by Lisa Meagher
When I first met Josh he told me one of his hobbies was “backpacking.” Being a Jersey Girl, and now a Washingtonian, I didn’t completely understand what that meant exactly, as I like to lump backpacking, camping and hiking all in one category. Those are “country” hobbies, and different from “hanging out at the mall” or “going down the shore.” He soon explained to me that hiking was walking in the woods/forest, camping was staying overnight in the woods, and backpacking was combining the two. Wow! I wanted to do it! I’m a no frills kind of girl, I don’t shower everyday, I don’t wear makeup; it takes me 10 minutes to get ready in the morning. I like to sweat. I like a good workout. Backpacking and me sounded like the perfect fit! Our brief conversation was just the beginning of the things I’d learn about “backpacking.”
Josh and I wanted to go on a backpacking trip over a year ago, but due to weather, busyness and illness, we didn’t get the opportunity to go until this past 4th of July weekend. I bought hiking boots, socks, utensils and numerous other supplies that would enable me to be the best backpacker. Josh gave me his sleeping bag and supplied the rest. We were all set! Josh has as many backpacking accolades as I have acquaintances from Blackwood, so I knew I was in good hands.
We left for Shenandoah National Park at about 7 a.m. on Saturday a.m. The night before we laid out all our clothes, figured out our meals for the weekend and put all our supplies in our “packs.” Here we were, carrying everything we’ll need for 3 days on our BACKS. There was something very barbaric about the whole thing.
We parked the car and set out for our adventure. We hiked up a large hill in the very beginning and soon needed a water break. We stopped for lunch near a stream after hiking for about 2 hours. We re-upped on water. How did we do this? Josh had bought a “Sweetwater” toy, which pumps water out of a water supply and into a bottle. You put in a few magical drops of potion and BLAMO!!!! You CAN DRINK THE WATER. This was fascinating to me, and I made Josh drink the water first every time before I tasted it, for fear that perhaps the water would make you die instantaneously, as soon as it hit your lips. I think from now on I’ll pump water out of stream instead of paying for it out my sink every night! What a great way to save money.
After lunch, we had to decide whether to take one trail or another for the remainder of the day. We looked at our “trail maps” and Josh left it up to me. Hey, Let’s do the harder, steeper one, right? I mean, we’re out here to get a good workout, not to lounge around on the beach. So we set out for Rockytop Mountain, which would soon be our hell on earth.
The beginning stretch was desolate of much wildlife, full of rocks and plopped us down right in the sun. Great! Not only is it 85 degrees in the hot sun, but also I have an extra 25 pounds on my back. It’s like I’m carrying a small child. I turned to Josh after ten minutes and said, “Is it me or are we walking through a desert in hell?” I could feel my back gradually becoming wetter as we walked toward the top of the mountain. I was wearing a green bandana around my forehead and after hiking for about 10 minutes it was a darker green than when we had started.
Needless to say, we had to take frequent breaks. Along the way we saw some blueberry bushes. Josh picked up some of the berries in his hand and ATE them. “Josh!!!!!!! You need to WASH those berries before you eat them!!!” I was appalled. Who doesn’t wash fruit before eating it? You don’t know where it’s been!!!!! Ever have one of those moments when you feel like your mother? You could have just called me Fran.
Oh! Ew Gross! Josh, what is that? Bear POOP? Oh wow!! A bear walked by here. I got so excited to see this dark brown mass with berries in it. What was beginning to happen to me?
While we’re on the topic, if you’re female, I know what you’re thinking. How do you go to the bathroom? You go in the woods. You dig a hole, 3 to 6 inches deep, and you go. You use some toilet paper and bury that after you bury your “duty.” I had to do this on the trip and let me tell you, it’s not like my comfy toilet seat at home! Gnats, flies and bees (this is food for them, you know) are buzzing around you while every five seconds you’re looking around for a wild animal. It is quite an art to master. A squirrel ran by me once and I was a bit sheepishly embarrassed that he saw me on the toilet. I was all exposed!! The least he could have done was look the other way.
