Through the trees, I could hear voices and see glimpses of the camouflaged hut. I couldn’t wait to get to the top of the rocks but it was not to lay my eyes on the hut, to take in the spectacular views or to enjoy a moment of recognition of the day’s accomplishments. My main objective was to get out of my damp clothes and put on EVERY SINGLE layer I had packed. I was cold, chilled to the bone, and I dreamed of holding a mug of steaming, hot coffee in my hands.
When we reached the clearing near the hut, one of the first things I noticed was the line of muddy, wet boots and sweaty, stinky socks, all different colors and sizes gathered together to dry out in the cool air. Other gear was scattered on the ground, draped over the hut’s porch railings, and hanging from tree branches in hopes that some drying would take place. There seemed to be no separation of whose stuff belonged to whom, no boundaries between strangers. This was communal ground and our muddied, wet gear was the physical evidence of a shared experience. My first taste of hiker camaraderie.
A friendly member of the hut croo (yes, that is spelled correctly) welcomed us at the front desk next to a basket of complimentary ear plugs and hut merchandise. He assigned us to the South Bunk Room. The sleeping accommodations at the Zealand Falls hut are bunk beds stacked three high. Each bunk bed is a cubicle built into the cabin and includes several built-in shelves, lots of hooks to store and hang things on and a small personal reading lamp.
Many of the bottom bunks had already been claimed but we managed to find a cluster of bunks close to each other. Loving Leader, Hot Mama and I took the tippity-top bunks and dragged our gear up the tall ladder.
Now, let’s pause a minute… I was about to be introduced to the very thing that has caused me the most anxiety about this whole trip. It seems a bit silly now but we all have our hang ups and issues. One of mine is germs and cleanliness.
At our first trip planning meeting, Loving Leader explained the AMC huts and sleeping arrangements to us. We had asked her about what gear to bring for sleeping and she shared some suggestions. She also explained how the hut provides each hiker with three wool blankets and a pillow. This may not seem like a big deal BUT having just heard about the huts being minimally equipped, the outdoor facilities, all supplies and trash having to be packed in and out by the croo (on their backs,) and the fact of no running hot water got me thinking. How exactly and how frequently were those wool blankets and pillow cases washed? And how many heads had rested on the pillows? And how many bodies had been wrapped in the blankets? The possible answers to my questions made my skin crawl and itch. I knew, no matter how tired I was, I would not be able to get a good night’s sleep with those blankets and pillow around me. Before I left for the trip I made the decision that I needed my own, reliable sleep system. A system that I could depend on- a sleeping bag that compresses to the size of a football. My sleeping woes and anxiety were defused and I crossed the worry off my list.
(Dear EMS employee, Thank you for your encouragement and the validation of my feelings when I explained to you why I needed a sleeping bag. You listened with grace as I over-explained my issues and phobias. I also thank you for not making me feel like a fool, a wimp or a weirdo, even though you may have been thinking that. I know that you were hoping to make a sale and I am sorry. I went to Dick’s to purchase my sleeping bag because it was on sale.I hope you understand. XO Melon Ball)
Oh, glorious joy filled me the rest of the evening. Warm, DRY clothes, good company, new friends, beautiful views, delicious food, and a warm, attentive croo. All of this made my first hut experience wonderful.
Lights out came sooner than I thought. I wrote in my journal by headlamp, made one more bathroom run in the dark, put in my set of complimentary ear plugs, and then snuggled down in my mummy bag. As I fell asleep to the distant snores of the stranger two bunks below me, I thought again how great it was to be alive and how strange it was that I felt safer than I ever had in a room full of people I did not know. Somehow they did not feel like strangers any more. I did not know all the details of their lives. I didn’t even know all of their names. It didn’t matter though. We had become a “community for a night. ” A community brought together by sharing a hike, a rainstorm, a meal, good conversation and now much needed rest.
As I drifted off to sleep, I thought how wonderfully simple all of it was and how complicated our world has become. If only we would share more, listen more, cheer each other on more, and love people more(even in all their stinkiness), what a better world this would be.
This video will give you a little “taste” of the huts: