Welcome to the final post for the backpacking trip. There’s more vacation recap posts to come after this, though. I was gone for a week and a half — I have a lot to say!
This is another long one (not like any of my posts are short), so sit back and enjoy some time away from the to-do lists and the hustle and bustle of life.
You may recall that I had a mini claustrophobic panic attack a couple months back when I was on a float trip with friends. On that trip, David and I tried out my dad’s backpacking tent. In hindsight, the tent was really only meant to sleep one comfortably. It was definitely a little too snug for two people. During the night, I woke up in a panic twice, scrambling to undo the zipper to the tent so I could at least stick my hand out. (Somehow in my mind this would help because I would be touching the outside.) I don’t remember being claustrophobic before the trip, but I became claustrophobic after that incident.
I worried I would wake up in a panic again on this backpacking trip. And if it did happen, wouldn’t it be awful to dread going to sleep each night?! Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. They provided a tent (the REI half dome, I think) that was meant for two people, which was a good start. I also loved and appreciated the fact that it had two doors. Yes, this tiny tent had two doors, so you wouldn’t have to climb over your tentmate to get out. It was also vented enough with mesh-like fabric that even with the rainfly on, you could still see the outside and make out the outline of trees.
Over the course of the 3-night trip, I did wake up twice and felt a slight panic each time. However, they weren’t to the magnitude of the float trip experience. Each time lasted 5 seconds or less. The first time I remember mumbling something and reaching for the zipper on the door. I couldn’t tell ya if David was being sweet or selfish (so he could get back to sleep), but he said come here and held me tight until I fell back asleep. The other time I woke up, I found it helpful to have my headlamp in my hand — that way if I wanted to see the rest of the tent, I could quickly turn that on.
We stayed at our first campsite for 2 nights and then moved to a different spot for Night 3. Although there weren’t as many trees at the second campsite (meaning it was harder to hide and go to the bathroom — ha!), it was my favorite. It was so pretty. We had to cross a stream to get to the secluded spot.
We didn’t get to enjoy a campfire that evening because it was raining so hard, but the next morning was beautiful.
I’m not sure if it can get more picturesque than that.
On Day 2, David and I figured out the best way to carry the tent. I carried the tent poles and stakes, while David carried the packed tent and rainfly. It worked better than David carrying the whole thing.
Although one of the guides said we packed a lot (I didn’t hardly stray from the provided list!) as he was helping to re-adjust our tent in the pouring rain, I used almost everything I packed. My favorite/most-needed items I brought were: my pack cover, my lightweight fleece jacket, my bandana, and my hydration system. My pack cover was easy to put over my pack and it kept everything dry the day it rained. I wore my lightweight fleece jacket every day. It was perfect for the chilly mornings and evenings. I know a bandana may seem small and measly compared to the rest of the gear I brought, but it was great to have something to wipe the sweat off my forehead on the first day (you’ve gotten so many visuals during these 3 posts haven’t you?!); it made that 2-mile hike so much more enjoyable! And finally, my 3-liter Ospry hydration system that fit into my pack. It’s definitely one of the best things I’ve ever bought for $32. I didn’t have to take my pack off to find a water bottle and stop and drink from it. Nope, I could just keep walking and drink water. It’s the simple things. Once that backpack was on, I didn’t really like taking it off because then it was awkward to put it back on.
I still think I bought the right pack. Two other people had the Osprey Ariel packs, too! We all had different colors, which made it easy to determine who had what pack. One had the green one, one had the red one, and I had the blue one. This is going to sound lame, but I’m going to say it anyways: I enjoyed “getting to know” my backpack. I hadn’t really had a chance to use it before this trip, so it was fun to figure out where I should put things and how it worked outside on an actual backpacking trip instead of me putting random clothes in it to add weight and walk around a park to train.
Before this backpacking trip, David and I made sure that we broke in our boots on a handful of hikes in a local park. And on several of those hikes, we made sure to carry some weight in our packs to get used to it. We started at 20 pounds or so and worked our way up to about 30 pounds.
Do I think that our training was sufficient enough? Yes. We broke in our boots enough that we didn’t have any foot trouble and we introduced our bodies to the type of endurance we were going to encounter. I was conditioned enough that I wasn’t exhausted each night.
Do I think that we could have trained more? Yes. Because we’re from Kansas, it was hard to train on trails that had hills. Our local park had a couple, but not like the ones we faced on the trip. We should make an effort next time to do some incline workouts on a treadmill or travel to Missouri to take advantage of their hilliness. Is hilliness a word? Welp. I’m making it one. I also didn’t consider building up muscle memory (I’m thinking that’s the term I’m looking for). When we trained, David and I usually did a hike one day and then wouldn’t get back out for another week or two. We needed to do two days where we did back-to-back hikes. After our first day hike in SNP, I felt how sore I was walking from the campfire to my tent. Then I had to get up and hike again the next day! Next time, we’ll be sure to train back to back, so the transition isn’t as hard.
Tips and Tricks
We learned so much in the 4 days we were out there (as you’ve read). Here are the main ones to keep in mind.
Always use a map and plan out how many miles you’re going to cover in a day. You need to limit all the surprises you may run into in the backcountry. Have a plan for where you’re going to camp that night.
Leave no trace. If you can help it, be sure to camp in locations where campers have camped before. No need to use another area if one is already available to use. Leave no trace also applies to food and toothpaste. Yes, you read that correctly. SNP is a pack-in, pack-out park, which means if you bring in food, you need to consume it or carry it out with you. Also related to food, if you have any tiny bits from your meal left on your plate, say a small noodle or something, you can rinse your plate with water and then pour the water over a makeshift drain. The guides created a makeshift drain from tiny twigs and placed it over a small hole they had dug and put some leaves on top of that. After you pour the leftovers of your food over it, you’re supposed to burn the leaves so there’s no food scraps left at all. You can do that or drink the water you used to rinse the bowl (called self-pumping), which sounds completely disgusting. Speaking of fire, when you make a campfire, only use as much wood as you can burn completely. Once a log is scorched it cannot decompose. Back to the toothpaste, we were instructed to try and do what they call “broadcast” to spit out the toothpaste/water as we were brushing our teeth. Basically, you act as a human sprinkler and spit out the water as you’re rotating your head.
Don’t set your tent up under a widowmaker. A widowmaker is a broken or dead branch (or tree) that could possibly fall on top of your tent, killing you — making your spouse a widow. Get it? Widow maker. Our guides said this is the top way people get killed in the backcountry. It’s not by bears. It’s not by drinking contaminated water. It’s by placing your tent in the wrong spot.
David and I love the Southeast. We went on a trip with some friends to the Carolinas last May and feel in love with the region. But you know what? We actually got our fill this time around. We’re hoping to head west for our next backpacking trip, in particular Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Why? Simply because the pictures look stunning.
Isn’t that a good enough reason? David also has his sights set on the Grand Canyon. I’m so happy that this trip went so well that we want to go on more. That was my hope all along! We also loved the group part of the trip so much we may sign up for another REI trip in the future.
It was hard to say goodbye to everyone the last day of our backpacking adventure. Now, I feel a twinge of sadness again as I finish up this last post about it. It’s like I’m having to say goodbye again to the good experience we had there. In an effort to remember the fun times and end on a positive note, I’ll leave you with a picture of just how content and happy David and I were on trip. :)