We keep hiking uphill and it seems like forever till we find the intersecting cross trail where we plan to pitch our tent, eat dinner and get some zzzz’s.
I found that I really enjoyed “setting up the tent” inside; inflating the therma-rests (camping “mattresses”) and opening up the sleeping bags. It surprisingly wasn’t as hard as I imagined it would be. While I was doing this Josh was lighting the fire in the portable stove and gathering the food items for dinner. I thought to myself, have I come so far in Women’s liberation only to have retreated back to the days when women created a nice, warm home while the men hunted? Not only that, but Josh would go outside the tent if it was raining to clean the dishes or boil the Mac and cheese while he let me stay dry in the tent. The worst part about all this is that I didn’t complain, nor did I volunteer to go outside for moral support b/c I didn’t want to get wet!!!!!!!! Come on Lisa! It’s RAIN for god sakes!! You aren’t going to melt.
We hadn’t realized how much water we consumed on the hike b/c of the heat. We consumed 64 ounces of water in a 2-mile stretch. Do you realize how much that is?!?! If you do the calculations you’ll realize, we drank HALF of the recommended daily intake of water in a matter of ONE HOUR.
By the time we were getting food ready for dinner, we realized that we only had about 2 bottles left; one large one, one small. Now, 2 bottles seems like a lot, but we needed this water to COOK. 3 cups of water in the large bottle is about HALF of one bottle. We needed SIX cups to make dinner.
The food you eat during your backpacking trips can vary, and Josh and I bought a dehydrated/freeze-dried meal of spaghetti and meatballs. Our stomachs were pained with hunger by the time we finally “sat down” to eat, and let me tell you, this spaghetti and meatballs was the best meal I’ve ever had in my entire life. I couldn’t get enough of it! I told Josh I was going to buy these meals and eat them for dinner during the week. To think all you do is ADD WATER!! Please don’t tell my mother who makes her Italian “gravy” from scratch that I ate a DEHYDRATED meal of spaghetti and meatballs and loved it.
So I measure out the appropriate amount of water with our handy dandy measuring cup, and hand it to Josh. He puts the water in the bowl, which is placed on the stove. Since we’re on a mountain, the bowl proceeds to topple over after about 2 minutes of boiling. My heart is in my stomach. Jesus!!!!!!! That was our water for dinner! We barely have enough left now for dinner, let alone to drink!! The nearest water source is 3 miles away.
I stop myself. What did I just say? No WATER SOURCE for miles away? No sink? No water fountains around? I can barely feel my butt b/c it is excruciatingly sore from hiking today, so there’s no way we’re going to hike and get more water. The tent is already set up! What do we do? I felt like I was in an episode of Survivor!! We ate our dinner with very little water. Josh even had a great idea to eat an apple since it contained a lot of water to help us hydrate. Thoughts such as these NEVER cross my mind in the “Real World.”
After dinner, Josh had to put our food in a bag and hang it on a branch in a “bear bag” so no bears would get it. “Josh, why don’t we put the food in our tent, just in case we get hungry later tonight?” “Because Lisa, a bear would smell it and come in our tent to try and get it.” Enough said.
I tried calling my mom before we went to bed. Yes, I got my CELL phone out of my bag and turned it on. Wouldn’t you know? No service! “Well, we’re on top of a mountain, it may be hard to get a signal.” I’ve never had a hard time getting a signal! All I want to do is call my mom and tell her I’m out here, roughing it!!! She’d say I was so brave, and that she thought I was GREAT for being out there, with the bears. I just needed to hear it from someone who knew how completely foreign this entire excursion had been for me. And she’d also make me put Josh on the phone and tell him that if he let a bear eat me, she’d never let him forget it. Not getting a signal was even more disheartening, b/c I wouldn’t be able to call 911 in case we needed it later. I told Josh this. “Lisa, what are you going to tell them? We’re on top of a mountain, near this trail and that, and there are trees and grass around?” Um, I guess so? You don’t think they could find us? “It takes them FIFTEEN minutes to find people’s HOMES.” I’m getting a little scared for the nighttime.
