An Interesting Day in the Woods
Last winter, my friend and Jack Pitfield and I were wondering what to do with our day off. The rocks were wet and the rivers too high, and it was supposed to snow up in the mountains. We decided to play kick the can in the wilderness. Our game is simple: you pick a spot on the map, hike in, and hike out. We were itching for adventure, so we chose a river in Middle Prong Wilderness far from any trail, and went for it.
Middle Prong is a special place for me. There is little on a map to differentiate its many ridges and gullies. For me, its inscrutability makes it exceptionally alluring. As we traveled through the rain, we found ourselves challenged by navigation—the trails were hard to distinguish from creeks, and much of our route involved a 1.5 mile bush-push down steep terrain. As the day wore on, we were also challenged by the roughness of the terrain and the revolting taste of too much summer sausage. All the while, we were jumping around like kindergarteners, oohing over the swollen waterfalls and the wild, wind-whipped trees.
It was a beautiful, difficult day. Jack likes to say that things are “interesting” when he means that they are miserable, and I try to take that same mentality, especially when I am in the woods. We were soaked to the bone when it started snowing, and we had to constantly check-in with each other about our temperature. It is easy for good friends to forget to process essential questions, like “Are we taking care of ourselves and each other?” and “Are we making good decisions?” It was a powerful experience to get to where we so often ask our students to go: out on the edge of our comfort zones, giving it all we got, and knowing that if we don’t stay on our A-game, things could get difficult. They were further complicated when we got back to the car and couldn’t drive up and over the pass home. We took the long road down the other side of the mountain, and called in to our friends to tell them we were doing just fine. Yes, things indeed got interesting.
I am drawn to my memory of this day because it taught me that anything can happen when you step off of a trail into the deep woods, even if you only intend to be there for a few hours, even if those woods are in your back yard. And that when things get interesting, there is nothing more rewarding than figuring it all out with a good friend.