Monday, October 6, 2014

Into the Woods: Smoky Mountain Backpacking, Part 5

I put up my one-person tent unaided, then unrolled and inflated my sleeping pad and laid my sleeping bag on top of it. All I needed to complete that theme was sleep. Next, with a friend’s help, I hung my backpack using the park’s cable system. I was learning the routines necessary for survival and comfort in the backcountry.

What do eight Women in the Wilderness do for fun? After supper we all walked to a nearby beaver dam. It had grown dark, so we wore our headlamps. The idea was to see the beavers, but they were not active. We then gathered firewood for a marshmallow roast. During that process, with our lights pointed at the ground, we were surprised by a black rat snake that slithered by and disappeared under a log. (Okay, maybe that last part should not be in a paragraph on “fun.”)

We sat around the campfire until bedtime, which was roughly 10:00 p.m. I mentioned that I had not slept well the previous night, and members of our group suggested a Benadryl tablet would be calming. I took one, lay down in my tent, listened to the creek a few minutes, and fell asleep for the next eight hours. When I woke up, it was light out, a great relief. I always dread being awake in the middle of the night, freaked out by forest sounds or needing to leave the tent in the dark to answer nature’s call.

TIP: Information about Benadryl products can be found at The company does not recommend its Allergy product as a sleep aid.

My sleeping bag was damp in the morning, as were parts of my tent. It hadn’t rained; I had failed to stake the rain fly away from one of the tent walls, letting condensation accumulate. I had to pack those items wet, which would have been more of a pain had I been on a longer trip. As it was, I’d be in the car in a few hours, heading home.

TIP: Stake your tent fly away from the tent walls on all sides.

Once again, resting had made all the difference in my attitude and my ability to hike. After a leisurely breakfast, our group formed a circle and did stretching exercises before packing up for the hike out. Our guide promised that our last few miles would be easy, even boring, as the trail flattened out to return us to the paved campground where we had left our cars.

That four-mile walk was a good time to reflect on my weekend: what worked, what didn’t, and what I would do differently next time. Yes, there would be a next time; I already had a two-night hike planned with friends for mid-October.

What Worked
I knew before this trip that most of my gear was just fine. I was testing my new, mostly self-inflating sleeping pad, the odor-proof bags I bought for my food, Fresh Bath Travel Wipes, and my new Darn Tough socks. I liked the Mountain House backpacker meals provided by A Walk in the Woods, though they are expensive to purchase. I took a few Clif bars among my snacks—always yummy.

What Didn’t
I had no mirror, which you might think was a good thing since I didn’t wear makeup or brush my hair for three days. I took a hairbrush, but forgot I had it with me.

TIP: Know your pack and what you put in it.

It took only a weekend to get sick of my favorite hiking pants, which I wore night and day. The camp shoes I got for half price are not good on uneven terrain; the soles are too thin. As for food, I took items I don’t normally eat. The smoked cheddar cheese and hard salami went untouched, as I didn’t feel like making a sandwich when we stopped on the trail.

I’m always conscious of pack weight. This time I misjudged my need for Kleenex and toilet paper. I ran out of both and had to be creative with paper napkins.

TIP: Take enough paper and consider adding unscented baby wipes for those tender areas.

Next Time…
I’ll take more paper products and buy a metal trowel (aptly named the U-DIG-IT Pro); exchange my tiny stove for a JetBoil, since my “cooking” will be limited to boiling water for instant meals; and replace my set of trekking poles.

It’s funny about hiking: from a distance, it seems attractive and doable. When I'm in the woods, putting one foot in front of the other with a pack on my back, reality steps in. Our guide told us we would remember the best parts of our weekend. The challenges would fade, and the camaraderie and beauty would stay in our minds. She was right.

We were almost back to the parking lot when the talk turned to animals. Our guide said, “You didn’t see a bear on this trip, but I will guarantee that a bear saw you.”

I can live with that. 


  1. Oh lord, no shower, no toothbrush and I am sure all of you smelled the same but were I born in the pioneer days I am sure I would have succumbed. Great blog and now I know I will NEVER go overnight hiking. But you are a trooper.

  2. Betty, I don't mean to discourage anyone from camping--being in the woods gives us many things to treasure--but there are certain realities. It isn't for everybody. By the way, I did have a toothbrush and used it. The hairbrush was the thing I forgot I'd packed.