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You know how it feels on those harsh days during the peak of the winter season? The very instant you step outside all the warmth seems to slowly drain from your body. Every step you take it feels like something might break, but if you stop your body will become frozen in that moment forever. Tears caused by the cold sting your eyes, and some say it’s the work of a mischievous Jack Frost who’s “nipping at your nose.”
I’ve felt this way once before, but it was the summer of 2014 and his name wasn’t Jack.
It was ungodly hot for it only being May, but I continued my trek through the forest. Sweat dripped down my neck and my back ached with the weight of my pack. I marched through the pain even though I could have been lounging by the pool, working on my tan. I had read online that preparing for a backpacking trip was a lot of work, but it was also crucial if you didn’t want your time on the trail to be miserable.
Why was I so willing to trust something a stranger put on the web, when I can’t even tell my own mom what I’m really doing out here?
Two days ago we had graduated from Southeastern high school and in just two short months there would be two and a half thousand miles between us. I tried to focus on the ground beneath my feet, but my mind continued to drift back to him. The way his eyes glanced my way in class. The secret moments we would share when he bumped into me in the hall. The whispered phone calls at night so my parents wouldn’t wake. The secrets we were keeping.
There were so many secrets…
Not only would this hike help prepare my body for the West Virginia terrain I’d be exploring later this summer, but it would also help break in my new hiking boots. I had read that breaking in your boots and dealing with blisters now would make life easier in the future. I listened to what the websites and bloggers were telling me, but I didn’t really agree with them.
I’ve always been one to try and put off the occurrence of pain for as long as possible.
He wasn’t perfect by any means. He came from a troubled past and an incomplete home. Everyone else saw a screw up who would never amount to anything. I saw a boy who was misunderstood. He just needed a second chance. He just needs a good influence. He just needs someone to love him. Then he can change his life for the better.
Now he’s on his fourth chance, and the only one whose changed is me.
They say that if you’re hiking with a partner or group, it is key to make sure that everyone is on the same page. You should never execute a hike that is too difficult for a member of your party. If you do, someone could fall behind and get hurt trying to catch up. This is why communication is key.
I’ve never been that great at communication.
As I look up, I can see the clearing in the distance. The trees stop in their tracks and give way to a large hay field. This is my favorite part of the hike. I always feel so at peace when I’m here. The troubles of my mind just seem to melt away. When I glance at my watch I realize that I should’ve been in the parking lot half an hour ago. He can wait. I’ve been doing this hike at about half my normal speed. I’m not sure why, but I sit down in the middle of the tall grass and take off my pack. I should keep moving since I have another two miles to go before I’m finished with my hike, but instead I lay back and gaze up at the clouds.
Always putting off the occurrence of pain for as long as possible.
It all started in eighth grade. He was awkward. I was outgoing. He played video games and smoked pot. I played volleyball and did science projects. We shouldn’t have crossed paths, but we did. He lived with his dad, sister, and grandma in a small house on the outskirts of town. I lived in large home with my mom and dad. He was sweet and I was embarrassed. He wanted me to be his girlfriend, have me over to meet his family. My parents would never approve. I wanted that too, but only on one condition. It had to be a secret.
Secrets never work in the end.
I hear footsteps in the distance, but I ignore them. I know he came after me. I’m never late. Just this one time, I didn’t want to be perfect. He walked up to me, shielding the clouds from my view. He smiled as if he wasn’t about to break my heart. That smile had fooled me a million times and would continue to fool me a million times more. He held out his hand and pulled me up to join him. Even with my hiking boots on, my eyes were a few inches shy of his. He told me what I already knew, “When I got here, you weren’t at your car like you usually are. I figured I should hike the back half of your trail and make sure you’re ok.” He still wore that stupid smile on his face. The one I loved and hated with all my might. “I’m ok,” I said, “I’m always ok.”
When you are backpacking, you should count on things to fail, and prepare for it. You should always be prepared for something unexpected to happen when you’re on the trail. Whether or not you’re prepared for anything could mean the difference between success and failure. Before embarking on your journey, decide what would make your trip miserable if it were to fail or break, and bring backups.
Is there such a thing as a backup heart?
He had snatched up my pack and ran off into the woods with it. I was chasing after him laughing like a girl without a care in the world. During a portion of the trail where the path disappeared into tall grass and thick trees, I lost track of him. I called out to him, but was only answered by the sound of a woodpecker hunting for his lunch nearby. I proceeded with caution guessing that he was lying in wait somewhere among the trees and as I rounded a large oak he grabbed me from behind. We both tumbled to the ground in fits of laughter.
I would have lived in that moment forever if possible.
One very important part of backpacking is food. You can’t really survive without it, so you must not make it an easy meal for animals. Always be sure to keep your food someplace secure. Just make sure that if you decide to tie it up high in a tree that you can get it back down. It’s no use to you if its stuck in a tree or in a raccoon’s stomach.
Who knew care instructions for food could also be used for your heart.
