Trail Lessons

Mickelson Trail, South Dakota: My first hike.

Lynn Muchmore: He tried to save me from myself.

Day One: Lynn Muchmore and I planned to start in Edgemont, S.D., and hike north through the Black Hills to Deadwood. The 109-mile Mickelson Trail, an old railroad bed, was wide and smooth, a walk in the park compared to the Appalachian Trail, and a lot more scenic.

I didn’t know it but I was carrying way too much weight –43 pounds –double the weight I usually carry now.

[Pack weight, pack weight and pack weight are the three most important things about back packing.]

That first afternoon we hiked out of town, into the hills, about six miles, and camped in a clump of trees beside the trail.   My feet blistered a little but I ignored them.  Gotta be tough, I thought.

[If and when your feet begin to heat up you have to do something about it immediately.]

Day Two  — The scenery was stunning and Lynn said the northern end of the Mickelson Trail would be even better. It was hot, sunny, my ears and neck got a little red.  We did 21 miles before I yelled “Uncle!” Lynn could have done 25 or 30 but I was having a hard time.  My left heel was a bloody mess with a patch of missing skin the size of a silver dollar; the blister hadn’t broken yet on the other heel.

Late that day, to lighten my load by two pounds, I poured out a liter of water.  What was I thinking?!   I was thinking I could get more water when we camped. I was wrong. 

[Food you can do without. Water is everything, especially when you don’t have it.]

I skipped supper –I had no water to rehydrate my food– pitched my tent near a highway bridge and crawled into my sleeping bag, hurting and so thirsty.

Day three —  It was 17 miles to Custer, S.D., which was looking like the end of the trail for me. My feet were ruined but all I could think about was water. We hiked six more miles that morning before we came to a tiny town with a restaurant that served the best water I ever tasted. Breakfast was good, too.

Eleven miles to go.

Pat Stith: Learning to hike, the hard way.
Pat Stith: Learning to hike, the hard way.

Lucky for me, I guess, the weather had turned real bad north of Custer. Lynn didn’t want to hike in crappy weather and I couldn’t. All I had to do was make it to Custer.

With six miles to go the bad weather reached us and it began to snow. What a state, a blistering hot sun one day and snow the next. Lynn offered to walk to Custer alone and come back for me in a cab. It was good of him, really. But I would rather have rubbed my heels with salt and crawled to Custer than ride there in a cab.  

Postscript: I made it.  For the next few days I wore socks but no shoes and Lynn and I went sight seeing. There’s lots to see in that part of the country, including Devil’s Tower and the Badlands. One day we went underground, down into a decommissioned U.S. Air Force silo that had once held a nuclear-tipped Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile. On the steel door leading to the missile silo someone had drawn a pizza box lid and written these words: “Delivered hot anywhere in the world in 15 minutes.”

Coming Monday: Blame It On Youth



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