In the second half of the trip the sophomores enjoy several days together as experienced hikers. I’ll describe what a typical day for them is like.
On the Expedition, the hikers tend to wake with the sun, usually before 7:00 A.M. This is not something the instructors impose on them, it is a natural consequence of sleeping outside. Usually there is one hiker who wakes up earlier than the others and who takes on the job of starting the water boiling. The announcement that the hot water is ready gets everyone else moving so they can have hot chocolate, hot cider or herbal tea. Getting out of bed is a bit of a slow process: they get dressed in their sleeping bag for warmth and privacy, and pack up their stuff as they go. The next step is for some hikers to cook breakfast (see my post from Day 3 for information about the meals they eat) while others take down the shelters. The packing stops when breakfast is ready, and then resumes afterwards.
There are plenty of tasks that need to be accomplished before the hikers can leave camp. They have to clean their breakfast dishes and pots. A great way to make this job easier is to eat every bit of food possible first. Hikers use their spoons to get all the food out of their bowls, and usually a hungry individual volunteers to do the same with the pot. The dishes are then scrubbed out to remove any remaining food particles. Pine needles make a great scrubber because they contain natural solvents that cut grease! Finally, the cleaned dishes are rinsed with boiling water so that they are sterile. The other tasks all involve taking down the shelters and dividing and packing all of the group gear. There is a lot to carry, although less at this time in the trip because the hikers have eaten most of their food. The hikers try to divide the weight up fairly rather than evenly– the hikers don’t all carry the same amount, because it is fair for a stronger hiker to carry more and a weaker hiker to carry less. If they divide the weight well, everyone will hike at about the same speed. Also, the crew cleans up the campsite. Any bits of paper from an oatmeal packet, no matter how small, must be picked up as to avoid leaving a mess. In this program, we follow the standards of “LNT Camping” — LNT stands for Leave No Trace. We leave campsites as we found them, which means we don’t leave any mess and we try to not have too much of an impact on an area.
When everyone is ready to leave, the sophomores will speak with their crew leaders about the route for the day. Usually, the coleaders and instructor have picked a sophomore to be the leader for the day — he or she (sometimes in pairs) must come up with the routing, figure out how many miles the group will hike, find a spot for lunch, and find alternate campsites in the surrounding area in case something doesn’t go as planned. Sometimes trailheads can be hard to spot, and sometimes rivers or ponds have dried up. The leader for the day will have the responsibility of carrying the map and compass, and with such tools, he or she will keep the whole group in line for the day. Finally, the sophomores set off hiking as a group.
Hiking requires a variety of skills. One of the few hard-and-fast rules we have on the Expedition is that the crews must stay together in a group while hiking. This means that fast hikers have to make sure that they slow down to the pace of the group, which can be harder than it sounds. There are other skills that the hikers exercise during the day, including reading a map properly, taking an appropriate amount of time during each hiking break, recognizing poison oak, and even different methods for tying their boots depending on whether they are headed uphill or down. Most hiking days will involve at least one river crossing. River crossings take a lot of caution on everyone’s part — no one likes to go for an unexpected swim! The instructors and coleaders will scope out the river crossing area to make sure they have the best spot to cross; a good spot to cross will be shallow with slow-moving water. Not all situations are perfect, and sometimes, crews have to hike a few hundred meters to find a better spot. Once the group finds a good spot, there are a few ways to support each other while crossing the river. Some groups prefer the chain of five or six, where crew members lock arms and face upstream while slowly stepping across the bottom. If the water is moving a little faster, some will choose the tripod method, which includes three members all locking arms and walking through the river. No matter how many crew members cross at once, all members are instructed to unclip their packs and never cross their legs while walking in the river. Heavy packs attached to someone’s back plus an unsure footing in fast-paced water can only lead to a soppy ending. Most river crossings occur uneventfully, with everyone staying as dry as possible. The hikers tend to change out of their boots to cross rivers so as to keep them dry. Before changing back into them on the other side of the river they will take a moment to look at their feet, checking for places where blisters are threatening to form and protecting those using the equipment in their med kits. The kits include moleskin, tape, bandaids, extra bandages, and scissors for treating feet. Some people are more susceptible to getting blisters and some are barely affected by their new boots.
While hiking, the sophomores often pass the time talking, singing songs, or testing each other with minute mysteries, but silent appreciation of the woods is also common.
Lunch is a bit diffuse in the woods in that it starts immediately after breakfast and continues until dinner. The hikers have lots of quick-and-easy foods that they can snack on during breaks or even while hiking. They do tend to stop for an extended break at some point during the day and call it lunch, usually picking a scenic spot with plenty of space to sit.
If the crew gets to camp early in the afternoon, they’ll play games, eat more food, nap, or enjoy setting up camp in the daylight! Here’s a gallery of some downtime activities.
Tomorrow I’ll share information about a typical night.