Friday, March 15, 2013

Introduction to Backpacking

I have this friend, we'll cal him Tortuga, that doesn't have any experience backpacking but he wants to.




A couple Novembers ago (time flies) Flip and I took Tortuga along with another friend on his first backpacking adventure. We had him hike over Old Rag in full pack. Granted his pack was less than 20 lbs, but ascending and descending several thousand feet with rock scrambles and some non-technical climbing along with necessary collaborative effort stuff, really was a good test for him. He did good. We camped on the far side of Old Rag by one of the cut-off trails off the fire road.

He's hiked some more in the interim, but has not backpacked. After asking and really showing he has an interest in this sport we've finally got together and set aside time to go back out in the woods. Flip and I have not invited him on a couple trips that he and I have gone on since Tortuga doesn't have the gear or the experience to do some of the hikes Flip and I enjoy. Flip and I are also sometimes masochistic and didn't really want to have to worry about someone else's happiness when we are out hiking to punish ourselves with glee!
Flip came up with a plan while he and I were backpacking in Massanutten a few weeks ago, we would test T's resolve and get him to a level that he will enjoy trips (or not), plan them himself with or without us. He is interested in buying a new backpack, as well as some other gear, he is interested in sleeping in his own pitched tent, and cooking his own food. We want him also to be able to read a map, make a fire, and be self-reliant. Flip and I both have a high regard for the others skills and experience and know each is capable alone, but stronger together in a survival situation. We want T to not be a liability, to not need us.
I will be there at REI to kind of coach him through the process, not to tell him what to buy but to tell him what a waste of money many of the items are. I'll be the Jimmine Cricket hopefully, and from all the money I've wasted on useless gear guide him to some smart choices. His desires will differ from mine, and I will try to keep that in mind. His mindset is the weekend hike. My mindset is the Long Distance Hike - and while a light pack can be appreciated by anyone, there is definitely a balance to be struck. Hiking the Appalachian Trail is prevalent in all my thoughts about gear, I ponder the ounces that I'd like NOT to be carrying!

We are probably going back to Massanutten, and I am really looking forward to seeing some first signs of spring, hopefully they will be stirring there, at least in the valleys. Spring is here in SoMd, the first Peeppers (frogs) began singing on March 10th (in my mind that is the first day of spring), the birds are going crazy, the daffodils have sprung up through the soil, and the buds on the trees are giving the trees a reddish hue. To feel this connection to the natural world has always been so magical to me. I can feel the life-force growing and feel it's anticipation and joy that's about to burst forth across the world.



Ok, I'm definitely swerving off into the weeds that will soon be growing. Stay on topic, Johnny Walker.

Massanutten! Flip, Tortuga, and I will meet and park our cars in two different locations so we can do a straight through hike. We've not decided the route yet, but ideally something with views, good water sources, and possibly some different route options. Prior to going Flip and I want to provide T with a room of gear (besides what he buys) and let him decide what he should or shouldn't carry, this way he'll go over the lists in his mind and either carry too much and regret it on that first ascent or get into camp and realize he forgot an important item. Flip and I will be on the hike with him so he'll not be in any danger, but still will suffer the realization that not having X item is a bad thing - OR it's not actually a bad thing and is something that you just improvise to get around.
Once there I want to go over the route with him on the map, hand off the map to him and let him be our guide. He will have to be aware of his surroundings, and keep distance, side trails, time, and daylight in mind. Once in camp he can start a fire and cook his own food as well. Cooking can be collaborative, as in each of us make one item for a potluck, but the actual cooking will be left to each of us.
I think he'll be better for it. He didn't have the advantage of growing up doing this. Or being in Boy Scouts. Or having parents willing to go on wilderness canoe trips for 2 weeks at a time. To feel comfortable in the woods, you've got to go through the steps. You've got to be able to take care of yourself.

This should be a fun trip to report on!
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