Your essence lays in pieces around you, soaking wet and saturated with the consistent moisture of the world. To your left lays the Down that once was fluffy and warm in the night, but now only sends a chill to your exposed extremities when climbing into your sleeping bag. To your right you threw down your burdens after unthawing each finger that was frozen in a vice like grip around your trekking poles. Behind you lays your home, your shelter, your reprieve from the elements each night that has now become a swamp. You have floated from pool to pool inside, dreaming of Olympic swimming at night to find that you were only in your personal pool of a tent, the Olympics was a dream but not the pool. In front of you in disarray lay all your assorted items that now impede each step instead of add comfort. Your gear and hence your soul have been drenched for days, it is time to find that patch of sunshine and have a drying out party!
There is hope in that stare, hope in the eyes, sun on our bodies and in our hearts.
There is a special type of misery that arrives when everything you own is wet on the trail. We use heavy metaphors to compare it to having a saturated and soaked soul, but honestly is it a metaphor? When all of your gear is wet, your soul truly does take a beating. You are already exposing yourself to the elements day in and day out, but now it has become exponentially more difficult. Each beautiful view atop a epic peak no longer becomes a awe inspired break spot, but instead a frozen dance and jig as you try to stay warm for a few seconds as the wind and cold rip through your soaked gear. Each valley becomes a new river crossing for your soul, even if no physical rivers are seen or forded. It affects every step, every mile, every minute. When there is no way to get dry on trail, it not only becomes uncomfortable but can become dangerous. That bright soul you brought with you into the journey, needs sunshine for nourishment, and you feel as much as hear the squelch of each footstep upon your heart, as you trudge on looking for this reprieve.
Push aside the days where you feel like you have been swimming more than hiking all day, and look towards the night. The night, when you rest, repair, and recharge for the next day. Your personal paradise, which has now become your personal nightmare. Well, it would only be a true nightmare if you could achieve sleep, now it has just become your nightly torment as you toss and turn. When it has been days upon days and you have not been able to dry out your gear for even an hour or two, the nights can be the hardest. You have fought for each mile, you have shivered against the cold all day, you need to rest. Yet, when you climb into your tent, all that greets you is a void of comfort and a purgatory of pain. Your sleeping bag is drenched, your tent drips moisture, every time you shift you find a new pool of water that sends adrenaline through your already alert body. You shiver, you curse, you pray for sunshine that you know will not come during the night, but hold hope for the next day. If you have enough food left you may try to eat away the holes in your heart and soul, but it is a temporary fix, because then you realize again, you have 6 hours again until light arrives (not the sun but only light) and you can safely move out of your own personal Olympic sized pool of pain.
Water on all sides, and yes even somehow underneath you?! Welcome to Olympic Swimming!
Again, we use heavy metaphors, but there is much truth to this special type of saturation. There is a huge difference between levels of being wet on trail. Some are just uncomfortable and some are in fact quite dangerous. There is a giant difference between the consistent wet of the AT, which is even sometimes pleasant depending on the temperature, and the consistent wet of the Canadian North. There is also a huge difference with being wet for an entire day, and being wet for an entire week. Even in the length of being soaked there is more difference, in the level of drenched you are. You could be wet by walking through a light drizzle all day, which becomes almost negligible. Then you could be crossing rivers, being poured on, getting bushwhack buckets of water dumped on you consistently, and having moisture condense inside of your pack because the very air you breathe is close to 100% humidity. This is the type of wet in which we compare a drenched soul to, it truly enters your body. mind, and soul. It never is outside of your realm of thought, which itself is impeded, because it is not only a part of you at this point, but your very reality.
After a week of never-ending moisture, when the sun finally peaks through the clouds, and blesses the world with heat and light, the level of excitement that courses through your body is inconceivable. Not only excitement, but fear starts to evaporate in those rays of light as well, the fear of how you could continue safely, you had been pushed to the very brink day in, day out, night in and night out. Parts of your body had lost feeling long ago, and while still knowing they were there, you would have to physically check while hiking, that a finger or toe had not disappeared a mile or two ago into the brush. Parts of your mind that had hidden themselves away from the torment, begin to unclench, and like a flower in the sun, opens their petals and thoughts to the sun. It truly is time for a drying out party!
Unfurl and reach, reach towards life!
No matter where you are, no matter how many miles you have done, no matter your schedule for the day, everything goes by the wayside. When you find that sun patch that has been hiding for so long, you physically throw yourself into it. Your pack hits the ground with an earth-shaking force, as you furiously begin unpacking. Every second or two you check the sky, to make sure it is not a sleep-deprived hallucination, and throw your gear in disarray around you. Once, that chore is done, you collapse back into the ground, to let your body feel the rays that feel as if the essence of life itself is physically entering your body. We will skip across the next step in this sequence, skip past the moisture that slips down this hikers face as the happiness manifests itself into the only form it has come to know at this point, water. Let us not judge that hiker if the sun evaporates the moisture from his or her eyes as well, it is just more water leaving the body, they cannot control it, their entire body has been sodden for a week or more, so it is only natural that it leaves in any avenue available to it, even if it is the eyes, right?!
After 10-15 minutes of bliss, and maybe a few tears, it is time to flip the gear. The electric jolts that are sent through the fingertips when brushing against gear that is even "damp" instead of soaked is an experience onto itself. The joy propels the hiker to bounce from gear pile to gear pile while humming happily their favorite tune. All they need is another 15-20 minutes and all their gear, and their soul will be dry. 30 minutes, that is all, 30 minutes can change the course and mentality of a hike. 30 minutes can propel this hiker the next 150-200 miles. It's not much time in the grand scheme of things, so why is the drying out party so important if the next week all that lays ahead is another consistent wall of water? If you will be wet and even drenched again as soon as you pack up and take that first step out of the drying out party?
If 1 minute can change everything, imagine 30 minutes of pure sunshine!
It revitalizes you, it rejuvenates, it resets the soul. You now have (1) night ahead of you that you know you will not be absolutely soaked. The other 5 or 6 nights, well that is a future you problem, nothing to be done about that besides hike and hope. You now have had 30 minutes to think, to think outside of the consistent treading water of your mind. Inside of that 30 minute drying out party, the amount of joy and happiness that surged through your body, is more than some people get in a lifetime. In that 30 minutes you laughed and yes maybe cried an entire week's worth of pent up delight. In that 30 minutes everything changed. You became you again, the pain, the misery, and the moisture all evaporated with the sun, and there is nothing more freeing. You hoist your light pack onto your lighter soul, get back onto the diving board which is the trail, and are ready for some more laps!
With a soggy but joyful soul,