Last weekend I had planned my first multi-day backpacking trip. My first overnight was a huge success. I was ready to take it to the next level. As always, Fernando, my dog was by my side.
Preparing for a trip like this was more work than I expected. So much thought goes into where you are going. What trails you are going to hike? Will there be enough/reliable water? Where will you camp? How many miles each day? I spent hours and hours planning this part. During the process I got a little stressed. Worried I was going to miss something. But now that it is all over, I agree with a friend of mine that said, this is part of what makes it so much fun, the planning.
Along with planning the route, considerations need to be made around food for myself and for Fernando. Mine was easy, although I realize now I could have gotten by with less. Fernando, on the other hand, took some thought and research. For a 120 pound dog, 4 days of food is bulky and heavy. I looked into freeze dried raw food and found our answer. I also ended up purchasing a few items I didn’t have already; some extra collapsible water bottles, quick dry towels and a lightweight tarp.
The morning of I re-packed my bag and double-checked to make sure we had everything. With water, my backpack weighed in at 30.6 pounds and Fernando’s pack was 8 pounds. Our first day was only 6ish miles to camp and the trailhead was only 2 hours from home, so we had time. We arrived at the trailhead at Groggins Mountain 10:30 and said goodbye to the car.
I knew it was going to be hot, but definitely underestimated the effect carrying 30 pounds on my back was going to have. We had hiked in temps higher than that before. But not to worry, when the thunderstorms rolled in the temperature dropped. I had no idea rain was coming that day. The sky turned black and a serious storm hit. Loud thunder and lightning is definitely scarier when you are alone in the woods with no service on your cell phone. The storm subsided about the same time we hit our first day’s camping spot.
I started a fire (go me! even with everything being wet) so I could start drying my boots and socks. I totally burned a hole in one of my socks. Once camp was set up, we ate dinner, hung our bearsack and were asleep by 7pm. I woke up about 3am to more rain. Thinking about the clothes “drying” on the line outside, I decided they were already wet. There was no point in getting myself wet trying to get already wet clothes. So I went back to sleep.
When backpacking, your morning and nighttime routines pretty much revolve around water, food and your bearsack. The next morning we stayed in bed until the rain let up. We filled all of our water containers and collected our bearsack. As I looked at everything being soaked and not knowing what I was supposed to do, I contemplated just going back to the car. Instead, I just did what made sense to me (right or wrong). I ate some breakfast, put on my wet clothes and we were off.
The rain definitely made it more humid in the woods. Sweat was dripping off of me instantly. And, in the woods, even when it is done raining, it continues to rain every time the wind blows or you brush up against something. The cool rain water felt great though with the heat index is close to 100. At this point I hadn’t had cell phone service since shortly after we left the car. So, when I heard a phone notification a few miles in I made sure to check in and let my parents and everyone know I survived my first night.
Our second day was a strenuous 7 miles. It took longer than usual because we took several breaks and definitely weren’t moving quick. We crossed paths with two guys going the opposite direction on the Ozark Trail. They were the first people we had seen on our trip. When we reached Bell Mountain we were exhausted. Even though I had tried to stay on top of my water, I could tell I was dehydrated and overheated. This is when I started to think about cutting the trip short a day. I reached out to my parents to make the calls and see if they could get a shuttle to take me to my car from the Bell Mountain trailhead.
I set up camp, so everything could start drying out, and went to fill all of our water bottles. After changing into my other, slightly less wet clothes, I just sat and drank about a liter of water. Once I was feeling cooler, we walked around and took some pictures. I spent some time writing in my journal. It was nice. I did have service, so I was also able to check the weather. I knew rain was coming again that evening. We were way more prepared this time and welcomed the cooler temperatures.
I woke up the next morning, just as the storms were moving out of the area, around 6am. The view from Bell Mountain of the clouds was amazing. I was still feeling good about my decision to cut the trip a day short. I was starting my day at a deficit. My body still recovering from the last two days. With the hike out to meet the shuttle, that was going to be pushing my body far enough. It was one thing to push myself beyond that in a race or someplace where others are around if something happens. It’s another to do it alone in the woods.
Fernando and I enjoyed the cool morning, packed up and were on the trail by 8:30. I was looking forward to the mostly downhill hike out. Then I remembered I was carrying close to 30 pounds and downhill isn’t the same. lol The hike out was roughly 6 miles. It was a trail I had hiked before. So, I knew one of the last areas I was going to have service and called the shuttle to see if they could meet us a little earlier.
It was an amazing feeling when we got to the trailhead and I took off my backpack and wet boots and socks. The shuttle guy got there about an hour later. I guess we should have told him how big my dog was. He showed up in a little Ford Ranger pickup truck. He got out and looked at Fernando and said, I didn’t expect that. Fernando didn’t mind though. He promptly jumped in the cab, sat in the guys lap, stuck his head out the window and fell asleep.
Our backpacking trip was amazing. It was tough and at some points a little scary, but completely worth it. The upside to experiencing all of these extremes on my first multi-day trip, all of the experience I gained in that single trip. I learned so much! I can’t wait to go again. I can now take all of these new tools and use them on my next adventure!