When you are taking someone backpacking for the first time, you want their experience to be pleasant so that they will want to go again. When I took my friend Laura on her first backpacking trip, it was ANYTHING but pleasant….
I used my Backpacking Pennsylvania book to pick out an easy trail – I decided on the Pinchot Trail in Lackawana State Forest. In the book it was listed as a 24 mile loop hike that is typically done in 2 days. The loop also has a section of trail that goes through the middle in case you need/want to cut your trip short.
We set out in September of 2010 with my trusty side kick at the time Kira. Kira was an adorable dog I adopted from the pound in 2001, she had a few emotional issues as she was abused before I got her, but as long as you played by her rules, she was perfectly fine – more about this later.
We put Kira’s pack on and then our own and we were off for an overnight adventure. The hike started off well – slight elevation changes and we were in good spirits. We crossed over an awesome boulder field where a stream ran underneath and you could hear the water flowing – it was amazing and sort of creepy as we worried some of the rocks would be unstable and we would end up falling in. 🙂
We soon came to a trail sign – the trail name was different than the one we started on. I checked the map I brought, which was just the map from the book that I tore out. It was labeled on that map as the Pinchot Trail the entire way around so we were pretty confused when we saw a sign for the Powder Magazine Trail. We decided to keep hiking as it was going in the direction we wanted to go. Later we came across a sign saying we were on a different trail. What the HECK was going on? Were we lost? It didn’t seem like we were as we were simply going in a straight line, but why did the trail name keep changing. Well, if I would have brought the entire section for that trail instead of just the map I would have been able to see that it states in the trail notes “The PT is unique in that segments of this backpacking trail have their own names…..You’ll find various trail signs when hiking this loop.” but I didn’t take the trail notes so we had no idea what was going on. We just kept following the trail around the best we could using the map we had and kept heading in a counter clockwise direction. I’m pretty sure I had Kevin’s Garmin so we knew we were going in the right direction because our track marks were matching up with the map I brought. Eventually we hit a section that was a big open field, very pretty, but the bugs were out of control. Laura ended up picking a tick out of my ear and the mosquitos were EVERYWHERE. We kept putting bug spray on, but it wasn’t working. We trudged on. I remember going up an incline and looking back to check on Laura – she had a look on her face that could only read as “WTF am I doing? This sucks!” I asked her if she was ok and she said she was getting a headache and her back/ shoulders were really hurting. We decided to take a break. I looked her pack over and noticed there was absolutely NO PADDING on the shoulder straps!! NO WONDER she was sore!! I felt awful but there was nothing we could do as we were already almost to the campsite.
We continued on, Laura looking just really down and I had no idea how to help her. The next blow to our morale came when we got to the campsite listed on the map and it had PRIVATE PROPERTY signs all around – we could seethe fire rings just beyond the signs. I could NOT believe our crappy luck – what on earth was going on?? We were tired and it was getting late – there were MULTIPLE fire rings so it appeared to be where we were supposed to camp, but what was with all the private property signs?
As we were standing around a few other backpackers ventured into the area and started setting up – so we HAD to be in the right place. I have to say our campsite was a huge morale booster – it was right next to a flowing stream and the sight and sound of the water was a welcome sight after the day we had. All the spots were nice, but I thought our spot was the best. 🙂
We started to make dinner, we were so tired and Laura said she wasn’t hungry – I often feel like that too when backpacking, but it is important to eat something because you exert so many calories while backpacking. As we were eating 2 more backpackers came into the area. They started to approach our campsite and Kira decided she didn’t like them for whatever reason. She was on a long cord attached to a nearby tree so I wasn’t worried about her getting to them, but they kept coming closer.
Everyone ALWAYS wanted to pet Kira as she was an adorable medium sized dog and was well behaved, but sometimes something would remind her of her previous life and she would get upset. Cigarette smoke was a big factor in this, she was also scared of most men. I had Kira for 12 years with no issues, but like I said earlier you had to follow a few rules – when meting Kira for the 1st time, it seemed as if you ignored her she would think ‘HELLO!! PET ME!’ but if you went right up to her face she didn’t like that. I would always try to get her to play with sticks, but as soon as I would pick one up, she would hunch over, scared. I was so happy I could give her a good life after living through whatever awful things happened to her. As long as you didn’t come charging at her she was fine. She also always remembered people she met so you usually only had to do this once.
