Journey into hell

Welcome to the woods: no shelter, no toilets —  just angry fauna, torrential hailstorms, and me
By SARA FAITH ALTERMAN  |  August 9, 2007


Fuck you, Nature.

Sure, the moon is lovely, sprinkling its pale, pearly light over the boughs of tipsy pines, while birds gloriously twitter their goodnights across the arc of a gentle breeze. And yes, the air does smell of rain and the remnants of embers while I lay reclining inside a tiny tent, hiking boots doffed in favor of thick woolen socks, huddled in a sleeping bag that’s as puffy as the marshmallows in my pack.

Except that I’m also soaking wet, pockmarked with bug bites, shivering from second-stage hypothermia, and cursing the heartless bastard who dragged me into this horrible, freezing mess in the first place.

Welcome to the woods, a miserable, primitive vortex of despair — with poor cell-phone reception.

A city girl at heart, the closest I ever got to the wilderness before this poorly planned sojourn into tick-and-titmouse territory was my suburban back yard. Once I was old enough to write my own rent checks, I high-tailed it to “urba-nia,” where the jungle is decidedly concrete and my “back yard” is a not-so-decorative dumpster.

I’d heard rumors of such activities as “backpacking” and “hiking,” and was about as interested in donning a rucksack and traipsing through the woods as I imagine Donald Rumsfeld would be in going to an all-night gay rave. But, I’ll admit it, my boyfriend painted a pretty picture: a romantic romping through the forest with a knapsack full of freshly picked berries, trail mix, and s’mores fixin’s. Sunlight streaming through the foliage, pausing to scamper through waterfalls and gullies, perhaps we’d spy a frolicking baby bear playfully batting his paws at a butterfly — or a wood nymph. Evenings would be spent cozying up on a log by a crackling campfire, licking the chocolate from our fingers before retiring to dreamland. An idyllic, naturalist, granola-crunchin’, panda-loving, big-oil-hating earth immersion.

So when the opportunity arose to embark on a three-day hike through the White Mountains in New Hampshire — still caught up in the euphoria of his pastoral pitch — it was all I could do to keep from giggling with delight. Hur-rah, I thought, hurrah! Just me, my man, and a compass.

I should have suspected something when my companion packed a plastic trowel and two rolls of toilet paper.

Naively excited, I had assumed the tiny shovel was for some sort of recreational activity, such as building sand castles alongside a serendipitous mountain lake, or even digging for mountain truffles to grate over our all-natural wood salad.

The drive up on Friday morning was clear and bright. Our plan was to park, catch a “hiker shuttle” to an entry point, and then spend three days schlepping strolling back to the car. The trees seemed to nod their heads in reverent greeting as we entered the woods. I hummed a merry little ditty as I took my first steps into what would surely be an unforgettable journey.

Three hours, several blisters, five rainstorms, one raccoon ambush, and a sprained knee later, and I wanted to forget the whole experience. No, no, fuck that — I wanted to die.

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