Last weekend I went with a couple of friends for a hike at Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland. We planned on an eight mile loop. Since I’ve never hiked with a pack (my experience to date is limited to car camping), I figured I’d load a pack to get a feel for it. I don’t have my own yet, so I borrowed one of my mom’s.
Yes, my mom actually has a couple of packs. But do not be deceived! She was not always this way, no. When I was growing up, we used to joke that Mom packed two full suitcases for any vacation, one for her clothes and one for her makeup…only it wasn’t really a joke. She came to visit me when I was studying abroad in Singapore, and I informed her that she had to fit her stuff in a backpack for a few-day trip to Borneo. Only then did she begin to change her ways. Now she’s certifiably an intrepid traveler, having backpacked through various countries around the world with plans for more. And I couldn’t be prouder. : )
But I digress.
So I managed to get the weight up to 28 pounds by filling the pack with a couple of sleeping bags, several containers of water, and a book. Not the best organization ever (think a boat listing slightly to the left), but it served its purpose. Ultimately I took the book out because I worried it would get wet in the rain (it rained heavily during the hike), so let’s say I carried 27 pounds.
I was lucky enough to have my friend Caro with me, who has extensive experience leading teenagers on weeks-long wilderness backpacking trips. This means that she 1) is adept at carrying 40-50 pound packs for long periods/hikes and 2) has much more patience than I do (teenagers?! blargh). Caro gave me advice on how to “wear” the pack with the waist strap fastened snugly, resting at the upper edge of the hip bone. I thanked her but then kept it secured slightly lower on the hips as I wasn’t sure how I felt about it being snug around my waist. Well, within a few miles, I realized the error of my ways. My shoulders quickly tired from the load, and securing the pack higher on my hips instantly shifted the weight. Overall, one of my least painful lessons learned, me thinks (…not the time to talk about my tendency for overuse injuries from distance running). Even so, I understand why hikers try to get the lightest gear possible. The weight was definitely manageable, but I imagine after 2,000 miles – nonetheless 100 miles – I may start to feel like Atlas bearing the weight of the Earth. Have I mentioned that I’m not particularly strong?
Overall, we really enjoyed the hike. I can’t say that Sugarloaf is the most intimidating mountain (note to self: look up the definition of a “mountain”), but truth be told that was probably a good thing considering my pack experiment.
Other things I learned along the way:
– Picking up litter on the trail (it really bugs me that people litter, blech!) takes more balance with a pack on. I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep it up over 2,000 miles.
– There are worse things to have in one’s head during a hike than the Animaniacs theme song. Remember that cartoon? Man, I used to love it. “We are Animaniacs. We are zany to the max….”
When we got home, after hiking for four hours in on/off thunderstorms, my friend (and roommate) April declared, “I’ve never been so excited to take a shower in my life as I am right now. That’s how I know that hiking the A.T. is not for me.” To which I replied, “Now take that feeling of excitement and multiply it by five days in the woods. Wouldn’t that be amazing?” I think so.