So they say on your first backpacking trip, it’s given that things will go wrong. And that it is a good thing because you learn from the mistakes and mishaps. Well, either I am the worst backpacker ever known to man, or the forces were working to teach me some lessons about backpacking.
Lesson Number 1: Know where your base camp is before wandering aimlessly in the dark looking for it.
This is the first LNT (Leave No Trace) Principle: Plan Ahead and Prepare and I know I personally could have done a better job of this. The first night we drove to the Blue Mountains in Oregon, about a two and half hour drive from Pullman. Two and half hours turned into five hours driving around aimlessly looking for our base camp. It was Jenna’s first time as the trip leader, and unfortunately she had only been to this campsite once, the mapquest directions we had were leading us in circles, and we were looking for the campsite in the dark. When I asked Jenna what she would have done differently, looking back, she said she would have double checked with Jonathan exactly where the spot was, just in case mapquest failed us. We drove all the way to Troy, OR where our trailhead was located and were looking for a campsite that some of the girls had stayed at previously. We met some really friendly fishermen who were more than willing to offer up their campsite to a van full of girls for the evening, but we thought we would look around a little for our original campsite.
We talked to some locals who told us there was a campsite at the top of some switchbacks. Feeling relieved and ready to set up camp for the evening, we excitedly drove up the mountain to find our sleep sanctuary, only to discover this “campsite” was a giant field… which doubled as a shooting range. As wild of an adventure as that could have been we decided we would rather not awake to find gun shots being fired around us, and decided to keep looking. I was the trip driver and was struggling to keep my creature at bay at this point. I learned that my creature not only emerges when it’s hungry but also when it’s ready for bed.
We knew the campsite was located across a bridge, so we crossed all bridges and checked both sides, before realizing it was back in Oasis, a 30 minute drive back. In all our circles, we still laughed, upset some campers with our brights (oops), and scared the crap out of some drivers. On one of our circles around town we flipped a U-Turn in our giant creepy van and happened to start following a small car, which we scared enough to make them stop and make sure we weren’t following them. We were only looking for our site but to them we had been waiting for them, and were turning around to follow them. This definitely lightened the mood, and we backtracked to Oasis, laughing at the realization that a van full of girls could be threatening and creepy.
Waking up next to a river in a beautiful canyon was worth backtracking and we even got breakfast at Boggan’s Oasis, and got to meet the owner, Betty this incredibly sweet older woman, who I may just drive back to Oasis to pick her brain. Breakfast was delicious and it was nice to warm up and get a warm meal before meandering off into the wilderness. As great as that first morning was, the euphoria of a delicious warm breakfast wore off by lunch.
Lesson Number 2: Make sure your pack fits before you take it deep into the back-country.
This also goes along with LNT Principle Number 1. I had my own pack that I took backpacking through France. And it fit me like a gem…. when I was 16. Assuming it still fit me seven years later was definitely a rookie mistake on my part. I work in an outdoor gear rental shop and should probably know better as my trip leaders assumed I was competent enough to know my pack fit, but apparently the excitement of my first backpacking trip went to my head a little and I decided to skip a few steps in planning ahead. I ended up paying for my mistake. An ideal pack should sit well on your hips but I ended up carrying all my weight in my shoulders, and turned into a blubbering fool about how my back hurt, about 1 mile into our hike.
Luckily, my friend and assistant trip leader Kelly was willing to trade packs with me, either she is that nice or just wanted me to shut up and stop complaining. For my own ego, and hers we’ll just say she is that nice, which she really is. Surprisingly, it worked out in both our favors, my pack fit her and hers felt like a luxury pack on my sore body. I am also very lucky my friend and camp mate Marijane had some ibuprofen. I remember thinking that we were not going to need ibuprofen, but again that was probably just my ego thinking I was stronger than I really was and I am glad she prepared more than I did. I was glad to have such great people on the trip who understood my pain but who refused to let it ruin my trip.
We ended laughing the entire 6.7 miles into camp, talking about boys and laughing at poop jokes. I didn’t realize girls found poop jokes as funny, if not funnier than guys do. The hike into camp was beautiful. The path paralleled a river the entire hike in and it made for the most amazing view and tons of picture opportunities. Marijane and I had to stop at every leaf and tree to take a picture of it and with it, just to make sure we really captured the beauty of the trip. The leaders and other girls were really understanding of us stopping every 10 feet and taking photos. The dynamics of the group definitely made the trip, or at least my trip. These girls were so understanding of me and all my struggle bus moments, ’cause believe me, my backpack fiasco was not my last one.
Lesson Number 3: Check your stove before you rely on it for a weekend to provide sustenance.
