Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Other 3 Nights I Dwelt in a Tent (Adirondacks Trip) EDITED VERSION

You know what I like? Second chances and having my own blog. I can say what I want, and if I change my mind, I can just hit 'edit' and do it all over again. After reading my blog on the Adirondacks trip, I realized that my writing sucked, and that my first rendition gave off the entirely wrong impression about the trip. I am a much better writer than that (not that some of my posts here don't question why it is I get paid to write).

One of the greatest things in life is getting the chance to break out of the normal routine of life, and experience something out your comfort zone. My typical comfort zone involves books, my laptop, a couch, and my car. There are many things that I love to try, love to do, but they are slightly out of my comfort zone, and I just don't get to do them that often. Camping and hiking are some of those things. I also tend to hide behind the same friends and not break out and meet new people very often. So every once in a while when the opportunity arises to break out of all comfort zones at once, I take it. My own personal moments of attempted bravery.

I've always wanted to be more athletic and graceful at sports. At age 30, I suppose its time to give up hope of making the first round draft pick. But I've always loved camping and hiking, mostly because they don't require a whole lot of grace or athleticism. Of course, some physical fitness is involved in hiking, but I learned long ago you can just wing that. If you can't keep up, just fake a full bladder and escape into the trees for a quick breather! Of course, camping also involves two of my favorite things- fire and star-gazing.

All of which brings me to how I ended up in the Adirondacks staring up at the Milky Way, having one of the best weekends ever. We left Friday night and drove up to Lackawanna, Pennsylvania (half way point) to camp for the first night. There were 8 of us there, and we spent the first night getting to know each other, and laughing at a particular snoring companion. (There's something about a bad snorer that always brings humor to a situation. No matter how bad the camping, you can always look bad and laugh at snoring.) In typical fashion, all 4 girls shared my tent. We used to think it was a 4 man tent, but we have now decided its more like a 3 man. But that never stops girls. We just got in their sardine style and went to sleep. Each of the guys however brought their own tent and went solo. So 8 people go hiking, and we used 5 tents. Go figure.

One of the highlights of the trip for me was getting to make new friends. And this trip was full of opportunities to get to know casual acquaintances better. There were 8 of us on the trip, of which I knew 5 relatively well. Parker and I have known each other since we were little kids. And Angela has been a good friend for a year now. But Yenny, Walter, Jason, and Rachel were all just acquaintances. I didn't even meet Burke until we got in the car. Normally, hanging out with people outside of my circle is not my favorite thing to do. But every once in a while its a healthy thing to just get out and meet new people. Its never easy for me, especially when I'm not in control of the situation, but this proved to be a good experience. Before this trip I would never have expected that I could be friends with some of my fellow campers. The few encounters I have had with them in the past just told me that we were opposites and I would be hard pressed to find common ground. I even wondered if I should even go on the trip, since I'm so different from them that maybe I'm "not their type" and therefore, possibly not welcome. And it is a strike against me that I'm not the greatest hiker in the world. (Which doesn't change the fact that I love to do it.) But instead of feeling like I wasn't good enough for the group, I ended up making new friends. Each person brought unique talents and a fun outlook to the group. Just for the new found friendships, I am glad I went!

Saturday we drove up to the Adirondacks. I had heard it was pretty up there, but truly was not prepared for such a beautiful sight. The mountains are beautiful and green, and the ample glacier lakes are crystal clear. Crane Mountain is absolutely beautiful. The trail is not very well kept, and is very, very rocky, but its beautiful. Rachel and I got separated from the rest of the group at the beginning. (We were looking for a "Ladies' Tree.") So we were about 30 minutes behind the rest till we got to the summit. We took some amazing shots of the Adirondacks while hiking. (Which I am posting as I get them.) At one point we passed several different hikers who let us know that our friends were waiting above for us. My favorite part was when a little girl that couldn't be more than 7 or 8, not carrying any gear, came down the mountain, put her hands on her hips, and said in the most authoritative voice a 7 yr old can muster, "Are you Erin? There's boys waiting for you up there!" I felt like I should apologize to her and run faster. We did eventually get to the top, after smelling a few roses along the way. We joined the rest of the group, and started on the down trail. I love hiking, but honestly, I hate the down trails. My quads just never seem up to the job, no matter how well prepared I am. The trip down was fun with the rest of the group.

Saturday night we went to a completely unmarked campground off the side of the road pretty late at night. (We asked a waitress for a campsite recommendation. Always ask a local for advice!) We quickly discovered that all of the regular campsites were occupied by some locals were were, um, well, stoned. There is no other way to put it. We stayed as far away from them as possible and camped out in the middle of this gigantic meadow. We had a view of Schroon Lake, a few trees, and several acres all to ourselves. Ever since I was a little girl I have loved to watch the stars. I used to watch the movie, "Space Camp," and memorize every move they made, just in case I ever got my chance to go to camp and accidentally get launched into space. I also took astronomy during college, which was a complete disaster. I still can't pick out the North Star! But none of that has ever stopped me from loving to lay out in the dark and just stare endlessly into space. One of the most memorable experiences for me from this trip will be getting to see the Milky Way. I have never seen it before, and always wondered what it would look like. There were more stars than I have ever even imagined before. I was in awe. I couldn't stop looking. So I pulled out my pad and stayed out under the stars for as long as possible to watch. I just looked and looked for hours at the sky. It was amazing to me. It was so beautiful and dark and rich with so many bright stars (I could see all of the planets for the first time as well), that I just wanted to reach out and touch them. Us city girls just don't see things like that often enough. Seeing the sheer majesty of the stars was by far my most favorite experience this weekend. I'm already making plans in my head to go back and see them again. But next time there will be a warm body to snuggle with while watching them.

