Getting in deep–now I’m backpacking

Those of you who have followed my blog know my love and passion for putting my feet on these Appalachian mountains every chance I get.  And hiking is something I love very much!  But this year I have added a little something–I have begun to backpack.  Now, let me assure you I am far from the “super woman” type.  So let me share with you some of my finds and things I got to help me get started.

First, you have to have this wild crazy dream to “hike the Appalachian Trail”.  Yes, I know so many, many people think about it, talk about it and wish they could make that dream a reality.  I’ve been one of “those” people all of my adulthood really.  But have I done it–NO.  And do I think I”ll ever do it–probably not.  But I can and I will do as much of it as my legs will allow.  A good bit of the Appalachian Trail or AT runs through my area here and so dream meets “maybe I can” right here at home.

Getting out and hiking a trail here and there is amazing and fun but you can’t do a stretch of the AT in just day hikes.  To do chunks of the trail you have to be able to backpack and stay on the trail at least over night.  Again, remember we’re talking passion vs reality of who I am?  So I did my research on everything backpacking.  And knowing me–I knew I needed light weight equipment so that I could carry it and me up and down the mountains.  I learned that there is a term I needed to make my new middle name–ultralight.  Yes, ultralight everything is what I knew that I would need in order to make it more than 3-4 miles.  So I got an ultralight backpack, tent, sleeping pad, footprint, stove, cooking set, utensils that were titanium, and trekking poles.  Believe me–it makes a huge difference in how far you can walk and still have everything you need to make it through the night comfortably.  And there is some great stuff out there for those of us so called “light weights”.

My husband and I made the first overnighter together with Riley our golden.  Now there were a lot of pluses and minuses to having Riley along. First and foremost, she is a great alarm to let you know something or someone is out there.  Secondly, she loves to hike and loves meeting people on the trail.  But trying to sleep with her in our 2 person tent that first night was a little rough. (Feel free to laugh here)  She was so warm and panting all night that serious condensation built up on our rain fly.  And it got COLD on that first night.  When we set up camp it was warm, the sun was shining and the bugs were out in force.  But when the sun went down the warmth went with it and then the wind began to howl across the mountain ridge at 25 mph.  The wind was still blowing so hard the next morning our little camp stove went behind the nearest boulder just to make hot water for coffee and that southern comfort food–instant grits.  You may laugh but as I’ve learned here–every ounce counts and that includes food weight.

Our next trek was my Mothers Day present.  My daughter came with us and we did another section of the AT ending in Damascus, VA.  We did about 28 miles that time!  We pushed a little too hard the first day for “newbies” and I paid for it with a very sore knee for a few days afterwards.  But we stayed the night pretty comfortably and this time Riley did not stay in the tent.  We went south on the AT as some of the “bubble” of through hikers were going north.  I know we met 30 people in one day on the trail heading up to Maine.  And our Spring weather had been anything but welcoming for these folks.  We’ve had so much rain and the trail was a soggy mess–but no shortage of water for sure.

Then I decided to really get brave and Riley and I did my first solo overnighter on the trail.  22 miles in all with the 2nd half on the AT going north.  Since I was on another local mountain trail for the first 10 miles or so, I did not see or meet a soul until the very end of the day when I had joined the AT and was getting water at a spring.  It was warm, we very luckily dodged thunderstorms the whole time and Riley and I enjoyed a great night of silence on the mountain by a fire.  Ramen noodles are a great dinner after a long hike up the mountain and of course they weigh next to nothing.

It is not all fun and games to do this new passion of mine.  There are bumps and bruises, logs to climb over and or under when they’ve fallen across the trail.  There is an awareness of wildlife that may or may not want you on the mountain with them–specifically bears, coyotes and snakes.  Yes, I have an ultralight bear bag just to make my campsite a little less inviting for the furry friends.  You don’t want to keep your food anywhere near your tent so you seal it up and hang it in a tree far away from where you sleep.  (The things I’ve learned)  There are ticks and mosquitos that make bug spray your new favorite perfume.  And climbing 1500 to 2000 feet or more in elevation does require some leg work or you don’t get very far.

What makes it all so very worth all the effort, bruises and miles in your boots?  What you get are sights, sounds, scenery and Appalachian mountain beauty that you cannot imagine just waiting for you to find!  Roaring creeks and streams, small mountain springs running down the mountainside.  Wild flowers that only grow on northern slopes, lush forest, huge mountain boulders and views that pictures just can’t do justice!  Click on the waterfall link for a video.


The mountains truly did call me home and now are calling me deeper in …


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More about Colleen

Colleen Patton EdD, RN, PA-C Curriculum Scholar with focus in Narrative Inquiry Appalachian native and writer Physician Assistant Educator

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