“At first an ordeal and then an accomplishment, the daily run becomes a staple, like bread, or wine, a fine marriage, or air. It is also a free pass to friendship.”
~ Benjamin Cheever, Strides

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

My Kingdom for A Machete

I've had great intentions of recapping my Logan Trail South Loop hike in Tar Hallow State park for over a week now.  (The hike was one week ago yesterday).  I'm guessing the horror of reliving the gnat-in-the-eye experience (even mentally) has been a huge stumbling block.

Just Parked.  I have no idea what is about to happen.  My hair is still dry.
I started my hike in Tar Hollow state park with a 3 mile drive towards the back of the park and the old fire tower.  I parked in a small parking area here near some truly disgusting port-a-potties and a sign for the backpack camping area.  I made use of the port-a-potties and made note of the extreme plethora of bugs present.  I had no idea what a foreshadowing that was.

I then loaded up.  I can't drive wearing my mountain boots, so first I had to put these on.  Based on my previous experience in this state park and another portion of the trail, I'd worn my capris, and I'd brought my gators.  So, once the boots were on, I added the gators and began making adjustments to my pack.  I loaded in the extra water bottles/weight into the back and the two water bottles on the sides.  My pack was supposed to be weighted to a whopping 48 lbs for this lovely experience.  I also got out my trekking poles. They're actually extremely useful on these single track trails.  I attached my compass to the outside of my pack and added the first aid kit back into the pack.
Gators are sexy.
Then, I snapped a before picture, crossed the street near the fire tower, and made sure to get a picture of the trail head.
Let's get this party started!
Of course, after I descended a hundred feet or so into the park, I realized that I'd forgotten my iPod.  A 5 hour hike without iPod is inhumane, I went back for it.  Then I was off! I tried to take a picture of the first uphill, but the gnat cloud and the humidity was so intense it's a blurry mess.
Can you tell gnats are already flying into my eyes?
The first big uphill was pretty intense.  The intensity was increased by the DOWNED trees in the way.  The first downed tree I came upon was little, but many branches.  The brush was pretty thick, so up and over was pretty much my only option.  (My Dad later pointed out that I could have turn around and quit, but this was still in the first hour, the thought never even crossed my mind.).   Trying to clamber over multiple tree limbs (even small ones) with a 48 lb pack is something I found rather difficult.  After a few steps, my balance failed and I fell to the ground.  Luckily, the uphill was pretty steep, so it wasn't that far and I didn't even bruise.  Winning?

I got to the top of this hill and began winding along the top of the ravine.  More downed trees.  One of them came at a point where the underbrush wasn't as thick and I was able to clamber all the way around the downed tree crown and back up to the trail.  Then, I came to this...
If you squint just right - you can pretend it's a glacier crevasse to climb over, right?
There wasn't really room to go around, but strangely, the largeness of these trunks made them easier to get over.  The hardest part was the way my pack threw off my balance.  I kept going down the path, my new audiobook was actually really interesting.  It was about 1.5 hours in, and hot, so I took my first break.  I'd screwed up and not bought more of my favorite Cadbury milk chocolate with almonds bars, so I was limited to apple rings and somersaults for this first stop.  And Gatorade.  Lots and lots of Gatorade.

I resumed my trek after 10 minutes of rest, and hit more downed trees.  Then, some more.
Post-downed tree scaling
I was exhausted and thirsty and had freaking gnats in my eyes.  I decided I deserved another break.  Yes, only 20 minutes had passed.  I texted my husband how I was taking my second break only 20 minutes after my first break and griped about climbing trees.  This break was shorter.  I ate a few bites and downed some Gatorade and got moving again.

This is where the real fun began.  The trail was pretty easy to follow because of the big red splashes of paint on the tree trunks.  You could also generally see where the trail was between the underbrush.  But, the thorny vines began to overtake the trail.  I'd been prepared with my legs wearing gators and capris, but I'd still worn short sleeves on top.  (idiot).  I tried to use my trekking poles to push the worst of it aside, but it still sucked.
Let's play find the trail.
Hint - it starts directly below my handing curl.
Somewhere around here - I started thinking about how wonderful it would be to have a machete with me.  The trail finally opened up for a dry creek bed and a road crossing...
Yay - no thorns.  And an easy creek crossing.
Please tell me the rest of this is more clear.
After a nice clear section climbing away from the creek bed, I got to cross a real creek....

