The picture you see above is what my camp looked like on Tuesday Morning May 3, 2016. As I mentioned in this BLOG from August 16, my friend, Benj Smith and I experienced life on the North Georgia Appalachian Trail for six days. The picture doesn’t do the carnage of a long night of storms justice. It was a washout, and that’s where I’ll start today’s lesson.
Three days before we left for Amicalola Falls and started our six-day hike, I was in REI and listened intently as the eager young woman told me of how she had hiked the AT and camped in an Eno sheltered hammock. She spoke of the warmth and the dry surroundings as she awoke from a comfortable night of rest and watched the sun rise over the North Georgia Mountains.
I never asked her about storms, powerful winds or how the additional 150 pounds that I carry on my 56-year-old frame compared to her 130 pound petite 5’3″ frame. I was captivated by her story and purchased my Eno hammock, rain fly and proudly packed them in my 62-pound pack.
Night one was a blur. After hiking almost 16 miles across the mountains of North Georgia, we stopped at a hiker-filled shelter. I sat down, more exhausted than any other time in my life. Pack still on. A young 20-something asked us how far we had hiked that day, and upon hearing that these two old dudes had gone 16 miles, he bellowed out a laugh, handed me his camp cup and said “here, you need this.” I swallowed a mouthful of fire and charcoal as the Jim Beam in the cup was not what I expected. It went downhill from there and day two was off to a slow start.
The end of day two was magical. We had hiked far enough to find the perfect campsite and the sun had come out to dry the land and revive our weary souls. As I set up my Eno, Benj asked an innocent question that soon become prophetic. He asked, “have you ever slept in, set-up or seen someone set-up or sleep in an Eno Hammock”?
The answer? “Duh, no!”
At 2:45 am on Tuesday morning May 3, I found myself with the rain fly-blown 50 feet away, my hammock filled with water and my shoulders on the ground, while my feet were elevated three feet above my head. Lightning is flashing, the wind is howling, and I’m pretty sure that I am about to die on the Appalachian Trail.
Across a temporary road was a glorified port-a-potty about 800 feet straight ahead of me. So I fell out of my hammock upside down, lying in my shelterless camp. Soaking wet and covered in mud, I grabbed my pack and trudged through the storm that had now left me shivering and miserable. In the port-a-potty (that had no power or water), I changed out of my soaking wet clothes, put on kinda dry clothes and rain gear and hunkered down for the rest of the storm. The first word that comes to mind should not be written.
At 5:10 am a fellow hiker, which clearly was nowhere near my level of frustration banged furiously on the door to get in. Two things crossed my mind. Shoot through the door or tell him to use the second port-a-potty. I chose number 2 – pun intended.
At 6:54 am, I wandered back over to see the devastation left in the wake of the evening storms. I fired up my camp stove, made a cup of coffee, warming my freezing bones and watching Benj awaken from a restful night in his tent. He looked at me and asked, “what happened?”
Let me tell you what happened. I let a sweet, well-meaning REI tree-hugging, nature freak talk me into a hammock that I never used, tested or set-up before using it in the real outdoors. Thunderstorms, torrential rains and wind gusts of biblical proportions had washed away the serene picture that the little REI sales person had described.
I was cold, wet, angry, embarrassed and overwhelmed. And I was responsible for all of my problems. My ready-fire-aim lack of planning and preparation had caused misery in the once perfect campsite.
Lesson you ask? Yes, lesson #2. The time to plan well, to eliminate as many surprises and field test anything before a significant endeavor is the most valuable time you can spend. To know your limitations and to put your capacities into a reality check is essential. And sticking with a good plan is a mark of maturity and leadership. Yep, you’re right. I had failed.
After catching a ride into town, eating some warm food, regrouping overnight and restocking with my original plan in place, we headed out, once again, into the great outdoors. I slept soundly in my tent the rest of the journey with the knowledge of how bad it can be when you don’t follow to plan.
Change is essential but often foolish.
Change is critical but often painful.
Change is growth but often overrated.
Let’s face it. Yogi Berra was right. “Nobody likes change, except a baby.”
James 1 says that all we have to do to receive wisdom from on high is ask for it. And yet, we often follow my destructive path of change like a shiny lure being pulled through the current attracting a king mackerel. Hooked scaled and cut into neat little fish bites.
Stay your course. Test your assumptions. Take the time to plan. And trust your plan after seeking wisdom from on high! God is not witholding anything from you.