A Newbie's Adventure in Backpacking
A couple weeks ago I had the chance to do something new… Overnight Backpacking with REI! Now, I’ve camped before – but we’re talking car camping with plenty of space to bring all the comforts of home. Backpacking is obviously much different. You take with you only what you can fit in your pack and carry on your back – then you hike through the backcountry to some amazing campsite that you can only access by foot and setup your camp with the gear that you carried in… pretty cool, right? I love REI for offering this kind of course because it takes some of the error out of the trial and error that is a new adventure!
We were a small group of 5 women and 2 female instructors – we all met at the visitor’s center at Black Rock Mountain State Park just a couple of hours outside of Atlanta. After some awkward introductions our journey began and we started from the very beginning. What to pack and how to pack it. We all started out with WAY to much stuff, but after laying everything out on the picnic tables we whittled things down pretty quickly. We were only doing one overnight, so 10 different types snacks and multiple changes of clothes was not necessary. Especially when you realize YOU HAVE TO CARRY EVERYTHING!
After we got our packs all zipped up and ready to go we made our way down to the trailhead. Again, this was a beginner’s class, so we did not get in a lot of mileage, but we had the opportunity to get some experience with the weight of the pack and the fit. We made it to our camp site in under 2 miles and most of us were happy to drop our packs! We set up our camp and huddled around for our next lessons. We talked about camp cooking, filtering water, bear bags, trekking poles, pooping in the woods, luxury items, safety and why we were all there. It’s so interesting that we were all so different – different ages, races, backgrounds and affiliations but we are all draw to being outdoors, wanting to learn more and go further. There is something magical that happens around a camp fire – we get a sparkle in our eyes and the things that separate us seem to fade away. There were lots of laughs and daddy long legs – but mostly just a great time learning and getting to know each other.
Fast forward to bed time – all 7 of us trekked a couple hundred yards away from camp with our headlamps on to witness the hanging of the bear bag. Remember I mentioned we probably had too much stuff? Yeah, that poor little branch couldn’t hold up all our toiletries, snacks and other bear friendly items. But after some reevaluating and carefully maneuvering around a very large spider and her beautifully woven web we got the bags hung properly and we all learned what works and what doesn’t. Eventually we all tucked into our tents for the night and since we were an odd numbered group, I was the lucky one who got to sleep alone!
True story: sleeping alone in my tent was probably my greatest feat of this trip. (Never mind digging a hole in the middle of woods in the middle of the night to “take care of business”.) Around 2am there was some kind of critter party around my tent and again at 3am and 4am, they were so close at one point I thought for sure they were coming in my tent! So I can’t exactly say that I got a good night’s sleep, but something about lying there alone in the middle of the night with just a tent between me and bigfoot was empowering. So when I emerged from my tent that morning I was proud of myself. I was definitely scared at moments, but in the end, I did something that I was afraid of and turns out, it wasn’t so bad and I was just fine… and I had another experience under my belt that made me stronger.
As daylight broke over the trees and the rest of the girls started emerging from their tents we all recounted the noises we heard throughout the night over coffee and breakfast. We eventually broke down our camp, got packed up and made the trek back to our cars at the trailhead. From there we dropped our overnight packs and decided to hit the Lookoff Mountain trail for one last hike as a group. The trail was pretty tough as it gained elevation quickly but we all made it to the top unscathed!
I have to say that this is one of my favorite outdoor experiences to date, we didn’t log tons of miles or stay out in the backcountry for weeks, but I learned a lot and I had the chance to meet some women that I likely never would have crossed paths with. It just proves even further that the great outdoors unites us. It doesn’t matter where you are from, how much money you make, what size you are, or the color of your skin, it just requires a little bit of heart.
I know these types of classes can be expensive, but I can honestly say it was well worth the investment! (Yes, REI is sponsoring this post – but I coughed up the $250 for this awesome course myself) I feel more prepared to go out on my own, and I have a better idea of what my bandwidth is and what my preferences are. I encourage you to try backpacking if you’ve never done it, you might surprise yourself. There is something so rewarding about conquering something new. At the end of the day we all want to be happy and empowered and the great outdoors does that for me, so I encourage you to get out there and see what you are made of!