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David and I finally decided where we are heading for our fall backpacking trip! I’d say I’m 40% excited and 60% this is going to be challenging what the hell did I get myself into?!

I kept switching back and forth with what I wanted and what I didn’t want. Poor David. The whole time he was probably thinking: I will do whatever you want to do; just make a decision, woman. OK, so maybe I made up that last part. Because I want to make you wait even longer to find out where we are going (hint: look carefully at the title of this post), here’s a peek into all that went into our decision and all the hopping around we I did.

The only main requirement for this trip was that had to be further west than Kansas (which is where I live, for those of you who may be new around these parts). We all know David and I loooove the Southeast, but we had to expand to see the rest of this beautiful country. FYI: Colorado is the furthest west I’ve ever been.

And if I could have my ideal trip, I wanted it to include:

// A guided backpacking trip. David and I had a fantastic time on the REI-guided backpacking trip last year where we explored Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. That is the only time David and I have been backpacking — so the thought of doing a backpacking trip on our own for our second time out there seemed beyond daunting. Plus, being in a group just feels safer and the guides have a wealth of knowledge to share. Why wouldn’t we want to take advantage of that?!
// A road trip. David and I have so much fun hitting the road together. We get into all sorts of interesting conversations. I feel like sometimes you miss half the fun of traveling if you hop on a plane. However, going West requires more driving time, which equals more time off of work. I don’t have unlimited vacation flex time anymore, so that was a bit of a rude awakening. I was also thinking packing the car would be a better idea than flying because what if my backpack got lost or horribly delayed. I would be on the trip with nothing.
// Visiting Utah. Although I love me some mountains, I thought it would be good to expand (there’s that word again) and see how a desert-like setting would be. Plus, have you seen photos of Canyonlands and Arches national parks? Beautiful.

Canyonlands National Park. Source.

Canyonlands National Park. Source.

// Camping for at least 3 nights. Basically, I wanted to get a lot of bang for my buck. If I’m going to pay money for a trip, I want to make it worth it. On some REI trips, Day 1 starts at 6 p.m. with dinner and you stay in a hotel the first night. No thanks. I want Day 1 to start in a national park.

In this post, I talked about Yellowstone, Grand Teton, or Zion being at the top of the list if I were to choose where I’d like to backpack. You know, if the world was my oyster. Sadly, none of these locations worked out for a variety of reasons: REI did not offer a guided backpacking trip to the national park, it was really expensive, it didn’t fall within the time frame I needed it to (we can’t take off between the 15th and the 25th of any month because of my production schedule), and/or the set-up of the trip was lame and we’d only camp two nights at the same location. I hate when reality sets in.

The first trip that seemed doable was an REI-guided backpacking trip in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.











It was guided and I’d get my road trip. But it had two cons: it was almost too close, I mean Colorado is our neighbor state, I wanted to go someplace new; and it would be another mountain-filled vacation, no desert. David was on board mainly because he’s never been to Colorado, but I kinda sorta threw a fit, so it was back to the drawing board.

The next idea I had was one that completely came out of left field. I looked over all the REI trips again and didn’t narrow it down to just backpacking. That’s when I found this looking-back-I-was-kinda-crazy trip idea: paddle boarding at Lake Tahoe.

You see, I’ve never paddle boarded. Neither has David. I somehow ran with the thought that we both love water and they said beginners could come, why not have it be us? We’d get to camp, but it’d be in the same place each night. And we’d have access to showers and stuff we wouldn’t normally get to partake of in a backpacking situation, which is not necessarily a bad thing. :) The part that made me really want to go was just a small chunk of time: a 4-hour hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Have you ever read the book Wild? (I have.) Well, this is the famous trail she walked on. How cool would it be to do some hiking on that very same trail?! This trip idea only lasted 24 hours with us. I wanted to really hike and that little 4-mile hike wasn’t going to do it.

The third trip idea we came to was: an REI backpacking trip in Yosemite National Park that centered around Half Dome.

It’s as if I’m jumping off the deep end at this point. I have a newly-discovered fear of heights — why in the world did I half think about this?! David really wanted to do this (he’s the true adventurer). We were thinking, “Go big or go home.” We had talked about flying for the Lake Tahoe trip, so we figured why not fly to a different place in California? I looked up availability for it and it was sold out. Truly it was a blessing in disguise for me. It was back to the drawing board, yet again.

I looked over REI trips for the 100th time and found a trip I had written off before simply because we had to provide our own lunch: backpacking in the Grand Canyon (the North Rim). I read over everything and it sounded like a challenge, but something we’d be up for. Most everything we wanted in a trip was lining up. We could make a road trip happen (even if it was 15+ hours). It was guided. It’s not in the mountains. It’s out West. We’d stay in three different locations for each of the three nights and we start at 7 a.m./8 a.m. on Day 1. And the cherry on top? We meet in Utah. This was our trip. The dates aligned with what we needed and they still had availability, so we booked it! We’re in!

Now you’re probably thinking to yourself: OK, Mandy, you sound so excited, why are you thinking it’s going to be challenging? Well, let me explain. ;) On our Shenandoah backpacking trip last year, we hiked 26 miles. This trip, on the other hand, has us hiking 30-35 miles with lots of elevation gain and loss. Big difference. Also… it’s rated as a 5 (strenuous) and our adventure specialist (what a title!) says it’s one if not the most strenuous trip REI offers. We even have to have a physician’s release to be able to go. Now you see why I’m freaking out?! (Side note: Loads of ?! in this post!) I wanted a big grand trip and this fits the bill. Just think of all the awesome photos I can take! I’m sure I’ll have a blast when it’s all said and done, but for now I have to focus and get to training. With only 8 weeks or so before the trip, it’ll be here before we know it.

If you could visit any national park (doesn’t have to be for backpacking), which one would you choose?

I know I have mentioned a lot of national parks I’d like to see, but I’d like to add Redwood National Park in California to the list!