The pains and gains of a 12-mile hike

I’ve been contemplating tackling the 12-mile Winthrop P. Rockefeller Boy Scout Trail for quite some time, and I finally had the opportunity last Saturday. Trey and I go hiking a lot, but we’ve never hiked a 12-mile trail before. I wasn’t sure if Trey would be up to the challenge, but he was surprisingly open to the idea (cabin fever working its magic, perhaps?) and I figured with the quarantine going on, this might be a good time to enjoy the trail in relative solitude. (That’s why no one was on the trail, right? Because of quarantine? Not because most people would consider hiking 12 miles to be on par with, say, listening to “Baby Shark” for 8 hours straight?)

We got up at 6 a.m. and hit the road loaded down with backpacks full of water, yucky food (I’ll get to that in a moment), a first-aid kit, and a portable cell phone charger (I know, I know. Sheesh… millennials. But we had to be prepared for emergency situations like NEEDING to text our friends along the route and posting our final victory on Facebook. Turns out cell service was almost nil in the wilderness anyway.) We also brought along our brand-new hiking poles (which may have saved our lives… I’ll get to that too).

We parked our car and took the obligatory picture by the trailhead sign. Look how fresh and enthusiastic we were! See with what hope and anticipation our eyes sparkled! Oh, the foolishness and ignorance of untested youthful confidence!

We got on the trail at about 8:30 and were happy and chatty. It felt good to be outside in the cool morning air, listening to the gentle breeze and the sound of the rushing creek (I say creek, but it was more like a river—very full and fast due to all the recent rain). We stopped to take several pictures along the way and used our hiking poles to steady ourselves across the many slick rocks as we clambered up and down through steep sections.  

Trey and I have some of our best conversations in the car on long road trips, and our hike was similar—lots of beautiful scenery and good conversation. We tried to keep up a decent pace, but the terrain kept us from going more than a couple miles an hour the whole day. I’m sure our detours for photo opportunities didn’t help.

A few miles into our hike, the trail suddenly ended at the river. We looked around in confusion for a few minutes, peering through the trees to find the next white blaze that would keep us on our path. Then we spotted it—across the river. We could see some rocks that had been strategically placed in a line—presumably for hikers to use as a bridge. But those rocks were firmly underwater with a fast current gushing over them. We knew if we tried to walk on the rocks, we’d be swept off our feet (and not in a romantic way).

We had two choices: turn around a hike the few miles back and call it a day, and live forever with the shame that this trail had gotten the best of us. OR we could pig-headedly forge the river and risk injury to our bodies and water damage to our phones, just for the sake of saying we did it.

“Take your shoes off,” I told Trey. “We don’t want to hike the other 9 miles with wet feet.” (I’m the pig-headed one between the two of us. Trey is probably more sensible in these kinds of situations but loves me a lot, so he follows me into pigheadedness.) So we took off our socks and shoes, rolled our pants up to our thighs, tucked our phones into what we hoped was a waterproof bag inside Trey’s backpack, and stepped into icy cold water. 

This is the part where the hiking poles saved our lives (yes, I’m being a tiny bit dramatic). But the current was quite strong, the water was up to our thighs in the deepest part, and we were struggling to maintain a foothold on the slimy underwater rocks. The poles provided some extra stability as we inched our way forward. I was trying not to think of all the creepy crawlies that could be in the water and also trying to ignore the way the slime was squishing between my toes. We were ecstatic to make it to the other side. We felt like real wilderness adventurers! Survivalists! Sign us up for a weekend with Bear Grylls! After a round of high-fives and “I can’t believe we just did that!” we were ready to continue the journey.

The day got warmer as we went along but topped out at about 70, so it was pretty perfect for a day of hiking. We stopped for lunch somewhere between miles 6 and 7. We found a smooth rock area off the trail and tried to heat MREs for lunch. I say “tried” because these MREs were apparently pretty old, and the heating element didn’t work so well. The meal I had picked, sweet and sour chicken, never progressed even to lukewarm. It also had the taste and consistency of canned dog food. I ate two bites and decided that, 12-mile hike or not, I wasn’t THAT hungry. I did have a granola bar and a few raisins, so I decided those would have to sustain me for the remainder of the hike. So here’s my pro tip: When you’re making yourself go on an all-day hike, pack yourself something a few steps above dog food. Having lousy food when you’re hungry and tired only makes the crankies worse.  (Trey ate all of his spaghetti MRE, which he assured me was better than the sweet and sour slop.)

The next few miles of the trail were really beautiful with lots of rock cliffs, a much smaller creek that the trail zig-zagged across several times, and a natural bridge. After about mile nine we got a lot quieter, though. Our chatter and laughter had turned to huffing and puffing. All of our concentration was on the trail in front of us. Our legs and feet were hurting from all the climbing up and down, and it was taking all of our effort not to stumble on the wet rocks… and in fact, we did both take mild tumbles somewhere between miles 10 and 11. We were just so tired from all the up and down climbing, and the combination of shaky muscles and slick rocks got the better of us. Thankfully neither of us was hurt at all, but we resolved to take the remainder of the trail even slower and with more deliberation.

Both Trey and I could feel blisters beginning to form on our pinky toes (on the right foot for both of us… aren’t we just so in sync?) The last stretch of the trail had us fantasizing out loud about how good it would feel to get to the car and take off our muddy shoes (we had the foresight to pack flip flops for the drive home) and how delicious real food would taste.

When we finally emerged from the trail, we were ecstatic. We had done it! We’d been on the trail for about 7 hours. We were smelly, dirty, wet, sore, and hungry. But we felt like we had really accomplished something worth bragging about.

I know, I know. A 12-mile hike is not that big of a deal. But it was definitely a challenge for us, and the endorphins were pumping and making us feel pretty darn proud. I’m going to give Trey a little bit of time for the details of this trip to begin to grow fuzzy… and then I might suggest to him that we do it again. 😊

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