It’s time to go to bed. I get comfy in my sleeping bag and I’m reminded of the immeasurable amount of sleepovers with my girlfriends in middle school. Somehow this feels a little different. I lay for an hour trying to get to sleep, but every minute I’d turn to Josh and say, “What was that noise? Do you think that was a bear or ?“ He was very patient in calming my fears. Soon, it began to rain. And then it began to thunder. And then there was lightening. Could we GET any more elements during this storm? It went on for FOUR hours, and while it was comforting (I figured a bear wouldn’t approach our tent b/c it was raining) it was pretty frightening for a girl who has always been indoors during a rainstorm. And if she wasn’t indoors, she was in a car on her way to her house. What would happen if lightening struck a tree and it fell on our tent? What would happen if a bear ate you Josh, what would I do? THERE ARE NO PEOPLE AROUND FOR MILES. What is that saying, if a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it…? These were all the questions I was asking myself and out loud.
At around 4 a.m., Josh decides to get the pots out of our bags in the middle of the night and put them outside so rain collects in them. This will give us some more water supply! GREAT IDEA!!!!!!!! On his way out o the tent there are about 100 daddy-long legs seeking refuge from the rain outside our tent. EW GROSS, BUGS!!! I hate bugs. Josh dashes out into the pouring rain, gets the pots from his pack, and lays them out to get some water. I wait patiently inside hoping for his safe return.
Needless to say, I didn’t get the best night’s sleep that evening. I was happy for morning. It was probably the first time in the past 10 years of my life that I didn’t go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. If I had to go, I made Josh promise earlier in the day that he would go outside with me. Yes, we definitely grew closer in many ways after this weekend!!
We wake up the next morning and the pots are full of water. He is my hero!!!!!!! He didn’t even care about getting wet, Thank god!!! We can have oatmeal for breakfast.
We get dressed for our hike, which will lead us to the campground. Josh concludes that I’ve had enough “Great Outdoors” for one night. I don’t complain. As we’re getting ready, I think to myself that the backpacking “outfits” are pretty ugly. I mean, who wants to wear pants that can convert to shorts with one zipper? How TACKY.
We didn’t shower all 3 days. Now, I pride myself on not showering everyday and I work a 9 to 5 job. I don’t see the need to spend 45 minutes everyday letting water run down on me when all I’ve done is sit at a desk all day. My friends know this about me and find it particularly funny. Well, backpacking and not showering is something entirely different. On the first day we hiked about 11 miles, and every pore of my body was excreting sweat. My hair was greasy, wet and a total mess. It was so oily that I could make it stand up straight by itself for about 3 minutes. But I soon found that putting on a clean pair of underwear was almost as good as a shower.
What? Am I really a city chick? Can I not deal without having my cell phone, shower and other everyday amenities? I’ve always prided myself on being that tomboy who loves the outdoors and a good physical challenge. Perhaps a good indicator of my urban-ness was when I got excited in the Eastern Mountain Sports store b/c they had a waterproof jacket in my “favorite” color. Um, does the color of your jacket really matter in the woods?!? Fashion is not important here. All I could think was, “Ohmygod, I have become Alicia Silverstone in Clueless!!”
We hiked to the campground, took a nap and relaxed the rest of the night. We woke early the next a.m. and hiked 5 miles back to the car. By the end of the trip, I had seen about 6 deer (a mama and her baby!), many birds, and discovered some “cool bugs” that I had never seen before. And felt like maybe, in the future, I could do this for a longer period of time.
I checked my voicemail on the way home, and I think Josh summed it up best when I relayed to him what my friend Julie said in a message, “Haha, Julie is laughing at me b/c I went CAMPING for the weekend.” Later, my friend Marion would tell me that her idea of camping was “The Holiday Inn.”
“Lisa, your friends are so URBAN.”
But wow, that shower felt really good.
About the Author
Lisa Meagher is from Blackwood, NJ and now resides in Arlington, VA. She is new to backpacking and is excited for upcoming adventures and new stories.