When we made it back to the parking lot, I looked up, I saw his old beater parked next to my new jeep. They made such an odd pair. It just didn’t look right. Apparently I had let myself frown, because he asked me what was wrong. I told him that it was nothing, just my new boots bothering my feet. So he slung me over his shoulder and carried me toward the pond. We were almost to the end of the dock when he stopped abruptly and put me down. He gazed into the distance for a minute before letting out a sigh of relief. Now it was my turn to ask what was wrong. To which he replied “I thought that was Don fishing on the other side of the pond. It’s not. It's just some old man.” He laid down on the dock and patted the space next to him. I followed suit and let his fingers trace circles on my arm. He talked about the clouds, the water, his plans for this summer. I nodded my head and said words when necessary, but my mind was elsewhere.
Turns out I was a secret for him too, but I already knew that.
There are two different kinds of breaks when hiking, those that are preventable (and should be avoided) and those that are mandatory. Preventable breaks should be combined with and taken care of during mandatory breaks. Spending your time wisely will allow you more free time at the end of your day. This will give you more wiggle room when setting up camp and the opportunity to explore your camp’s surroundings a bit more.
Does that mean they should have waited until August to really talk?
I asked the question that was on both of our minds, “What happens when I go to West Virginia for college and you go to California for basic training?” He fell silent and his hand retreated from mine. All I could hear was the water sloshing against the dock and his steady breathing. I turned my head to look at him and saw his brow furrowed in concentration. It was like he was solving some puzzle in the clouds that I couldn’t see. I waited patiently for his answer. He finally whispered “I don’t know. Maybe nothing?”
All the warmth from the sun beating down us didn’t matter, all I felt was cold.
There are many tips and tricks on what to do if you run into some sort of threat while on the trail. Some people suggest that you should run. Some say to back away slowly. Some people suggest you announce your presence in a quiet, soothing voice. Some say singing songs loudly will ward off predators. They all agree on one thing though and that is to assess the situation and use your best judgment.
I assessed the situation and my best judgment told me to run.
I ran back to my jeep, fumbling around in my pack for the keys. I could hear him following me, but didn’t care. The quicker my legs went the more my eyes began to sting with the tears I was trying to hold back. He couldn’t have been that far behind me. He was bigger, stronger, and faster than me. I still prayed to God that he wouldn’t catch up. I unlocked my jeep and swung the door open. As I tossed my pack into the passenger seat I could hear his footsteps slowing down. If I got in and closed the door, then I wouldn’t have to deal with the pain. I could still put it off for later, give him a chance to change his mind. Give him a chance to choose me.
So that’s exactly what I did. I got in and closed the door.
Every now and then you may encounter portions of a trail that have obstacles or are unfinished. It is important to proceed with extreme caution! You can train and practice all you want, but sometimes you will encounter obstacles you cannot overcome. Depending on your prior training and experience you may be able pass through whatever is in front of you. If you are a beginner, it is probably best for you turn back before it’s too late and you’re in over your head.
It was definitely too late.
The door came to a halt. There was something in the way. He was fast enough. He had caught up. He was that something in the way. Standing there staring at me in disbelief with one hand blocking my door from reaching its goal. We seemed to be frozen in that moment. Neither of us moved and it felt like we weren’t even breathing. I wanted to push him, to tell him to leave me alone, but I didn’t. Instead, in a quiet, soothing voice, I said “I love you. If you don’t feel the same way, then you need to let me go.” He didn’t say anything. He didn’t move a muscle. He didn’t even blink. Then all of the sudden his lips were on mine. His hands were in my hair and around my waist pulling me from the car. I wrapped my arms around him. I was afraid that if I let go, it would be the last time I held him in my arms. He paused his assault on my mouth and pressed his forehead to mine. That’s when he told me that he loved me too, but he needs more time. He had to go take care of a couple things, but he would call me later. As he walked to his car, he flashed me that smile. This time, his smile filled me with hope. While he drove off I danced in circles. I announced my excitement to the woodland creatures and the old man still fishing on the other side of the pond.
He was going to choose me!
A lot of people say that hiking alone is a much greater experience than hiking with a group. It is the best opportunity for self-discovery. Plus, you never have to worry about going too fast or too slow for the others. While it is an amazing experience there are also some safety concerns, but they’re nothing compared to the benefits. Everyone is different and you should always weigh your own pro’s and con’s.
What if the pro’s and con’s weigh the same?
I was sitting on my roof admiring the stars when his name popped up on my phone. My heart stopped and I took deep breath before pushing the green button and lifting the phone to my ear. “Hello?” there was no hiding the excitement in my voice. He was finally going to say the words I had been waiting to hear for the past two months. Only I didn’t hear them. “I’m sorry,” he said. He’s got a girlfriend, but I already knew that. He loves me, but he loves her more. I already knew that. He still wants to see me. He still wants me to be his secret. “It’s not cheating if we don’t have sex,” he says. Then why does it still feel wrong? "I don't want to share you! I'm tired of this being a secret!" I yell. I don't care if my parents hear me. I'm too upset to think. "I was your secret first. Remember that? She's my girlfriend. Did you really think I would break up with her?" he says. The tone in his voice makes me sick. I don’t answer him. There’s no holding back the tears this time. I put my phone down and I stare up at the infinite amount of stars, willing myself to disappear in them.
Why does it feel like winter on this warm summer night?