Proof I can walk on water.
Then, more climbing...and more trees to clamber over.  I'm fairly certain I won't have any trees to climb over at Rainier, so I pretended I was climbing in and out of crevasses.
I look real happy about it too - eh?
And then - are you kidding me? - more thorny vine filled sections of the trail.  My kingdom for a machete!  So, I did the logical thing and took another break before I lost my mind.
Maybe I waited too long?
And that black thing above my mouth - a gnat.
After the first 1.5 hours on this trail, I wound up taking breaks on average, every 30-40 minutes.  I felt like I was out of shape and miserable.  My pack felt heavy, but I didn't think I could afford to dump water because I was so stinking hot that I would need it to drink.  (Good thing I didn't, I drank 3.5 of my 4 - 32 oz bottles of fluid).  I broke out of the vines for a section of the trail that shared space with a bridle trail (lots of mud and hoof prints) and power lines.  I was so thankful to escape the vines, and so hot, that I decided another break was in order.

My face says it all
At this point, I was well over 3 hours in, my feet hurt, I was hot, my arms were scratched up and I just wanted to be done.  I knew I was still several miles away from the end of the loop though and nothing for it, but to keep going.

I spent some time on this road/bridle trail before back into the trees, and straight downhill.  .  Of course, pictures just don't do it justice.  I tried to get the switch back here, but couldn't get both halves of the trail in one shot.  I crossed another stream at the bottom of the steep switchbacks.  Of course...what goes down...

The following uphill was so steep that I had to use what is known on the mountain as the "duck step" to get up it without using my hands.  I kept telling myself it was good practice, but I did stop to breathe a few times during the uphill.  I knew that this big uphill was one of the last parts of the hike (it was actually talked about in my book).  I regret that I was too focused on getting up it that I failed to take any pictures until I got to the next stream crossing.
What I'm thinking: I'm still alive, and there are no thorns right here.
The last part of the hike was trying to find the trail through a meadow of thick meadow grass and thorns.  I may have grumbled about machetes a few times again.  Then I broke through the trees, shambled over to my car and threw my pack down and guzzled fluid.  I decided to climb the fire tower to finish it off, but without my pack.
The steps were pretty steep and narrow - so no pack was a good call.
Did I fail to mention there was this warning and I felt the tower sway a bit at times?
End result?  Total hike time (including breaks) was over 5 hours, total elevation gained (and lost) was 3200 feet.  Total distance traveled was 9.12 miles.  I did not follow my original training plan design with respect to when I could take breaks, but I was smart and didn't get into heat trouble, so I'm okay with that. This hike was very good mental training.  I'm fairly certain there won't be thorny vines on Rainier.  
Good news is - I won't get scratched by the snow on Rainier, right?
It also won't be 90 degrees and humid.  Nor will I have to climb over fallen trees, nor constantly wipe dead gnats out of my eyes.  I will face a lot of things that will challenge me mentally on the mountain though, so a training hike that added mental challenge to the physical challenge is good for me.  I definitely want to know if I'm allowed to bring a machete if I go visit the Logan trail again though.

Have you ever longed for a machete during a workout? 

Anyone know about machete restrictions in state parks?

Anyone know a secret to keeping gnats out of your eyes?


  1. Sounds like a tough but rewarding hike to have accomplished! Great job in all that with such a heavy pack!

  2. Whoa, that truly was a mental workout for sure! And I'm sure one of those workouts you'll dig deep for during Rainier - when you swear you can't go another step, you'll remember this hike.

    Nice work!!

  3. I seriously don't know how you do this. Would you believe the race walking clinic schedule suggests a Sunday hike for good cross training? I don't know this is what they have in mind though. Lo, 😜

  4. You are one tough lady!!! Respect!

    P.S. I. HATE. GNATS.

  5. Blech, humidity! You're right--it's almost visible in those photos. Good job getting it done!


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