12 March 2002
Over the past few nights, I have snowshoed nearly 10 miles on snows meant for that mode of travel. It started out easy, but with each passing storm the legs have to be raised a little higher and movement becomes a little more arduous-even exhausting; kind of like 2 hours on a Stairmaster programmed by Beelzebub.
Recently, on my way to a remote corner of the boreal forest, I made the painful discovery that I was suffering from a severe case of leg chafing. Despite the discomfort, all I could think about was Mrs. Gibson, my 11th grade English teacher. Every day of her adult life, she had to deal with "inner thigh friction". She didn't know it, but as 16 year-old students, we used to listen for her approach and the tell tale "zip zip zip" of rubbing thighs protected by industrial grade nylons. Even then, my hearing was exceptional. I couldn't then, but I can now empathize with Mrs. Gibson.
Granted, there are worse things in life than the raw and exposed epidermis of one's inner thighs, but right now, I can't seem to figure out what they are. Yesterday afternoon, I was forced to knock on the door of my neighbor and ask if I could borrow some Vaseline. After a search of their closet, I settled for some discarded hotel hand lotion. I turned away from the family, reached deep with a hand cupped with lotion, and applied relief. Turning around, I realized I probably should have made the application more discretely, but the pain warranted immediate action. I thanked them and headed north. They just shook their heads.
It was brutally cold last night, although had I not been coated with a layer of perspiration following my hike, it would have been more tolerable. Movements are never the problem, it is immobility that takes its toll. Nights become a routine of taking off layers then putting them on. Once I start to shiver, I move again.
At sunset I paused, then listened as a saw-whet sang briefly and a moose crashed through the alder adjacent to me. Always mindful of wildlife encounters, I scanned my immediate surroundings for a tree to hide behind should the moose take issue with my presence. It is an unlikely occurrence, but preparation is an integral component of survival.
During the idle hours of reflection and conjecture, I did realize, however, that I have taken my presence in the woods for granted. After 15 years, nothing earthshaking has happened, save for the periodic disorientation with my locations. But, the accumulation of uneventful nights has resulted in a bit of apathy surrounding my safety. I drive cautiously, and fuel my body, but what if something happened?
I carry with me water and extra layers, but that is it. When I enter the woods, I become but a set of footprints that are lost over the next hill. Discretion, it is said, is the better part of valor.
As the temperature dropped below zero, the saw-whet sang no more and the moose and I seemed to accept our stalemate: he sat in the alder, snorting periodically and I ignored him. It was remarkably quiet after that. When I got home, I threw together a small survival package: some matches, dried fruit, and a half-dozen cluster flies. But with recent experience as my guide, I realized that to fully personalize my kit, I needed to add a small container of hand lotion. Thank you Mrs. Gibson.
© W.H. Lane