It was not my time to be waking up this morning, however the low rumble of, what was that, thunder? eeked it’s way into my subconscious semi-waking mind and got my curiousity. I kept the cover over my eyes and just laid there in my lovely lucid state remembering my dream and listening to hear if more thunder was going to roll on in. My dream was about food. I was on my way to begin a four day backpacking trip with my best friend Anne, we were in the dessert of Southern California and we were driving out to the trail head when I suddenly remembered that we had not packed ourselves any food. Upon this realization, I stopped the car and pulled over on the dirt road which we were travelling upon. Anne was too quick to say “it’s okay, we don’t need to eat out there” to which my retort was “no way are we going out there without any food, we will never make it”. It’s kind of like the way she is about water too. She doesn’t get real thirsty, and doesn’t want to drink and doesn’t want to drink too much because then she will have to pee. When she reads this, I am sure she will laugh!
Anyway, on my mind is Food. Food and more food. I’ve got food on my mind 24/7. I say food and not eating, because this is an important distinction right now. Food, is what I have been preparing almost constantly for the past month. Preparing, cooling, dehydrating, vacuum sealing, labeling and stashing away for future consumption on the trail. In my dream, I pulled the car over and went to check my backpack to see if I had thought to pack any food at all. Come to find out, I had thrown my entire bear canister full of food inside, and Anne had also stashed some cheese, crackers and salami’s on the top. What? I had this all along? This is typical of me in my life. Whenever I think I am unprepared for something, or think I forgot something, I discover that, in fact, I had totally covered my bases and just forgot about doing it. It’s like one time many many moons ago, I came home late at night a touch inebriated (I took a cab home) and went straight to bed and passed out. In the morning when I had to wake up for work, I realized that even though I had no memory of it, I had taken off my clothes and put on my pajamas, brushed my teeth and set my alarm, correctly!
So, the thunder rolls in and I peek through my eye cover to check out the situation of weather outside, and am impressed by the thick dark gray clouds that are closing in the sky outside my Dad’s humble Orange County home. Rain is falling decently, and the excitement of the storm sparks my heart and I know I am not going to be able to go back to sleep, despite needing way more of it. I decide to get up and make coffee. My mind meanders back to this past Summer in France, I hiked a lot in the rain, and I weathered quite a few great storms. My gear withstood the test and so did my spirit, but it was not easy and not always pleasurable. On one particular night, my tent sat perched on a downward slope, in tall grasses, facing an incredible spread of craggy peaks that folded themselves in layers upon layers into the distance. It was one of those nights as were so often in France, I struggled to find a flat piece of Earth to set up my tent. There was a big storm coming and and time was of the essence, so I parked myself on the flattest ground I could find, and got situated just in time for the storm to hit. I had to cook my meal under the vestibule of my tent and eat inside my tent, something I rarely do, but in this case it was quite cozy and necessary. Ramen noodles were the meal of choice (photo is of another meal of instant potatoes with fresh carrots and zucchini), while not the most filling and calorically dense food, they are certainly one of the best comfort foods out on the trail. As the darkness set in, it was replaced with a spectacular lightening show. From inside my tent, the lightening would flicker, flash and flit about, followed my monstrous claps and booms of Thunder. It is said if you count how many seconds it takes from when the lightening strikes to when the thunder hits, that is how many miles away the storm is. Well, in this case, it was on top of me. I counted anywhere from 1 second to as many as 8, but most often it was 1 or 2, and it was loud! The wind howled and I barely kept my tent upright by bracing the trekking pole that stands it up with one hand and trying to spoon noodles into my mouth with the other. I did not sleep well that night, tossed and turned as the storm and wind relentlessly raged on. By morning my tent material was brushing up against my face, as the pole had finally taken a dive. It must have looked quite the sight to a bird flying above me, like a gray parachute on the ground with somebody moving around under it.
Morning was 5:15am, still dark out, and with tent in face and rain still falling, it was up and to it for me. I had to make it to the quaint village of Chateau Queryas to the Post Office before noon. I had shipped myself a re-supply package of food and provisions that I knew I would not be able to find en-route, and I was really looking forward to seeing if my strategy actually worked, not to mention the snacks and great treats that awaited me in that little box. It was 10 miles to the town and from the description in my guidebook there was a lot of down hill, and a lot of trees. Ok, I can deal with that. Thank God for my little camp stove for that cup of hot coffee really hit the spot that cold wet morning. Everything I had was soaked, and I had to break camp in the rain too. No matter, I was going to a town, where there would be an actual campground with a flat piece of Earth to sleep on, and I could hang my things out on a real clothes line to dry- and take a hot shower and eat a meal in the village. Such luxury!
