Sunday, October 31, 2010

Glory Days

I was reminiscing the other day about where this backpacking obsession began and my first overnight trip. My outdoor roots go deep, back to when my father used to take us four wheeling in his old Ford Bronco in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Later in those same forests I would hunt (although I spent more time walking and seeing than shooting). Eventually I realized I didn't want to hunt, just walk in the woods. As a young adult I decided to start car camping, and as I was at a local outdoor outfitter buying a Eureka Timberline 4-man tent, I spied the Appalachian Trail guide for the Pennsylvania section of the AT. I had never been in the woods of Pennsylvania, and though maybe I'd find some car camping spots in that guide. Little did I know what I was getting into.

I decided to do a little recon, if you will, and took a drive up to Leheigh Gap for a day hike. I was hooked! I immediately went out and bought a 6500 cubic inch, 7 pound load monster for all the gear I would surely need for my newfound adventure. After acquiring a synthetic sleeping bag (about 5 pounds), an axe (gotta have one of those), AND a folding bow saw I was set. On September 23rd, 1988 I started north on the AT at Leheigh Gap, fully expecting to cover 12 miles with the 65+ pound load on my back. Poor, innocent fool.

Getting water at a spring:

The long and short of it is I made it 6 miles. Made camp after going as far as I could go, and enjoyed my time in the mountains immensely. I hiked back to my car the next day, and was completely exhausted. I spent the next 4 days as sore as I had ever been. Interestingly enough, it never occured to me that backpacking was not for me. On the contrary, I couldn't stop thinking about it. The very next trip I no longer had an axe or saw, as well as a few other items not used, and not long after I acquired a down bag and external frame pack that saved me a good 7 pounds!

Given enough time we evolve as backpackers, lightening our loads to what we find comfortable and (hopefully) developing new skills that further this evolution. My own personal journey took me to the point of hiking with a sub-5 pound base weight, but these days I find I'm most comfortable with a base that falls into that 8-10 pound range. I got down to (almost) the barest of bones (I danced with thoughts of a sub-3 pound base for a time)and decided I liked a few goodies like a thermarest pad and a Kooka Bay pillow, etc.

Where has the road taken you, and where are you now?

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