Again I shared a tent with Rachel, Angela, and Yenny, with the guys in their respective tents nearby. The Snorer was so bad at one point that Ang got out of the tent and went over and shook his to make him get quiet. It worked for a few minutes. At least long enough for me to fall asleep finally. I did hear that the snoring came back rather soon thereafter though. ;-) In the morning we had already all agreed to not go to Church. We had meant to, but at this point we didn't even know where in the woods we were. We had no facilities to get cleaned up and dressed in either. And quite frankly, we were rather gross and smelly. We hadn't used any modern facilities since Friday morning. So instead we chose to stay where we were and enjoy God's beautiful creations for a few hours. When we finally saw daylight we discovered how close to the lake we really were and a few of us went down to jump in a "rinse off" a little bit. But our lake access was quite frankly, a little yucky and not fun for playing in. Now I'm all for getting out of a comfort zone and experiencing something new, but I don't do well when my feet are sucked so deep into the mud that I can't see them anymore. So we went back up to the camp to find that Angela had found a much better area to enter the water. So everyone took off for that. I decided to stay behind and read and relax alone for a little while. We had been enjoying quite a bit of group together time at that point, and I needed a little solo time. I should stop and explain here that throughout the trip I had been getting to know Jason better. I can't tell the story of the weekend without mentioning my surprise at getting to know him. From the minute we all joined up on Friday, Jason and I had started in with a little healthy teasing, and a lot of "debates." Going into this trip, all I knew about him is that we stand on the opposite end of the political spectrum, and very loudly so. But throughout the weekend it was fun for me to get to know him and understand where he's coming from, and why we are so different. But the more I got to know him, the more I realized how similar we really are. He doesn't realize it (until he reads this of course), but giving me the chance to hear his side of the story, and why he believes the way he does, was a very important experience for me. I realize that I need to have a more open mind and compassion for others. Things are not always as they seem, and different can be good. These were all the lessons I learned on Sunday morning, while everyone else was down at the water, and Jason and I were up at the camp still. I'm not saying I'll never argue with him again. In fact, I can guarantee I will argue with him the next time I see him probably. But I'll also give him a fighting chance to change my mind, if that is even possible.

How much arguing was there? I think one of the funniest things said on the entire trip was when Yenny and Walter came back up to the campsite and Yenny said, "Wow, look, they're not fighting anymore!"

Eventually we packed up camp again, and drove further north. We stopped for lunch in a little town with a name I'll never recall at a cafe I'll never forget. It was an organic restaurant with all sorts of fun things inside. We stayed there and enjoyed the beautiful day for a while and then took off to Lake Placid. In Lake Placid our two cars had to part ways though, as the other car was headed to Mt Marcy for a 15 mile hike, and my car was headed for nowhere in partcular. So Angela, Burke, Rachel and I drove around Lake Placid, and completely fell in love with it. Its just a beautiful town- quite a bit like Park City. We saw some of the old Olympics sites, and some of the current training facilities. But my favorite part was just the lake itself. Its huge, beautiful, and clean. We spent a few minutes just enjoying the scenery, and decided to get a head start on driving home. The trip was nearly 10 hours, so we figured we would put a good sized dent in the trip, so that Monday wouldn't be so bad. We had been driving about 3 hours when we realized that we didn't really know where we were going, except south. I think we all agreed (in our car) that the funniest thing said on this trip, was by a toll booth attendant when I asked him where I-83 was. He looked at me kind of funny (he's probably my age) and said in one of the thickest Canadian accents ever heard, "That ain't no road!" He thought I was making a joke out of it, and didn't believe me that I wanted that road. So we called my dad for directions instead. It turns out we wanted I-88. We had a few more fun adventures trying to find a campsite outside of Oneonta, NY. My favorite story involves a very large drunk redneck crowd at a state park. The park ranger even told us we didn't want to stay there. So we found a KOA instead. The funny part about that was that the offices were closed (after 11 pm). The park looked full, but we were desperate, so we just drove around till we found an empty spot, and camped there for the night. We were gone by 6 this morning. The office was still closed, and therefore we were evil little children and didn't pay for our spot. (And on a Sunday! We're going straight to hell!)

If it weren't for these random opportunities to go out and do something different, I'd go crazy sitting at a desk figuring out drayage and shipping for 8 hours a day. I look forward to the rest of Girls Camp in a few weeks, where hopefully I can pass on to the girls just a little bit of my love for experiencing things out of their general comfort zone. A little dirt on your shins and a few bug bites on your arms are good for making you feel alive. When I told my girls that I love sleeping in a tent and would be going with friends to do it for fun over the weekend, one of them very seriously looked at me and said, "You do this for fun? You like this stuff?" Of course, she doesn't realize that I love escaping the city lights where I can see the Milky Way, and that most camping doesn't involve coal trains at 2 am. But I really do love sleeping in a tent with the fly off and staring up at the sky for hours on end, while listening to my friends softly sleeping near me. I'm not so crazy about thinking I was sleeping on a rock, and then discovering it was just a headlamp I could have moved all night! But even then, how many of my friends at work or church or home wore a headlamp and went scurrying for wood in the middle of the night this week so they could build a fire in the middle of a meadow?

One last thought about camping, but this time from the book, "About a Boy" by Nick Hornby (my reading material for the weekend). Marcus, the boy in the book, is lamenting the break up of his mother and her boyfriend, that he's become friends with. The book's narrator says, "He'd once shared a toilet with Roger, when they were both busting for a pee after a car journey. You'd think that if you'd peed with someone you ought to keep in touch with them somehow." I suppose that isn't unlike my thoughts on camping and hiking. After you have shared so much together- the car rides, the meals, the camping, swimming, hiking, and mutual solo time, you have a friendship and bond. After you have "watered" the same trees, you keep in touch somehow.

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