Before we were Darwin and Snuggles, way before I had even heard of the Appalachian Trail and yes before Darwin had a real beard, we were just an ordinary couple who both enjoyed taking random trips to anywhere together. This is the story of my first backpacking trip.
I had been gone a week with my mom, sister, aunt, and grandmother on a family trip. When I arrived home I was presented with a Kelty Backpack and was informed by the husband that we were leaving the next morning for a backpacking trip. At the time I would have done anything he would have asked I had missed him so much the week before. I accepted the pack with no questions asked.
I had no other gear. This new pack had a place for pencils and pens, which at the time was my favorite feature. I loaded it down with food and I am pretty sure a book, maybe a bottle of water, a metal mess kit (the kind that you unscrew and store a metal fork and spoon in), a Wal-Mart sleeping bag and that’s probably it. The husband told me we would need to stop on the way and pick me up some warm layers. It was November and he wisely predicted it would be cold that night. We stopped at a random farm and feed store on the way and picked up a pair of long underwear bottoms and tops. I took them straight out of the packaging and shoved them into my new pack.
I headed out in jeans, a long sleeve cotton shirt, a Led Zeppelin sock hat and a hoodie. We were heading out to Shawnee National Forest in Illinois. There is a place called Garden of the Gods we were going to explore and picnic at. We would then drop a few things off at the car and hit a trail the husband had heard about and camp at the top; Indian Point.
Our day exploration of Garden of the Gods was great. We picnicked on a rock formation that provided us a beautiful view. We had potato soup and sandwiches that I will never forget due to the fact the leftovers of said meal would be found a year later still in our trunk. Now into the later afternoon, we dropped off a few things at the car and grabbed our packs. I was all nerves as we headed out on the trail. We hiked maybe two miles to the top of Indian Point. The husband then picked a spot to camp for the night.
In the back of my mind I knew I could just hike down the trail we came in on and the car would be there waiting if things got bad. This gave me some sense of relief as the husband tied up a tarp that would act as our roof for the evening. We ate our dinner as the sun was going down along with the temperature. It was beautiful however I was having a hard time concentrating as every time I stopped moving I would get cold. I layered up with my long johns with the help of the husband’s borrowed headlamp. This was the only light source we had besides the fire. I felt a bit warmer as we snuggled around the fire talking. It was then time for sleep.
I remember feeling the loss of safety as the sun went down, the darkness of the woods around us closing in but still feeling all right with the fire going. Now with the sounds of Coyotes in the distance the fire was dying out. I snuggled in as close as possible to the husband not only for warmth but also for security. I lay there wide-awake knowing that every noise I heard was a mountain lion approaching. The husband was snoozing away in no time. How could he sleep so sound? I felt for sure something was out there. I closed my eyes and saw the beast lurking in the shadows the dying light of the fire showing only part of its face before it bit into me. I had just got off my period I was attracting unknown creatures to us! The smell of food lingered on my clothes surely drawing in beasties who would see us as an easy meal!
That night was the longest in history. It drug on and on. I slept only occasionally; the screams of my freezing toes and legs waking me constantly. My green Wal-Mart sleeping bag was practically useless. If my freezing body parts weren’t keeping me awake it was the footsteps of the mountain lion I knew had sniffed us out. I dreamt of it approaching our camp sniffing at first my feet than breathing upon my face. I would then wake and peek out from under by sleeping bag and see nothing but darkness. I would do my best not to move just in case. If moved I knew whatever was waiting for me would no doubt pounce me to death.
I awoke again this time to the husband stirring next to me and noticed a few beams of light breaking apart the night sky. The husband asked if I was awake and I squeaked out I was and had been most of the night. He emerged from his bag first starting preparations for breakfast. I just watched stiff as a board. With the rising sun came a small amount of warmth. I managed to spoon in my breakfast of oatmeal and trail mix, which helped warm me a bit. Even after eating I still felt I was just a little shy of Popsicle status. I tried my best to help pack up camp starting to really get worried about my seemingly non-existent appendages. When the sun had fully risen we left our camp spot, all fear of the mountain lion gone with the night.
As we hiked down the trail the husband assured me I would start warming up. He was all chatty about how good it felt to sleep outside and how refreshed he felt. As he continued to talk I tried my best to burn holes in the back of his head and continued to try to wiggle my frozen toes in my tennis shoes. We stopped a few times for him to explore a few caves and overlooks. I was having none of it. I kept on pleading with him to hurry back to the car as my fingers and toes were going to start falling off. It was maybe three miles back down to the car but it felt like a hundred.
When we arrived at the car I could have cried. I immediately jumped in and started it up blasting the heat. The husband fiddled around putting away a few things in the trunk practically whistling in his good mood. I sat in the passenger seat stiff and achy. The heat slowly starting to penetrate my frozen body. I thought for sure I would leave behind a puddle of melted water when I got out of the car again. Thirty minutes later headed down the highway, feeling relieved that I was unthawed the husband asked what I thought about my first backpacking trip. I told him that it was awful and I have never been so cold in all my life. He agreed that yes he was pretty cold too but next time we went out he would make sure I had warmer gear. I informed him there would be no need; this would be my first and last backpacking trip. I tried it and didn’t like it and that was enough for me. He just looked at me and very smugly smiled.
(This is the only picture from that dreaded first trip)