One almost never ceases to think about food once out on the trail for any longer than two weeks or so. We call it hiker hunger. For me, it doesn’t set in full force until about week two to three typically. This is the type of hunger where your stomach knows no stopping point, no matter how much you eat. I was on week three, so, I was motivated. I had devised a method of keeping my feet dry the day before, I call it chicken feet. I took two extra one gallon Zip lock bags I had, and stuck my foot through the bottom, secured them around my ankles with a hair band and voila, as they say in France, I had waterproof shoes! It never failed to make me laugh out loud though, to look down and see my funny looking feet. They reminded me of those chickens who have all those feathers down around their ankles, they look like they have fancy winter fur boots on. This method worked for me the day before for a total of 6 hours of hiking in the rain. Honestly not bad and I thought I would be able to make it all day. But, and there’s always a but when hiking, I managed to somehow get off trail in the mud and of course I stepped into ankle deep watery, sloshy, sticky mud. My feet were instantly soaked and full of mud. I ditched the chicken feet at that point, and in the morning whilst getting ready to hit the trail, I came across the muddy, wet plastic bags and debated whether it was even worth trying again, and decided to walk with wet feet and let them get wetter. Actually, there is a certain freedom in that, I ended up discovering. When your feet are already wet and muddy, you no longer have to even try to side step a puddle or navigate a stream crossing, you just plough right through all of it. It’s a great feeling! I will say, however, after 10 miles plus of wet feet, the first thing I wanted to do when I made it to the village campground, was get them off! My feet were shriveled like little prunes, and were an awful pale white, and cold, so cold. I tell you what, sometimes a hot shower can save your life!
You may be wondering if I made it to the post office for my food package? Yes, I made it before noon because I hiked like hell through the woods, what beautiful scenery it was. This was truthfully one of the most beautiful days of hiking and unfortunately, I was rushing through it. The forest was so lush and just exuding pure oxygen, everything was dripping with water, you could smell the wood and earth and moisture. Steam rose from the ground around small ponds, and little rivulets of water cascaded down the trails. I would have loved to make this one of those days that you just take your time to enjoy the scenery and admire Nature’s perfect artistry. Alas, I was an Aries on a mission. The last downhill to the village was practically skiiable, it was so steep, and it seemed to have gone on forever because I knew I was so close. I could hear the road and the cars below, but the forest was so dense I could see nothing. I finally dropped down onto the narrow winding road, careful not to be in the way of traffic. There was the town, just up the hill and around a few bends. It was a precarious traverse just to walk along that road actually, with it being positioned slope-side with guard rails, and tight turns, there was no shoulder for a hiker to be walking, yet there was no other way to get to town. I finally made it to the charming town of Chateau Queryas, with about 20 minutes to spare to locate the Post Office, as I had assumed that the post office would be open until noon since it was a Saturday. Well, you know what they say when you assume? Yes, I was wrong. The post office, was closed on Saturdays. And Mondays, and it opened again on Tuesday, at 1:00pm. Ha! It was hugely disappointing at the moment, but now that I look back on it, it is comical, and actually Chateau Queyras was a fantastic village to spend a couple of days of rest and relaxation, especially in the continuing rain.
I had to meander further along the windy narrow road to get to the heart of the village, where the predominant construction was stone. All the houses were like little caves, dark, dank tunnels into themselves, with short thick wooden doors, maybe one window near the door, that couldn’t allow much light to filter in, and stacked two stories high. Cobblestone paths led the way through the Centre Ville to where the Clock Tower,the Water Fountain and the Mairie were. These were three things that I discovered existed no matter what in every village. Oh, and a boulangerie. That always existed, it was just a matter of where. It’s like being in Boston, you don’t ask if there is a Dunkin Donuts nearby, you ask where is the Dunkin Donuts. In little French villages, you ask where is the boulangerie? I had passed a small cafe on my way to the post office, at the top of the hill, and it caught my eyes because it had all the quintessential elements of a European cafe where I had visions of sitting outside, sipping coffee and writing post cards to my friends and family back home. It was here that I spent many hours over the following days while I waited for the Post Office to open at 1:00pm on Tuesday! I enjoyed endless cups of cafe double, which in this case was equivalent to a double espresso with a little steamed milk. I have to say, French coffee is just amazing. I found lovely post cards, sat out on the terrace eating and writing and just enjoying the forced down time. When Tuesday finally rolled around, I was anxious to get back on the trail, but more anxious to see if my package had arrived. To my surprise, it did! I have to say, though, thank God for my French-English dictionary and the friendliness of some locals at the post office who helped me to retrieve my package. I felt it was an enormous accomplishment getting this box of food and provisions, and for this I have to thank my friend Isa who helped me so much back in Chamonix when I mailed out the package. The staff at the Post Office there had never heard of Chateau Queyras and seemed a little stumped as to why some American woman wanted to ship a package, to herself, at this little village they did not even have a postal code for. It was quite comical actually. But it worked! SO, here’s to rainy days, thunderstorms, re-supply packages, hot food, and the help of friends and strangers alike!