Saturday, May 4, 2013

Old Man of the Mountain

Dad at Shining Rock in October

You guys who have been hanging around here a while know my dad as Camp Papa, his blog-commenting name. He just yesterday emerged from spending a week on the Appalachian Trail. (My mom was visiting me because she didn't want to be up at their mountain house alone for the week, though I told her she wouldn't be alone. There would be bears and moonshiney ghosts.)

I am proud of that guy. Just eighteen months ago, before he lost 100+ pounds and took up hiking, he would not have been able to dream of doing that trek. Not even one day of it. It's like he's been given a new life. Or more that he's gone out and gotten it for himself.

He was to do the hike with seven other guys, and he had given lots of thought and preparation to his gear and everything, and he has been walking long distances, so I wasn't worried about him. But then Mom showed up at my house and told me about dropping him at the trail head. "How did he seem?" I asked. "Well," she said, "it was like the Roy Rogers galoshes."

The Roy Rogers galoshes: For long, long years, those galoshes have been part of family lore. When my dad was a kid, he was very poor. His mother worked hard to raise her three children alone, and they struggled to make ends meet. Sometimes the ends did not meet. The story goes that when Dad was in maybe the third grade, his shoes wore out and all he had to wear to school were a pair of Roy Rogers galoshes, in rain or shine. One moral of the story as it has been told is that he didn't mind this very much. Another part of the story is that, when I first heard of the galoshes--I was probably younger than Laura--I announced that I couldn't hear about them any more ever because they made me want to cry. They stood as a symbol for all the things about his childhood that were difficult, awkward, and make-do. Those galoshes pained me.

Another legend of this kind was his bicycle--the only bike he ever had. It didn't have pedals and it didn't have a seat--just a pole sticking up--but he loved it and couldn't wait to come home and ride it. Do you see now why, as a younger person, I couldn't stand to hear this stuff? Also he never had a birthday party, I'm serious.

It's okay now though.

mom and dad feb 13


Anyway, at my house on Sunday, Mom painted a vivid picture of his meeting up with his hiking buddies in the rainy woods. They arrived all wearing these slick, breathable, two-piece rain suits. Dad, she said, had cobbled together two different dollar store ponchos to cover him and his pack. "And the ponchos were different colors!" she said, shaking her head. "And he has a rain suit at the house!" she protested. "I tried to get him to take it, but he insisted he'd be fine with the ponchos."

"It's the Roy Rogers galoshes!" we exclaimed together.

That night he turned on his phone long enough to text her. "Miserable day. Pray for a dry night for me." We stewed and worried. He also said it was much harder going than he expected, with the steep climbing and the heavy pack combined.

The whole week, as we were going about our normal business, I thought of him out on the trail, trudging forward. Cold frosty mornings and misty foggy afternoons. I thought of how tedious I would find it taking off my boots at night, knowing I had to put them on again in the morning.

Mom was expecting to go pick them up in the Nantahala Gorge this morning, but with the weather about to turn stormy again, they pushed quicker and came out last night. Someone had left a car, and they all trundled to the mountain house to spend the night. He said it was like arriving at the Ritz Carlton.

We talked to him today. He said it was the hardest thing he's ever done--harder than basic training in the Air Force, harder than training for high school football--just really hard. He kept saying, "Did I mention it was hard?" And that if there had been an exit door, he might have taken it. But he stuck with it. They slept in hammocks every night, and boiled water to make food. They met through-hikers who were going all the way, and got to dip a toe into the quirky culture of the AT. They went about fifty miles, which isn't huge daily distance, maybe, but there was a lot of climbing. He learned a lot about the practical aspects of the whole enterprise--gear and food and all that. And he goes, "I've always heard that you can do more than you think you can, but I never actually had to do it."

Old guys! They're tough! I am happy for him.

He said he wouldn't want to do it again next week, but he might want to do it again next year, and he was talking about us doing some kind of family trek, not a week but a few days. I reminded him that the last time I went camping, I took along frappuccino in glass bottles. Whereas he had sawed off his toothbrush handle to cut weight. So we'll see what comes of that.

18 comments:

Michele said...

Congrats to your dad! That is a hard trail.

I think the only backpacking I'd like to do is the type my mom did in New Zealand. According to her you hike 10 miles to a nice little cabin where people greet you with tea and food.

Jane said...

That is incredible! Congratulations to your dad; that is quite an accomplishment.

delaine said...