Once we got into camp and set up, the creature demanded it be fed immediately. So Marijane and I set up our stove half ready to eat our own arms if we didn’t get food soon. It may sound like an exaggeration, but I kid you not my wild beast was that hungry. The forces were determined to teach us some long-lasting lessons about life in the backcountry though, and our stove pump was stripped and instead of the pressure building up properly, it just sprayed us with fuel.
At this particular moment I am beyond thankful I had Marijane with me who just cracked jokes the whole time. That girl taught me to just let the irritating, negative things go and turn it into a joke. Laughing was a much better way to spend my time in the backcountry and we probably turned everything into a joke. The importance of having good company whilst you wander in the woods is invaluable and I felt lucky to have her on this trip with me.
Marijane and I sat patiently, waiting for one of the other cook groups to finish using their stove. Jenna and Kelly were sweet enough to boil some extra water so we could make some apple cider to warm up while we waited to cook our food. We were fortunate to have two other stoves on this trip, had we only brought the one, our mistake could have had much greater consequences than just waiting a few extra minutes for a substantial meal. Not that we would have starved to death by any means, but the importance of having substantial meals on a backpacking trip is instrumental. Hopefully I won’t have to learn this lesson when the stakes are higher. Since the stakes weren’t that high Marijane and I took this opportunity to tell inappropriate jokes, bond over a heart to heart, and snap some of my favorite pictures from this trip.
We ended up making mac n’ cheese with broccoli and summer sausage, had some apple cider to warm us up before bed, we even got a show with dinner, while Jenna and Kelly demonstrated the many different options you have, to do your business in the woods. It was hilarious and educational and a fun way to end the night before retiring to the tent to warm up and sleep. Marijane, Jenna, and I stayed up a little later and recording some podcast material about our experiences, which turned into laughing all night and making some good memories, but not much interview material. (check out the podcast next week!)
We woke up a little late Sunday morning but got camp packed up and hiked out at a reasonable hour.
Lesson Number 4: Listen to your body
Starting out Sunday morning Marijane and I made some amazing maple oatmeal with blueberries and had pumpkin spice coffee. Jenna and Kelly taught the girls to filter water from the stream, and then we packed up and headed back out. As soon as we started hiking I could tell something wasn’t right in my knees, but figured it was soreness from the previous days hike and would go away after we got warmed up. By lunch I was in quite a bit of pain, but opted to take some ibuprofen and keep quite cause I am working on not letting myself complain too much. I remember thinking that my back hurt the day before now my knees hurt, everyone else was fine so I must have been mentally weak and this was a good opportunity to strengthen my mind. But about a mile and a half from the trail head I could barely walk anymore and couldn’t not say anything.
Jenna tried to assess what was going on but since my leggings were too tight, I ended up having to drop my trousers on the trail. Thankfully I selected full-butt underwear and it was just a gang of girls. We realized my left knee was swollen almost twice the size of my right one and was sensitive to the touch. We wrapped my knee, started to hike using my trekking poles as crutches, and had to stop and rewrap my knee because I lost feeling in my foot from the wrap being to tight. I felt like such a nuisance, but Jenna, Kelly, and the other girls understood and cheered me on the whole mile and a half uphill back to the trailhead.
Kelly decided that in order to make me feel like I wasn’t getting left behind to have me lead. That simple change of position made me feel a lot better than when I felt I was going to hold up the whole group. The way she explained it was, we are going to get out faster if you set a pace that we can constantly hike, rather than hike to fast for you and have to stop and wait multiple times. Although my right knee started to hurt, and my mind was wandering on if it was serious or permanent, we hiked out that mile and a half in a little over an hour. The feeling of relief that swept over me seeing that trailhead is something I imagine like reaching the surface of water after being without breath for a while.
I want to send a big thanks out to my fellow ORC staff and trip leaders, you girls did an incredible job, and to the ladies on the trip, Marijane, Veronica, and Elyse for helping me stay positive and have a great time through my struggle moments. This trip will not be my last backpacking trip because of you girls.
Although I was in pain the whole time and definitely had some mental challenges to push through, I still know that I made it the whole way, and had a great time doing it. The Blue Mountains were beautiful and so were all the girls on this trip. Even though I had to hobble my way out in pain I know that in the end, my body can handle the pain that sometimes comes along with adventure and that to push myself to my limits for adventure is a life I want to live. Maybe with a little more physical preparation and mental preparation, living life out of a pack in the back country is attainable for me at least every once in a while. I learned some very important lessons about keeping my creature quite on this trip, and though there were frustrating moments, the beauty of the backcountry, the amazing people I had, and the lessons I learned made it totally worth it and I cannot wait to get back out there.