What is fifty miles? About an hour of time driving? A couple gallons of gas burned? A long enough trip to consolidate missions like shopping for groceries and having lunch with a friend? On foot, it is another thing entirely. If you are a little bit crazy and don't take much gear and walk all day, I suppose you could do it in a couple days. But as a regular backpacking trip, it is the better part of a week. It is 6 days of 8-plus miles. It is at least five nights of sleeping in a tent. At least five set-ups and tear-downs and re-packings. It is six breakfasts of nutty grainy hopefully chocolaty bars. It is six lunches of tuna or salmon in a pouch or beef sticks or jerky and crackers. It is six dinners of dehydrated meals in foil pouches that begin with six waits for the water to boil and then for that water to rehydrate the casserole-like meal. It is at least 12 stops to filter and purify drinking water. For some of us, it is six mornings of taping toes and joints to prevent blisters and other minor but painful injuries and six mornings and six afternoons and six evenings of Advil dosings. Therein is the reason some of us refer to it as Vitamin A. If the usual odds hold, it is a least two days hiking in rain and at least 3 mornings putting on wet boots and at least 2 nights sleeping with raindrops hitting the rain fly of the tent. It is countless mosquito bites and a few fly bites and chapped lips and at least a little sunburn.
But it is also six days and nights of fresh air, fragrant with the scents of flower nectar and the aromatic oils of leaves and the decomposing of leaves and the varieties of fragrance medleys of streamside, woodland, sunny meadow, high pine ridge, which all have their unique signature and which, after a few days, you can identify by smell before you reach them. It is six days of quiet without the sound of traffic or phones and only the rustle of leaves and the calls of birds and the wind creaking the trunks of the trees. It is six mornings of beautiful sunrises or magical mists and six days of wonderful amazing views of panoramic vistas and close-ups of wildflowers and insects and leaves and bark and seeds and buds. It is six evenings of magnificent sunrises or foggy dusks and maybe a few nights of crystal clear sky with more stars than you remember there ever being up there. And it is six days of camaraderie with your hiking companions, of sharing the beauty of the area, of commiserating on your pain or the challenges, of talking about things in depth that you might never have time to reach in the real world, of joking and laughing and clowning, and of sharing stories of past journeys with people who know and understand what you are saying and who appreciate the achievement that each trip represents.
Fifty miles. I got my second Fifty Miler patch today from my sons' Boy Scout troop, for the trip to Isle Royale this summer. Yeah, I am damn proud of it, too!