Yep, that's my man! Determined to the end. I know I could not have done the fifty two miles that he hiked. If it had been flat, maybe. If someone carried my pack and the cooler with chilled diet cokes. Anyway, he did it! I am proud of Camp Papa!

Camp Papa said...

Wow! My first featured appearance in SubMat. I love you, sweet girl. This whole enterprise was not an entirely rational undertaking and I realize that, in the scheme of things, it is not a big deal. Others have done so much more. But, I haven't. I have never put myself in a situation where I felt so vulnerable and at such risk of failure with no options for early exit. To have finished, however small a thing it actually is, feels like a personal achievement.

gretchen said...

I am SO impressed Camp Papa! It's a tremendous achievement! Though I think you should probably have ditched the Roy Rogers galoshes panchos and gone with the real rain suit. I hope he is now soaking in a hot tub, because if I slept in a hammock for that many nights in a row, I'd be crippled. Congrats!

AlGalMom said...

Camp Papa was already my hero, so it was quite a treat to hear about his adventure. Way to go!

Allison said...

Camp Papa is an amazing person. I have backpacked exactly twice in my life and I tell you, it will never happen again. Too hard! Too painful. Congratulations!

Jan said...

I was thinking of him and praying for an easy/dry hike all week. I think I must be close to your parents' ages and I know how much can go into doing something new and hard at our age. Camp Papa is inspiring. (And I'll bet a 2 or 3 day trip would be a lot of fun when Hank is just a wee bit older. I backpacked in the Sierras with my family 40 years ago and it was a great experience.)

Steve said...

Wow. Camp Papa looks great! Hadn't seen a photo of him sans the 100 lbs. Give him a copy of Wild by Cheryl Strayed and he'll be back on the trail in no time. Now THERE is an example of Roy Rogers galoshes. Congratulations and hats off to him!

M said...

Wow on all fronts for Camp Papa's accomplishments and the emotional fortitude required to achieve them. Just flat-out wow!

Elle said...

I'm sorry, I'm a little confused by the galoshes as a device in the narrative. I know it isn't really the point, so ok (but!).

That finished hike is really a thing to hold up to the light. It may, in fact, be the light. Congratulations to your father. I am inspired bc the baby has a dream of thru-hiking in the next 5 years & while I love hiking, I have never camped. I had, until I read this, never thought of just trying it out a little piece of advancing pieces before setting out on a 6m trip. Scary, though! Did no one ever see Easy Rider? I didn't even know your pop was away & now I am flooded with relief he is home safe! xox

Lisa Lilienthal said...

You go, Camp Papa! Congrats on your trek and on your first feature on SubMat :). Also, now you all need to read Wild by Cheryl Strayed.

poz said...

I have a buddy doing the AT end-to-end right now, interestingly enough. I've backpacked my whole life, so it's easy to forget how alien it feels the first time. But you eventually get comfortable with what you have and learn what you really need. That said, technology has made it a lot easier: breathable rain gear and water filters being right near the top of the list.

poz said...

I have a buddy doing the AT end-to-end right now, interestingly enough. I've backpacked my whole life, so it's easy to forget how alien it feels the first time. But you eventually get comfortable with what you have and learn what you really need. That said, technology has made it a lot easier: breathable rain gear and water filters being right near the top of the list.

Rebekah said...

Congrats Camp Papa! I'm glad he's done it. I did 9 days on the AT with some middle schoolers as part of one of the World's Worst Summer Jobs. It builds character to share a Fig Newton between 5 people and not shower for 9 days. I'm more happy for him that his health is so much improved. Wonderful kudos to all of you !

Common Household Mom said...

Well, congratulations to your Dad - that is an incredible thing to do. He says it isn't a big deal, but it is.

And how happy for me to discover that you have resumed blogging since March 19th which, for some reason, is that last date that my tracker thingy decided to update me about your blog. I now have about 15 blog posts to catch up on, and find out what's going on down south. Looks like there was some mud, just from glancing at the photos.

Elizabeth said...

How in the hey did I miss this post. I am overwhelmed by what Camp Papa did -- just awesome. This post made me smile in a huge way which says so much given that it's been the most exhausting week ever.

Holly said...

I missed this when you posted it, but I must point out.. May 3, the day he finished his trip, was the 10th anniversary of the day New Hampshire's Old Man of the Mountain smashed to the ground. (But it still remains our beloved state symbol).