Well these girls decided they wanted to pet the cute dog. Kira was barking like crazy and her fur was up. They did ask if they could pet my her. I quickly said “No.” Then they proceeded to argue with me, “If I can just pet your dog she will calm down” They kept getting closer and closer and Kira was getting more and more upset. I was holding Kira back trying to calm her down. Honestly, why would you WANT to pet a dog that is barking at you? They kept asking and finally I said “I’m sorry I know my dog, please don’t come any closer – you are making her upset for some reason.” She had no problem with any of the other backpackers, but these 2 for whatever reason, Kira did not like. They finally backed off and Kira settled down.
There are some people that may say that I shouldn’t have taken a dog like this backpacking, but honestly that was the ONLY time she EVER did that on a backpacking trip or hike out of the many I took her on. If the people would have listened and just backed off when I asked them to instead of arguing with me for 5 minutes the situation would have ended right away. ANYWAY it wasn’t helping our day at all! 🙂
We hung out next to the water for a little and relaxed – we needed it after the day! 🙂 When it got dark we hung our bear bag and crawled into the tent to go to sleep.
Early in the morning we heard rustling outside of our tent. I peaked out to see what it was – A GIANT raccoon was walking around our campsite. His belly was so big and wide that he was more waddling around than anything – he must have it made there living off of scraps from careless backpackers! We waited until he was satisfied he was not going to find scraps in our camp and left. We crawled back into the tent and went to sleep.
A bit later I woke up suddenly to the sound of dry heaving and Laura jumping up inside the tent. Fighting to wake up through the haze of a deep sleep and trying to figure out what was going on, I sat up and turned to look at the commotion. Kira had started to vomit RIGHT where Laura had been sleeping – if Laura wouldn’t have sat up, Kira would have vomited right on her head. Laura got out of the tent to collect herself – this trip was turning into a bit of a mess. What a wake up call!
I don’t even remember how I cleaned the dog vomit up as I didn’t have a lot of stuff with me. As I was cleaning it up I moved my sleeping bag out of the way and there was a LINE of dead ticks from where Kira was sleeping the night before – I was horrified!! How did so many of those little buggers get on her – it was nuts! (They died from the frontline in her system as they bit her and started drinking her blood.) HOW GROSS, but at least it worked! I wasn’t worried about her getting Lyme Disease as she already tested positive for it when I 1st got her, but I still always did check her for ticks – those suckers are just hard to find sometimes!!
ANYWAY we packed up camp before any of the other backpackers even got out of their tent and set off on our way. We decided to take the trail that would cut the loop in half and just go back to the car – Laura had enough torture for the weekend. I don’t recall any other craziness happening, but it was pretty rocky in places. There were also some really beautiful spots on the trail – like where it went through a wild blueberry patch – you could see blueberry bushes forever, but none had berries on at the time we went. I would definitely like to visit this area again, just never made it back there yet!
LESSON #1 When you are bringing someone on their 1st backpacking trip, it wouldn’t hurt to let them set the pace at times. I had no idea Laura was hurting because we hiked together almost EVERY weekend and she is a strong hiker, but backpacking is totally different than just hiking. It is much more physically demanding. Laura later said that she felt as though we had to hike fast to get to where we were going so we could set up camp. We are both incredibly stubborn people and she didn’t tell me she was in pain. I should have been checking on her more and making us both take more breaks, but you don’t want new backpackers to feel like they are being babied either.
LESSON #2 Make sure you properly store your food at night or when you are away from your campsite. You can either hang your food in a tree which is called bear bagging or get a bear canister which is a large container with a special lid that the bears can not remove. Check what the rules are in the area you are going backpacking and follow them. This is important so the next campers will not have pudgy raccoons (or any other wildlife) trampling through the campsite looking for leftovers
LESSON #3 When backpacking sometimes you have to improvise with what you brought with you, like cleaning dog vomit out of your tent with toilet paper or a bandana – which is probably what I ended up using. It is impossible to pack for every scenario, so bring things that can serve double purposes! For example, you can use a bandana on your head to hold hair back, as a pot holder, to wipe sweat off your face, or as a towel to dry off after washing up. You can use your extra clothes in a stuff sack for a pillow. If you get cold you can put the end of your sleeping bag into your backpack and crawl into that – it will provide an extra layer of insulation. Get creative!
Laura was such a trooper through this whole experience – and we certainly can laugh about this trip now!