So next time we all head out together, a small piece of quartz is being added to my pack.