The trek had become increasingly difficult with each ascending step. The relatively flat terrain in the morning was a good warm-up, but the afternoon was proving more challenging than initially expected. Though the trail was a gradual climb that wrapped around the mountain, the day’s effort was beginning to take its toll on the crew. It didn’t help that the rains from the night before made their planned river crossing impassable. As the water fell upon the mountain and made its way to the valley, small streams found their way to the main river, transforming it into a treacherous swell that would make even the most ambitious rapids expert think twice.
Chris knew these situations weren’t uncommon and that it wouldn’t be a true excursion without a few surprises thrown into the mix. Regardless, the new route added three miles to their hike, all of which was a gradual uphill climb. The trail was surrounded with moderately dense forest, which provided a nice shield from the sun but required the crew to keep their eyes down, focused on the multitude of tripping opportunities the root systems had placed in their way. Looking back at the crew, Chris knew they were running short on time; the sun would be down within two hours, and they were at least three from the next camping outpost. They could probably make it shortly after dark, but looking back at Kate and Kevin, who were beginning to fall behind pace, Chris knew it wasn’t going to happen.
Chris stopped and turned back to Kate and Kevin. “Alright, guys, we’re probably not making it to camp tonight. Sun will be down in a few hours anyway, so there won’t be much of a view.”
Kate sighed. “Are you sure we can’t make it? I don’t mind hiking in the dark for a little while. We’ve done it before.”
“True, but at this point in the evening, who knows if they even have any spots left. I was up here a few weeks ago, and the place was filled by about this time...”
“Why didn’t we plan a route that would have gotten us there by now?” Kevin interrupted.
“I did, but our planned crossing was significantly deeper and had a much stronger current than expected,” Chris shot back. “This was the best route we could take, given the current situation. I think it’s best that we start looking for a relatively flat area next to the trail and set up camp.”
Kate and Kevin nodded, and the crew continued down the trail. The nearby terrain wasn’t dense in shrubbery or small plants, but finding a flat opening near the path that was free of trees and growth was another story. The park allowed for makeshift camping spots as long as no fires were started and campers left nothing behind. Chris was confident they would be fine as long as a sufficient opening could be spotted before the sun went down.
Abruptly, Chris halted pace, went over to the side of the trail, and looked out into the forested terrain. Kate arrived at his side and tried to identify what he was looking at without asking. They quietly waited along the edge of that trail as Kevin brought his saunter to a halt; in the mere fifteen minutes since their last stop, he had already fallen several paces behind.
“Are we there yet?” Kevin asked as he bent over to catch his breath.
“No, but I think I found something we should take a look at,” Chris responded as he removed his pack and walked off the trail into the surrounding forest.
Kevin looked up at the trees. He wasn’t a camping expert, but he knew
they were running short on time. Where the hell are they going? Oh well, might as well enjoy a few minutes with this pack off my shoulders. Kevin followed.
Briskly walking between the trees and brush, Chris and Kate approached a series of bushes clustered next to a large maple tree. Stepping closer, small branches covered with orange, red, and yellow flowers took form, each scaling a thicket next to several trees. Chris approached the bushes, bent down, and carefully examined them.
“Alright, do either of you know what this is?” Chris asked as he gestured toward the flowers and turned to Kate and Kevin.
Kate stared at the bush and then back to Chris and shook her head. Chris looked to Kevin. “Any ideas?”
“I’m guessing you’re about to tell us,” Kevin responded in a frustrated
“Hey, you both asked me to help you learn more about how to survive
out here. Kate, I know you’ve been doing this for years, and Kevin, I know this is only your... what? Second? Third?”
“Right, well, this one is a nice find.” Chris turned and pointed to the bush. “These are jewelweed, they’re native up here, and they’re safe to eat.” Chris quickly removed several flowers. Holding them in his fist, he opened his hand to show Kate and Kevin.
“They’ve disintegrated,” Kevin remarked, peering down at Chris’ hand.
“Yes. These plants are frequently referred to as touch-me-nots because they immediately release their seeds once disturbed.” Chris reached down with his other hand, took a pinch of seeds from his palm and placed them in his mouth. “Taste similar to walnuts. You can also eat the flowers,” he continued. “Either of you like to try?” Chris held out his hand.
