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Come Walk With Me

by Tom Stewart

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I have been an avid backpacker for seventeen years and during that time, I have gained first hand experience in almost every aspect of the sport. I have had to endure snoring from a hiking partner so sickening murder seemed only natural. I have been wet, cold, and so miserable, I promised God I would never go into his woods again. I have dealt with irate rattlesnakes and gnawing porcupines. I have been so hot I wished to be in the Arctic without clothes and so cold to this day I still ask myself, why? I have been swarmed by black flies in New York and New Hampshire. In Pennsylvania, I've been attacked by bees and dumped on by mindless caterpillars as they defoliated the forest, but I keep going back for more. I absolutely love backpacking. One of my unique experiences that I'd like to share with you, and I've had many, is something that I'm sure every hiker has had to endure at one time or another, those little creepy crawly things that we tend to ignore: bugs. I have many interesting stories on this subject, but one incident stands alone.

I was on a solo trip on the Chuck Keiper Trail in Northern Pennsylvania. It was supposed to be a beautiful weekend and I was looking forward to two days of peace and quiet, that would soon be proven a misconception. I awoke the first morning from a tossing and turning episode that was supposed to resemble sleep, and felt a tremendous amount of soreness above my left eye. I couldn't remember injuring this area the day before, so I assumed that I slept on it or some simple explanation like that. This wasn't the usual soreness like that related to a small bug bite, but rather like a wolverine had somehow got a hold of my face and took a little swing, while I was sleeping. Curious about the situation, I took out my trusty camp mirror and quickly held it to my face; I was astonished at the disfigured face it reflected back. Something had came into my tent during the night and violated me.

I'm forever grateful that no one was there to witness my atrocity, they would have certainly thought I was auditioning for a part in a popular Disney movie. My left eye was so swollen I could hardly see from it, I was raving and bitching, talking in tongues and swinging my arms wildly, and to liken the facsimile, I walked with a slight yaw to the left from my twisted back (I'll get into that later). All of this to no avail, of course.

I never did find out what caused me so much grief. I searched every inch of my tent that morning hoping that I had rolled on whatever had bitten me during the night and would find its worthless corpse crushed like a leaf in a book; I found nothing. Whatever it was just enjoyed a little of my body fluid and puked in the wound. My eye was swollen for days after the attack. I know it made me respect those small critters that we tend to ignore.

Which brings me to my back.... At the time of this episode, I was sleeping on a cheap sleeping pad, a pad that might resemble sleeping on an old yellow school tablet. It was all I could afford at the time and for a while it served me well, but I painfully found out I needed more. Upon waking that special morning, my back was as stiff as a four day old corpse. I crawled out of my tent like a drunken sloth. I was in pain. I'm not talking about the kind of pain you get when you bump your head on the refrigerator door, I'm talking about the kind of pain that makes you wish you'd sooner be hung-over and puking up five days of bile, the kind that makes you curse the day you were born. I was stumped. How long would it take for anyone to find my withered corpse way down here? If I didn't die, how long would it take me to crawl seven miles up this valley to my vehicle? I could vividly picture my bleeding hands and knees. My mind raced frantically for a solution.

I consider myself a pretty mechanical type of guy so I tried to visualize how bowed and bent my back was. I thought I could bow and bend it back to the way it was supposed to be, all I needed was a jig of sorts. There was a creek bank nearby that I thought kind of resembled the contour of how my back was supposed to look. I dragged my useless muscle seized body to it and laid down over it in slow, sickening, spasmodic movements. I laid on that creek bank and promised God I'd be a good boy if he'd only let me get home. After what felt like fifty-two hours of electrical torture, I could finally stand erect and say that I resembled a human again. It felt like a great achievement to walk again. I almost felt like dancing to celebrate my new found erectness, but I immediately fled the forest in fear of some other unknown occurrence. The woods beat me into a quivering fetal heap. It didn't take long after this trip for me to buy an industrial strength sleeping pad.

I can recall another memorable trip that stands out, one about bees. It was one of those hot summer days when you are starting to really wonder if the people at home who told you were crazy for going in all that heat were right. My friend and I were quietly walking along, lost in our own thoughts. I was thinking of swimming in a cold mountain stream and quietly wondering how serious my chafing really was. I was still day dreaming when I glanced over at my hiking partner. He was doing some type of jig or Texas Two Step and I thought it kind of strange that he picked this particular spot to start dancing, especially with a backpack on. Suddenly, my pleasant thoughts were snapped from my heat fogged mind by the searing pain of something chewing on my arm. Upon re-entry into reality, I realized we were surrounded by bees, yellow jackets to be exact; I hate yellow jackets. I started dancing too. Someone watching from a hidden perch would have been amazed at out choreography. It was then that I think we both realized that swatting and dancing was exactly what angry bees thrive for. We immediately ran for our useless lives. We regrouped a couple of hundred feet back and examined our situation. We both had a few stings and decided we weren't going to let insects dominate our trip. It was then that I realized that during the dancing and swatting ritual, I had lost my watch. I liked my watch. To me my watch was worth a couple more stings; I could take anything they could dish out. I dropped my pack and dove in. They were waiting for me. I frantically rooted around in the weeds and leaves constantly switching arms. While one arm was rooting, the other was swatting. Finally, I found it, I raced back to our bunker. Yes, I did sustain more stings, seven to be exact, but in my feeble mind, I beat the yellow bastards!

Yes, I really do love backpacking, these are just some of the experiences that separates the men from the boys. I am, and I'm not ashamed to admit it, sometimes a boy.

Sometimes, I have found, large quantities of aspirin will make it seem a little better, even when it's been raining for three days and your knees are about to explode. Other times, the only thing that will help is alcohol.

Some good advice to anyone who decides to try this sport is to find yourself a seasoned mentor, one who knows the ropes, one who knows what liquor bottles are easiest to carry, and hit the trail, but be prepared or nature will eat you and deposit you on the forest floor in a festering heap. If insects chew on you, if bees swarm you, maybe a rattlesnake will charm you with his pretty little display, don't be dispirited--you asked for it.

About the Author

Tom Stewart (dastorts@gte.net is a begining freelance writer who is an avid backpacker, mountain biker, road biker, rock climber from Central Pennsylvania who is


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