I think I've put off writing about this day simply because in the grand scheme of the trip, it was fairly uneventful. It was the culmination of the trip, and yet there are no mighty struggles to recount, no hallucinations that I couldn't escape, no extreme obstacles to overcome.
Unless of course you count our battered feet as obstacles. Did you know that enough moleskin can actually keep a floating toenail in place for seven miles of hiking? And that not enough moleskin (never be stingy!) can actually be worse than none at all?
As we dressed for the day, I was able to finally pop the ever-growing blister on my second toe with the hunting knife. (Note to self: add a safety pin to the first-aid kit for ease of blister popping.) Len's left heel had developed a nasty maw of a thing--formed by a hot spot that became a blister that relinquished its skin to the repeated abuse and turned into what became affectionately known as the "gaping pus-hole." (Len's note to self: apply moleskin before the hot spot becomes a blister, and be sure to apply enough moleskin that it doesn't come loose and abrade the area even more.)
Our carrot-on-the-stick, our main reason for wanting desperately to get out of the woods and into civilization is a magical place called the Keene Valley Lodge, a place we go every year to recharge and reboot (literally). The owners, George and Laurie Daniels are hikers themselves and their Bed and Breakfast is as cozy and relaxing as home, without the need to cook and pick up after yourself, and their breakfasts are...is "legendary" too grand a word? Trust me when I say, if there was any way we could have gotten there on Tuesday, as our reservations stipulated, we would have. The Keene Valley Lodge was one of the enticements that helped get us through the woods, and even after we found the campsite on Day 3 at dusk, exhausted and hungry and beaten sore, we briefly contemplated donning our headlamps and hiking the last seven miles in the dark, just to get to the Lodge in time for breakfast Wednesday morning.
As it would turn out, those last seven miles were covered in record time. Later in the week we calculated our total rough mileage (35 miles--a conservative estimate if you ask me, given all the walk-arounds we had to do) and time spent hiking (17 hours) and arrived at an average rate of 2mph. When bushwhacking, we were probably doing good at .5 mph, but on that last day we hiked seven miles in just under three hours--better than 2.5 mph, a good rate with full packs and shredded feet. We drank from our water bottles while walking. We ate our lunch while walking. We made wardrobe adjustments while walking. If we could have relieved ourselves while walking we would have. Of course, since we were decidedly NOT interested in filtering any more water, we drank little, thereby minimizing effluent discharge and allowing us to stop even less.
The trail on Day 4 was an old logging trail. It was wet, yes, and hilly, yes, but there were bridges, it was wide enough to walk side-by-side, and mostly what we did was rehash the previous day's activity as we walked. Already the experience was fading. Had we really done that??
And telling and retelling ourselves what we had accomplished helped to make it real. I'm convinced that the singularly human desire to pin experience down is the origin of all storytelling: retell it, make it real, study it, learn from it, pass it on.
We did make it out, finally. In the parking lot, Len hugged the vehicle. I stripped off my boots and wet socks and lay on the grass with my feet against a fencepost. But we didn't linger long; the world's best cheeseburger, fries and Coke were calling.
...Thanks for reading. Tomorrow I leave for my two-week stint at Bread Loaf. I'll be reporting in from there.