Last weekend I went on my first overnight backpack/camping trip since I was 17. The last time I had an adventure like this was with a group of people, my dad included, as a team building exercise. We hiked 5 miles into the HOH rainforest for two nights.
This time, it was just me and a friend. Alone. In the mountains. 6 miles in. Without the false safety of a parent.
In the rain.
We knew it was going to rain, but decided to go anyway. Looking back I regret nothing, but I’ll tell you that in the midst of this journey I was kicking myself for not listening to my gut when it told me to sit this one out.
I should have taken the broken bag strap as an omen, or perhaps my sleeping bag not fitting onto my bag was an indication this wasn’t meant to happen, but I ignored the voices and stepped out of my comfort zone.
Actually I leaped, rolled, and clawed out of my comfort zone.
Hiking in the rain doesn’t phase me. I grew up in Washington state and I’m used to rain. Sleeping in the rain however, with wet clothes, in the middle of no where, is another story. A story I’m going to share right now.
Never in my life have I begun a hike at 5:45 pm, but when you get lost in the REI garage sale sometimes things just happen. Knowing we only had to hike one way meant we had the option to start later because we were setting up camp instead of turning back around.
The thought of it getting dark still lurked over my head and kept a slight ounce of fear in my bones.
This hike was new to both my hiking partner and I, but here is what we knew: our camp destination was at Pratt Lake, 5.5 miles from the trail head. The highest elevation was 4100 ft, and when we pulled into the parking lot there were plenty of other cars. Seemed like no big deal.
The beginning of the hike was magical. We were like two gypsy souls dancing in a street parade. It wasn’t until nearly two hours into the hike that we discovered we had only made it three miles. The sky was getting dark, the rain was getting harder, and my bag was getting heavier.
My perception of time and distance was completely skewed thanks to the added weight of my bag.
This is when we decided to pick up the pace. My back ached, my coat was drenched, and my soul was scared. I don’t often feel scared of other people (we saw none for the first two hours) but I feel scared of being in the dark without proper camp set up, and of wild animals.
Around 8pm we saw our first fellow souls, two men hiking the opposite direction. It was rather late to be heading back towards the cars, but when we asked if they were heading out their response instilled a small panic in both of us: “yea we are going back, the weather is just too much right now.”
We both looked at each other realizing we had no form of light (rookie mistake) and no idea how much further we had to go. We contemplated if we should follow the guys, but in the time it took for us to think about it they would have been too far ahead.
Instead we made ourselves momentarily feel better by calling them wimps. It helped for a bit.
It took us another hour to finally catch a glimpse of the lake and in that hour we both experienced feelings of fear, regret, confusion, and discomfort. It was now after 9pm and we had only moments of daylight left. The rain was still beating down our backs so we decided to set up camp under a giant tree.
In the middle of the trail.
It took longer than I’d have liked to set up this tent, both of us struggling with numb fingers and exhaustion. I wanted to quit and crawl into the thing deflated, but thankfully my partner knocked some sense into me.
Tent up, clothes stripped (there is no shame in the woods at 10 pm when you’re soaked) and fear momentarily silenced we sunk into our sleeping bags and began to laugh. We had to be crazy to camp in this weather, and crazy we were. We weren’t the only crazies however, and around 10:30pm a group of hikers and a dog had to maneuver around our tent.
In the middle of the trail.
The next seven hours were filled with 45 minutes of sleep, but that’s just an educated guess. I felt something run by the side of our tent at one point, the landscape was rugged, we couldn’t get warm, and I couldn’t shake the thought of animals smelling our food. In an attempt to get warm we decided to crawl into one mummy bag and spoon.
Morning finally came bright and early at 5 am and we didn’t hesitate to pack up our things. We had initially planned to hike another 6 miles to another lake, but after our night we decided to call it quits and head back.
The morning view on the lake made the entire trip worth it. That and the check mark I can now add to the “bad ass” column of my bucket list.
The sun came out on our way back to the car, the birds were singing, I attempted to feed them, and I even found a quarter – things were good again.
The journey back to the car included many laughs, multiple conversations about the wussy men, a handful of fellow hikers in awe of our adventures, and a sense of accomplishment I hadn’t felt before. I also experienced ungodly hunger because I barely ate a thing the entire trip.
It’s in these moments of exhaustion, fear, and doubt where we discover what we are truly made of. Sure, I would plan better next time, but I’m glad we took this spontaneous trip into the woods, and I guarantee we are both stronger because of it.
Until next time…
Q: What’s your idea of camping? Sorry, but driving your car to a camp ground with running water and a bathroom is called “glamping” in my book. Still fun, but not the same.