Backpacking is hard work but life on the trail is, in some other ways, so simple. You get up at dawn, go to sleep at dark. You walk all day, then do a few chores, set up camp, filter water, cook dinner (which basically involves boiling water and stirring) and go to sleep. Some nights sleep feels optional. No matter how good the mat, the ground is always hard and the tent is always small. Every time you turn, your mat crinkles, like sleeping on the waterproof mattress and pillow in a hospital. Each night spent in bear territory seems to involve some listening to the nightly noises outside. Yes, the food might be hanging on a pole a few yards from the tent but who knows what a curious or hungry bear might decide to investigate? The chapstick I forgot to hang? Bits of dinner I spilled on my jacket? My first night I found a cough drop in a pocket after I had crawled into my sleeping bag. Lazy me, I unzipped my tent and threw it as far as I could away from the me hoping a cute squirrel would dine on it. Are there backpackers who don't develop a bit of a bear phobia?
Day three dawned chilly but sunny with a beautiful view of the Yellowstone Cliffs. The night before I hadn't noticed the cave on the cliff side. Maybe that was where the bears sleep when they aren't raiding camp sites. Breakfast includes coffee thanks to Starbucks which makes a pretty good instant coffee and also an instant mocha that means I don't have to carry powdered milk. After some oatmeal, we packed up and hit the trail, going in opposite directions. My son takes the high road, hiking further up the trail to see a few sights; I head back down the hill again toward our next campground. I don't move nearly as fast as he does and I was worried about my knees.
Some 30 years ago I backpacked on Isle Royale, my last major hike until a few years ago, and developed some significant knee pain. I wound up using a stick to lean on for the duration of that hike. Unfortunately the same phenomenon reappeared a few years ago while day hiking. The trigger seems to be downhill stretches and with some internet research I concluded that I have iliotibial band syndrome which is merely an inflamed tendon. I had worried that I was looking at knee surgery but fortunately this seems less serious. Less happily, it hurts a lot. After two episodes of the problem in the past 5 years I decided that I will try to train a bit harder and see if that does the trick. So I've been working on it with Pilates, stretching, walking up and down stairs with my backpack on, using hiking poles and wearing a funny looking knee stabilizer, and this past trip it seems to have worked. Over 2000 feet of downhill walking with backpack and my knee was fine!
For quite a while it was trees and more trees. The forest passed by with no view of a beginning or end. To mark time there were those 21 or so switchbacks and not much else. At least I knew the hill had a bottom as I had been there the day before. They were only slightly less tedious on the way down than on the way up. It was hard not to feel a slight sens of mourning losing all the elevation I had gained with so much effort just the day before.
Well, this post is getting long and I need to get moving. Stay tuned for day 3-1/2.