I can’t remember when I started pretending Mother Nature and I were BFFs, but I truly started believing it on the Appalachian Trail. The moment we stepped out of my friend Erin’s car to hike the first 400 strenuous steps of the Approach Trail, the sky opened her spout and the rain came pouring out. I pulled out my very ridiculous (but incredibly useful) looking bright blue tarp poncho/pack cover, and reminded myself that this is what I signed up for, the AT is notoriously wet, I should probably get used to it.
Around mile four of sloshing around in my shoes with a 30 pound pack on my back, convincing myself I was having a great time, I started pleading with her.
Listen, Mother Nature, you know me. I love a good storm. I don’t even mind hiking in the rain. I like it actually. It makes me move a little faster, provides motivation.The only thing that really sucks is setting up and taking down in the rain. If we can work around those two times, you and I will have a beautiful friendship.
We had delightful weather for the next four and a half months.
After days of mild desert hiking my first week on the PCT, blown away by the beauty of the morning, I mentioned our weather luck to a fellow hiker from Holland. He looked at me like I was nuts. Clearly he had a different idea of “beautiful weather.”
We laughed at our disagreement, and then he asked, “Have you ever thought, maybe it’s your attitude that makes the weather so nice?”
I wandered up the trail trying to recall if the weather on the AT was really as good as I remembered. I mean, sure, we had some cold mornings, freezing nights, hot afternoons, days so humid that breathing felt like drowning. And yeah, it rained on us, soaking us to the bone, to the point you start trudging through the shin deep puddles and mud because you already have trench foot, what’s one more puddle? And the storms rolled in, and the storms rolled out.
But I guess I remember these things happening at the most convenient of times. Like while walking our last few miles into town. Or on our zero days. Or right after we packed up camp. I remember literally run-hiking nine miles in two hours through Shenandoah to try to beat the storm the ranger warned us about, you better just stay here, she said, you’ll never make it to the next campground, but it was only noon and we weren’t done yet. Plus, what a fun challenge! We hiked our asses off, zipped up our tent with the clap of the first giant thunder, and shared a high-five, panting like puppies on a hot summer day. Then we celebrated with wine, cribbage and blackberry pie at the lodge (yes, of course this was our real motivation).
On the days that really mattered though, boy did Mother Nature do us a solid. Right before we entered the Great Smoky Mountains, we stayed with a local who told us there were five incredible views the Smokies were known for, but we would never see all five because the damn weather never holds for anyone’s entire 72 mile trip through it. We had five, beautiful, clear days of magic. We summited Mount Washington, known for the worst weather in the world, on a sunny summer day. Katahdin was a dream, the Whites were perfection. And hey, I can count the times I had to pack a wet tent on my left hand. Maybe Mother Nature was listening after all.
Looking back, the inclement weather added to my experiences, I didn’t let it take away from them. So maybe my fellow hiker had a point. I’ve walked nearly 600 miles of Southern California, and I’m still waiting for the dreadful desert of my imagination to appear, an image born from the words of others and countless warnings of heat and misery. And so far…it’s been lovely; the views outstanding, the heat quite bearable. Only now I can’t be sure if that’s real, or just my reality. Perhaps part Mother Nature, part me?
I guess it doesn’t matter. I once heard the difference between an obstacle and adventure is attitude, and I prefer to fill my life with one of those things.
(Pssst, Mother Nature, if you are listening, I know you’re aware of the situation you’ve created in the Sierras. I’ll be there in about a week, just a heads up.)