“I’m alright for now,” replied Kate, who had previously tried similar plants with Chris on more than one occasion.
Kevin shook his head. “I’m really not trying to be a pain, but can we please find a camping spot and then cook some real food? I really need to rest for a few hours.”
“Suit yourselves. There’s always insects.” Chris turned and started walking back to the trail where they’d left off.
Chris, Kate, and Kevin were on the trail for another mile before Kate spotted a plot to set up camp. The site was unremarkable: a gap between a few trees, roughly twenty square feet, that had clearly been used in the past as a pitstop. Chris immediately began unpacking, and Kevin and Kate followed.
“Kevin, do you want me to set up the tents or get moving on food? Your call.” Chris gestured as he began to open his pack.
“I’ll set up the tents, and you do the food. Fast. Please,” Kevin replied as he whipped his pack off and took a deep, exasperated breath.
The camp setup was relatively simple. Kevin had a tent in his pack for himself. Kate had a second, which was large enough for her and Chris. The cooking equipment and food fell to Chris to carry. The goal was to keep each person under forty-five pounds in weight; it wasn’t perfect, but Chris had hoped the food and cooking supplies would bear a bit more weight than the camping gear.
The camp came together within fifteen minutes, and Chris prepared a relatively quick meal: dehydrated pasta with some granola he had brought along. He had always hated the prepackaged meals but under- stood they were the best option when collecting food wasn’t the primary objective of the trip. Truth be told, Chris found this particular weekend to be one of the easier ones of the past few months. Kate was an old friend, about to start her second year of business school, and had camped with him many times before. She was very capable in survival situations, as Chris had observed during numerous encounters. She clearly had no need for the current “survival” trek the crew was on, but Chris guessed she just needed a weekend away with a familiar face or two.
Kevin was a different case entirely. A descendent of Korean immi- grants, he spent most of his childhood and adolescence living in Silicon Valley parked in front of a computer screen. His overall skills were unremarkable when compared to the broader pool of gifted prodigies in the Valley, but he was more than capable. Kevin studied computer science at Berkeley and was set to graduate next May. The swath of internships and opportunities, though exactly what he wanted, didn’t allow for him to disconnect. Kevin spent the summer working for an e-commerce startup. He was part of a team assigned to develop new algorithms that assign a numeric value to each action an individual made on the web. Progress was grueling, results were promising, but Kevin knew this wasn’t something a group of interns were going to solve over the summer, especially not without more data. Wrapping his work in early August, Kevin decided to disconnect from the modern world and explore one he didn’t grasp. Two weeks later, he was in the Northeast and on his second camping excursion with Chris.
Making quick work of the tents, Kate and Kevin came over to Chris, who was wrapping up the evening’s meal. The sun had recently set, and darkness was beginning to take over the camp and surrounding woods. The crew quickly ate their meal in silence as they attempted to refuel from a hard day of hiking, while also looking forward to the prospect of lying down for a few hours.
Shortly after dinner, Chris walked around the camp and grabbed all of the crew’s wrappers and unused food containers, and put them in a small yellow sack. “Alright, before we call it, somebody needs to go out and hang this.”
“I can do it,” said Kevin as he stood. He had learned during his last trip that food and wrappers needed to be stored away from the camp and high in the air, in the event predators or scavengers decided to descend upon their camp. Kevin took a rope and the bag from Chris, and set out down the trail.
Kevin knew he only needed to walk a few hundred feet and then find a solid branch to anchor the pack. After a few minutes, a suitable tree came into view on the path with reasonably low branches from which to throw the rope over and raise the food into the air out of animals’ reach. Bears were relatively rare in these parts, but hanging food at a safe height away from camp was one of the must-dos Chris had taught Kevin. As he attempted to throw the rope over the lowest branch, a crackle from down the trail broke his concentration. Pausing, Kevin looked down the path at the glow of a headlight approaching him.
“Evening, any idea how far to the next outpost?” the approaching man inquired.
“At least an hour out if you follow the trail. Sorry, we didn’t make it ourselves. One hell of a day,” Kevin replied.
“I hear that,” the man said as he raised his safari hat, gave his head a quick scratch, and then put it down. “Any chance you know a place where I could set up shop for the night?”
“We might have some extra space at our camp,” Kevin said as he gestured for the man to follow him.