I feel like my new writing genre is disclaimers. Readers, please don’t think that in putting my backpacking adventure on the page I am being critical of anyone or anything connected to it. I have intended for this particular series of posts to be about my unique experience. This trip was a wonderful learning experience for me, and I would recommend it to anyone considering an investment of time and money in backpacking. I have chosen what to write, and any misinformation or misrepresentation, however inadvertent, is solely my doing. Now, let’s see what happened after the stars came out in Georgia.
When bedtime came, it came for all of us. We gathered our toothbrushes, went into the woods to brush en masse, and then retired to our tents. Camping can be said to reduce your entertainment options, especially after dark, but to me that’s the idea of being in the woods.
I wondered if I’d be able to sleep with my brain working overtime and my senses on the alert for anything from a centipede to a bull moose. However, as soon as I removed my two hearing aids, the sounds of the forest receded. Tired from the day’s events, I soon fell asleep. The next day my tent-mate would tell me that she thought she heard a bear during the night, but it turned out to be someone in the next tent snoring.
I did wake up in the dark, and I could have used a “nature break,” but there was no way I was leaving our tent. I wasn’t just jumpy; I was also 67, and not as agile as I might have wished. The previous evening I had lost my balance trying to exit the tent in a low crouch. Though I wasn’t hurt, I’d hit the dirt in front of everyone. It was another lesson learned: If I bought a tent, I’d need to pay attention to its construction and door placement. And my limitations.
I was the oldest hiker in our group, and part of my purpose in being there was to evaluate my physical ability to endure the trail. In 1955, Emma “Grandma” Gatewood hiked the Appalachian Trail at age 67 with a pair of high-top sneakers on her feet. It has been said and proven that even those with physical handicaps can complete a long hike, but it is also true that 70 percent of people who attempt a thru-hike drop out.
We broke camp after breakfast and began our hike back to the trailhead. We were following the same path we had taken before--the downhill one, if you recall—and so this time it was straight uphill. I didn’t weigh my pack, but I felt the strain of climbing the slippery trail wearing the pack and trying to grab onto tree trunks while holding a trekking pole in each hand. I wanted to keep up, but I also wanted to throw my gear over the nearest cliff and perhaps have someone serve me a tall glass of iced tea under a ceiling fan.
I was not the only one being challenged. One of the men fell and another smacked into a tree limb that hung at eye level in our path. In addition to navigating the natural vagaries of the trail, one of the women was nursing blisters. We crossed a paved road at one point, and it was there that our guide offered to let her shed her pack. We could hide the pack, he explained, and come back for it later in a car. That sounded good to me, and here is where I have to tell you that I wimped out. Two backpacks were hidden in the foliage, hers and mine.
It wasn’t a perfect trip and shouldn’t have been; it was a test. They all are. Mother Nature is unpredictable, gear is unpredictable, and we’re unpredictable. A thousand things can happen even to the well prepared. I’m glad I spent a night in the Georgia woods. Maybe I’ll give backpacking another whirl, now that I can boast that I’ve been four miles. All right, three.
After we returned to the shelter to empty our packs, return the gear we had used, and say good-bye I walked to the visitor center. Using the restroom there was a thrill. I also bought a T-shirt to remember my hike in Black Rock Mountain State Park. Back at my son’s house, I immediately took a hot shower, put on clean clothes, and assumed a catatonic position on the couch.
Oh--don’t be disappointed that we didn’t see any wild animals. I’m not.
Thanks to all of the outdoor experts who have helped me to understand what hiking and camping are about. You might even see me out there again.