Welcome to my first real vacation recap post. Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy some time away from your busy day.
For the first part of our vacation, David and I went on a 4-day, 3-night backpacking trip in Shenandoah National Park, which is about 60 to 70 miles away from Washington D.C. It’s a trip the outdoors store REI offers as one of their REI Adventures. (This post is NOT sponsored by REI.)
This was the first time David and I had ever backpacked. We had done day hikes to prep for it and we’ve camped before, but nothing to the level of backpacking. It really was an adventure for us. And we loved it all.
We first met the other people in the group and our two guides at an REI store in Fairfax, Virginia, and evaluated what all we were packing. All of us felt confident we had packed the right equipment because we didn’t leave anything behind, nor did we add anything to our load. After going around and explaining our experience levels and what we were hoping to get out of the trip, we all piled into a van and made our way toward Shenandoah National Park (from now on, we’ll call it SNP for short).
Our group clicked fast, it was wonderful. We got the small talk (Where do you live? What do you do? etc.) out of the way quickly on the way there. Before we knew it, we were talking about how one of the group member’s grandfather had to pay the New York mafia back in the day for protection. Apparently, that’s how things were handled. See, I was learning things already.
Because our backpacking route was going to be in a figure 8-type pattern, the guides strategically parked the van in a location where we could come back and reload with food after two nights. After filling our Nalgene bottles and our hydration systems with safe drinking water and divvying up the group weight, we headed to our campsite. When I was reading the trip itinerary before the trip, I was disappointed that we would only hike 2 miles on the first day. But when we got there, I was so thankful. With the extra group weight (I wasn’t thinking and volunteered to take some of the metal cooking pans), I had more weight in my pack than I had ever “practiced” with — possibly 30 to 40 pounds on my back. Once we got close to our campsite, we were able to take a small break while our two guides checked the campsite ahead.
Before we continue, let me show a group picture so you can see all of us (well, except for the guy taken the photo). And as you’ll soon be able to tell, some of the details I write about is to serve more as a memory purpose for me.
This was our final morning, so we all look a bit grungy. Top row from left to right: Gabe (one of the guides), David, David (yes, we had two Davids in our small group), and Heidi. Bottom row from left to right: Joslyn, me, Elizabeth, and Matt (the other guide). Wayne is taking the picture. Can you believe David and I were the only couple to go on the trip? Everyone else’s significant other doesn’t like to do these types of things, so they stayed home.
Instead of going day-by-day, moment-by-moment, let’s talk about the topics you’re certainly curious about.
No Indoor Plumbing Here
I’m about to get really honest, you’ve been warned. Whenever I talk about our trip, people typically ask, “So where did you go to the bathroom?” The simple answer is outside. The only flushable toilets were located by where the van was parked, so that was only an option twice. For the rest of the time, we had to be at least 200 ft from camp and a water source to go No. 1. For No. 2., you had to be at least 500 ft from camp and a water source. I quickly learned No. 1 wasn’t so hard to do. No. 2 was a tad more difficult. You see, we had what we called a “trowel kit” that contained a trowel (tiny shovel), toilet paper, and hand sanitizer. Anytime anyone picked up the trowel kit you knew what they were doing. It was an embarrassment we all had to get over real quick.
Is it wrong to talk about food after we just talked about going to the bathroom? Eh well. You’ll just have to deal. ;) David and I originally thought we were going to eat those dehydrated meals that all you have to do is add boiling water and let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes. This was not the case at all. We had real, prepared food at almost every meal. Our guides say they take great pride in providing good food in the backcountry. Lunches typically consisted of sandwiches, pita chips, carrots, apples, oranges, crackers, cheese, and/or salami. You’d be surprised how many food items can be kept out of a refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours.
Breakfast and dinner were a little more involved and extravagant if you will. The guides did all the cooking. We could help if we wanted to learn more, but there was no obligation to pitch in.
- Dinner Day 1: Chicken Pad Thai (I don’t do Asian food, but I didn’t hate this.)
- Breakfast Day 2: Cheesy scrambled eggs and cheesy hash browns
- Dinner Day 2: Pita pizzas
This was my favorite meal. So simple, but oh so good. I covered my pita with pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, and a couple fresh basil leaves that Gabe brought from his own personal garden. I told you they take cooking seriously.
To warm the bottom of the pita and melt the cheese on top, we placed our topped pitas on a hot, oiled pan, poured a bit of water from our Nalgene bottles to create a sizzling steam, and then covered the pan with aluminum foil for a couple of minutes. Voila! That’s it!
- Breakfast Day 3: Your choice of three types of granola
- Dinner Day 3: Mac and cheese with broccoli and salami
This was the one night we had terrible weather. A rainstorm confined most of us to our tents (some people ventured out once the rain eased up a bit). The guides were super sweet and they still cooked dinner for us in the pouring rain and delivered it to our tents. All we had to do was hold out our bowls and they scooped dinner for us. Now that’s service!
- Breakfast Day 4: Cinnamon buns
You could always have hot tea, hot chocolate, or coffee in the morning or evening, too. Quite the deal.
We had to treat water differently in the backcountry. Literally. There were no faucets around, only streams. We learned that it’s best to fill up where water is moving, instead of using stagnant water. There are two ways you can make your drinking water safe: by using a water pump that filters the water or dissolve iodine tablets into your water. We used iodine tablets because our guides said it’s possible water pumps could only successfully treat the water in the region where it was purchased. Different organisms and bacteria exist in different areas. But, they did know for sure that iodine tablets killed all the bacteria/organisms that exist. If you’re filling up a 32-ounce Nalgene bottle, use two iodine tablets. The rule is one iodine tablet for every half liter of water you’re treating. And if you’re using a hydration system (Camelbak, etc.), it’s best to treat the water in a Nalgene bottle first and then pour it into the hydration system. Once you have the iodine tablets in the water for 5 minutes, tip the Nalgene bottle down and let a little water out — that way the treated water gets into the threads of the cap, so you know you have treated water everywhere. Before you take a drink, you can also add neutralizer tablets to the water. Same number of tablets: one for every half liter. It takes the color and the iodized taste out of the water, so it tastes like normal. If you run out of neutralizer tablets, you can also use lemons or lemonade mix because of the citrus qualities. I know it sounds like a lot of work to drink clean water out in the backcountry, but it’s so important, so I wanted to be sure to mention it. If anything, for future reference for me. Getting a water-borne illness is never good. Symptoms can sometimes take a week to show up and by then you’ll need medical attention. Be prepared and drink safe water or treat it.
Congrats if you’ve made it here to the end! I have so much more to tell you, but that’ll be for another post.