Notes from The Ouachita Trail: Walking in the Rain
It’s 5am and I’ve been awake a couple of hours already, which might have something to do with the fact that I’ve been holed up in my sleeping bag since yesterday afternoon.
I woke up yesterday morning to rain on the tin roof of the Holdon Valley Vista Shelter. We had stopped at the shelter instead of pushing on a few more miles because we knew rain was in the forecast and we wanted to be able to pack up dry. The fact that we were able to load up our packs and get dressed in our full rain gear while under the cover of the shelter is part of why I have wanted to hike the Ouachita Trail.
These three-walled wooden structures that provide a dry place to sleep every night along the trail make it easier for me to keep going. They have picnic tables and fire rings and sometimes are equipped with firestarter and a tarp for windy nights.
So when we stepped out into the rain yesterday, we knew we had a safe, dry place to land, even if it rained all day. Which it did.
I had hours to contemplate walking in the rain. To give thanks for my years of wet walks in Scotland, training for this very moment. Every past mile I have trampled through mud and wind blowing water in my face has equipped me for this moment.
Not that those miles make this present one easier. Or less wet. But all those accumulated steps give me some certainty that it’s possible to walk in the rain. I have done this before. So I feel pretty sure I can do it again. And that I won’t die.
My training in rain walking keeps me from passing my time by fighting the rain. I don’t spend all day moaning and wishing it would stop. I just keep walking.
Just this step.
Then just one more.
And one more.
And on and on.
Not that there are not miserable moments, but they are scattered in with the pure joy of being alive and deep in the woods.
I notice that my feet hurt.
I notice the way the ferns glisten in the rain.
I notice that my waterproof boots don’t seem to be waterproof after 8 miles of rain.
I notice the way the pine needle bed below me is softer than the rocks we walked on yesterday.
I notice that my pack feels lighter. And then we stop for water and I notice all the ways it feels heavy. And I think about what’s in it and what I could let go of.
And then I notice the way the moisture in the air is painting the woods with mist.
And then there are the long stretches where I don’t notice anything. The beautiful monotony of step after step after step of just being.
And this is what I keep coming back to the woods for. This presence. Moment to moment of being with the steps.
No more fighting myself or the trail or the weather. No more arguing in my head about whether or not I can make it. Of course those things will return but eventually they go away again if I just keep trusting enough to take one more step.
And then one more.
The rain was coming down in buckets by the time we reached the next shelter on the trail. The welcome sight of it in the distance elicited a giddy shout from somewhere deep inside of me. I was soaked to my bones. I suppose all waterproof gear eventually has a saturation point. About three miles earlier I had stopped composing tweets in my head to outdoor companies about waterproof gear that isn’t waterproof. (I’m looking at you Merrell.)
Kandace and I stripped everything off, pulled our blessedly dry sleeping bags out of our trash bag lined packs and crawled inside them to get warm.
For the rest of the day we sat inside our bags, watching the rain pound the ground and the picnic table, commenting on the way the wind had picked up and feeling beyond grateful for these Ouachita Trail Shelters.
We made hot broth.
Then hot tea.
And later hot pouches of Kale White Bean Pasta that Kandace had made and dehydrated weeks earlier. She prepared all our meals this way, and I can’t even explain how dearly loved I feel every time we pull out our pouches with her handwritten labels and instructions (Add 1 cup water. Let sit 20 min).
We figured out that while you’re waiting for the meal to rehydrate, you can tuck the pouch inside your jacket like a little heater.
“It’s like hugging the sun.” Kandace said.
Which feels like a line in a Mary Oliver poem.
Which fits because the only book we’re carrying between us is a book of Mary Oliver poems that Kandace brought. She read one a few days ago by the campfire that I can’t stop thinking about.
Something about reaching a place where the only calendar you know is the tides.
And that we only have today.
This one day.
And maybe one more.
No one really knows.
I don’t know if I can capture how I feel when I hear these words written by someone else who loved to be in the woods as much as I do (and probably even more).
But if this is my one day, I would still want to wake up and walk in it with you. Even if it’s raining.