I should probably qualify that title by saying that this was only my second backpacking trip ever. I wasn't a Boy Scout growing up (and I mean that literally, not figuratively) so my first time was when I went out on the Conasauga River Trail with Mickey a few months back. Not long after that trip, I went out and purchased my own backpack, backpacking tent, and a couple of other items needed for that type of camping. My first chance to get to use any of it was today. In other words, this was both my second-best and worst trip.
I'm not sure I would have been so gung ho about buying my own equipment had this been my first trip out. The last trip was about 14 miles spread over two days and we walked down a big hill to get to the river, spent the next 12 miles on a nearly imperceptible decline as we followed the river's path and then had one big incline to get back off the trail and to our cars. That hill going up the last day sucked. It was relatively steep, I had been lugging around a 30+ pound pack for much of the previous 30 or so hours and I'm not exactly in tiptop shape. Still, it was far from enough to dissuade me from my belief that the trip kicked total ass. The soreness in my legs for the next two days was a point of pride instead of annoyance.
One of the draws of backpacking is the challenge, I think. The challenge of the river trail was the fact that you had to ford the river on a regular basis (we crossed at least a dozen times). The challenge of the section of the Benton MacKaye Trail was more of the fact that they didn't bother to follow the contours of the ridge to make the hike easier. Nope, they just went over one side of the mountain and down the other several times in a row. I was exhausted by the time we dropped our packs about five miles in and set up camp around lunch. It had been lightly raining all day and I think we were both a little annoyed with the weather, so we decided that after setting up camp, we'd leave the packs behind and go wandering a little without the load. That actually went pretty well except that the rain picked up on our way back to camp and didn't really let up until after we'd given up on the weather improving and tucked ourselves into the tent.
Did I say tent? Remember how last time I raved about Mickey's tarp and how my initial doubts about his tarp setup were assuaged by the success of that trip? I wasn't going to bring my tent this time until I checked the forecast and saw that it was supposed to rain and freeze last night. I think Mickey was even glad I doubted the tarp a little. There was one point of the hike in yesterday when he asked if I brought my tent. He seemed more happy than dismissive when I said yes. He used his tarp instead to create a little covered area for us and our stuff and we pitched the tent just outside of that area so we could get in without getting wetter than we had to.
Not that we didn't get wet anyway. The wind was so gusty that we were sprayed from every direction. The tarp kept us from getting soaked, but we were still heavily dampened by the time we gave up on being outside and climbed into the tent. That was when the real fun began. Have you ever tried sitting or lying still when you're wet and it's closing in on freezing temperatures outside? It's not fun. Even with three shirts on, heavy socks, long johns and pants inside my mummy sleeping bag I was still cold for a while. What's worse is that the tent is a little short for me so that my feet kept pressing on the wall, which pinched the sleeping bag and kept my feet frozen for the entire night. Mickey said I woke him up a few times with my thunderous shivering, which is odd because the only part of me that was cold by that point was my feet. He said he was actually worried I was going into hypothermia when I stopped shivering. Oddly, instead of asking me a question to see if my speech was slurred, he just went back to sleep.
The weather resulted in one of those nights where you feel like you never actually fell asleep. You shift instantly from full alertness to a dreamless sleep and just as suddenly back to being fully awake. I did this several times during the night and I wasn't sure I had slept at all until I woke up a final time and there was light, meaning that I had gotten some sleep because it didn't feel like I'd been up that long.
On the bright side, the sky was perfectly clear and while the weather was cold, it was going to make for comfortable hiking. I had to wear my coat over those three shirts while breaking camp, but I had to take it off while hiking and didn't feel cold again. It was cold though. When we hung up our damp gloves and socks from the previous day to dry off, they quickly froze instead. After breakfast and breaking down camp, we headed back out to our cars. This proved more painful than yesterday. First, I was stiff and sore from the previous day's trek in the rain. Second, I think I used up all of my energy the first day. I did pretty good on Monday. I ended up winded on the big uphill sections, but didn't stop to rest until I was at the top. Today, I was stopping multiple times to rest on my way up every major incline.
Speaking of my wimpiness, Mickey mentioned his true reason for hiking with me yesterday. Apparently, when he hikes alone he doubts his fitness because he'll feel a little tired on the tougher sections. When he hikes with me, it reassures him that he is, in fact, still in pretty good shape. That's right, Mickey likes hiking with me because it strokes his ego. It would have sucked for him if I'd died of hypothermia, wouldn't it?
This all makes it seem like a miserable trip, and it was at times. The weird thing (and why I'll probably go backpacking again in December, although in Florida that time) is that when you finish you feel pride at what you endured and you come away with positive feelings about what should have been a traumatic experience.
I'll post photos next week when I get home to the cable that connects the camera to the computer. I don't have that many anyway.