Hello hello! Welcome to part 2 of the backpacking trip recap. You can read part 1 here.
I feel like we didn’t hardly even make a dent on everything that happened on this backpacking trip. Let’s change that! Jumping right back into the topics now.
If you guys were able to read my Fall Vacation: By the Numbers post, you saw that we hiked 26 miles in 4 days. I loved it, even through some huffing and puffing moments. It put exercise in a whole different perspective. People (me included) typically exercise in order to look good and to feel good. Most of us typically don’t need to be physically fit for our jobs or to keep up in our day-to-day life. To me, hiking is an enjoyment activity and getting a cardiovascular workout in the meantime is simply a plus. To break it down further, hiking is more a means to an end — to get from point A to point B. I viewed food as more of a fuel source on this trip, too. You need the calories to move your body forward. Not to mention the trip wouldn’t be fun if you felt weak.
This may come as a surprise, but I found I prefer to hike at an incline, rather than on a decline. It was easier for me to propel myself forward going up hill than to slow myself down on a steep decline. Plus, when I went downhill, my toes slid forward and hit the front of my hiking boots. That got uncomfortable after awhile.
Side note: This is the perfect opportunity to emphasize how important your feet are when you’re hiking. Obvious, right? But really. Wear boots that fit. Wear good socks and even sock liners if you want. I don’t own any, but sock liners go on before your hiking socks, kind of like a hose/tight-material sock. They help prevent blisters. I wore SmartWool socks and they worked just fine. I got what they call a “hot spot” on my little toe after it had been rubbing against by boot after lots of downhill hiking. A hot spot is the skin stage before you get a blister. We caught it in time. (You are encouraged to say something to the guides because they have the moleskin/band-aid-like material to put on it). What I found interesting about the moleskin is that you don’t put the moleskin on the hot spot itself, you put it around it. It’s basically like you’re raising the skin around it with the moleskin layers, so the hot spot isn’t sticking up and rubbing. Then once you get back to camp, take off your socks and the moleskin to let it air out. Sounds strange, but it works. What’s the bottom line? You have to take care of your feet because your fellow travelers won’t be able to carry you.
Alright, hopefully the side note didn’t bore you. Again, by writing this all down, I can check back for the things that may escape my memory.
The scenery was fun to look at. Although the terrain was mostly the same, I enjoyed seeing all the tiny differences.
On one trail, there would be all sorts of tall, thick trees. Then on the next trail, you wouldn’t see many trees, only ferns covering the area. All of the trails had one characteristic in common: rocks. There were small, almost-pebble-size ones ranging to ones that were at least 1 ft in diameter. We, of course, had to navigate all of them. I was constantly looking down so I didn’t trip.
We were on and off the Appalachian Trail (AT) the whole time. David and I estimated we hiked 10 miles total on the AT. We still have 2,000+ miles to go to say we’ve done the entire trail. (Because this trip went so well, we are seriously considering doing section hikes to accomplish that goal.)
The AT is marked with a variety of blazes. A white blaze simply marks that you’re still on the trail. A blue blaze, like the one pictured above, indicates that if you continue on the path you will find a water source. And a yellow blaze indicates that there’s shelter ahead.
Here’s David and I on the last day, covering up the “Pit Toliet” part of the sign. We had just completed Jeremy’s Run. We started the day before, camped that night, and then completed the last 5 miles on the last day. By this time, my muscles were finally used to hiking every day. I felt strong and accomplished.
- Day 1: 2 miles
- Day 2: 10 miles
- Day 3: 9 miles
- Day 4: 5 miles
Black Bear Sightings
Do you like how I buried the one thing you’re most curious about? ;)
Our backpacking group saw a total of 9 black bears in 24 hours (parts of Day 3 and 4), which is pretty astounding. The guides were even impressed we saw that many, especially because we were a loud group. They figured the bears would hear us and not even come close. I only saw 2 because I tended to stay in the middle of the hiking line. David saw 8 because he was always in the front of the line.
I was constantly on bear watch. I felt like my trip wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t seeing one. (Does that make sense? Did I use too many double negatives?) When I had a chance to look up from my feet, I glanced around every which way I could in hopes of spotting one.
I had the best bear spotting, but I’ll tell David’s sighting first — his is the cutest. While he was in front chatting with the guide (naturally), they came up over a crest of a hill and saw a small bear cub walking across the path, then they saw two other cubs and the momma bear (called a sow) following behind. David and the guide were about 10 ft from the bears. No joke. Obviously, the bears were a little too close for comfort, so the guide hit his trekking pole on a nearby tree and said something along the lines of, “Go on, get bear. Go.” They took the hint and walked away from us. I was so disappointed I didn’t get to see the small cubs. David said they looked cute and cuddly!
Now on to the best bear sighting. :) It was the last day and I was still looking out for a bear because I didn’t see the ones David saw the day before. As we’re hiking along, I glance up in a tree and I see this black thing. As I’m mentally trying to figure out what it could be, we all found out real quick. A black bear was quickly climbing down the tree to get away from us. The bear was about full grown and you could see his black hair moving as he raced down the trunk of the tree. The base of the tree was about 20 to 25 ft away from us. He was so scared of us (poor thing) that he basically jumped the last 6 ft down to the ground and ran away. The trip was made at this point — I had seen a bear! He was so cute! I didn’t have time to get my camera out to snap a picture, but I was able to enjoy the whole event.
Not too long after my sighting, the guide spotted another one. Most likely from the excitement of the last one, he blurts out, “Heidi, there’s one right behind you.” We all turn and most of us can’t even see the bear because it’s a little farther away than the other ones had been. We all poked fun at him because it wasn’t the best way to say, “Hey, I see a bear.”
We were about a half mile out from our end point when we saw the last ones. This time I got to see a little bear cub off in the distance (like 30 ft or more). So cute. (Do you see a theme here?) I tried to get a picture, but all I got was a blurry picture of his ear.
There were also a couple of other bears with him. They were gathering food. Apparently before hibernation, bears consume about 30,000 calories a day. Wow.
Yep, we did see other creatures, too. But the bears were by far the best.
I did not see any snakes and I only saw one or two spiders. Thank goodness. I also saw what I’m going to call monarch caterpillars. They’re caterpillars that will one day turn into monarch butterflies.
I also saw two walking stick bugs on our day hike on Day 2.
White-tailed deer are also very prevalent in Shenandoah National Park. Two even walked right into our camp the first night. The guides said if we had left our socks hanging some place there’s a good chance they would have chewed on them to get the salt. In the park, the deer are the top of the food chain — they have no predators. To help solve the overpopulation problem, they either transport them to a different park or they have a day when they allow people to bow hunt them. As sad as the latter solution sounds, the meat doesn’t go to waste because they donate it to Harvester’s, which makes it at least better in my book.
I also saw little almost transparent frogs on our final night. One of them was trying desperately to get into the tent, but I wouldn’t have it. He still wanted to stay close because when I exited the tent one time that night, I saw him sitting on top of the tent.
Whoops. I feel like I’m starting to ramble.
I have a couple other topics I’d like to touch on, so it looks like I’ll be writing a part 3 for the backpacking trip. Thanks for hanging in there, guys!
Do you have any questions for me? I’ll be sure to include answers in the final part.