An Introduction to Backpacking

It was just a few days ago when one of my very best friends, Meg, texted me that she wanted to join on my section hike of the Appalachian Trail in Connecticut. I immediately jumped into high gear and texted her a list of things she would need to gather. I had most of the essentials so she wouldn’t need to purchase too much. We went shopping together and before we knew it, my parents were dropping us off at the southern border of the CT section in Wingdale, NY. Naturally, I journaled during our time on trail.

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Mile 1457.6 NY/CT Border to Mt Algo Shelter

Daily Mileage: 11.2

We had our packs, gear, trekking poles, and each other. We were ready to go. We followed the Housatonic River for most of the day. The terrain brought us up then down, then up again, then back down again, then up again… Meg was soon understanding why we did our best to keep our pack weight down. With food for four days and 1 Liter of water, our packs weighed about 20 pounds so I was happy.

As we were about 5 miles away from the shelter we planned on camping at, I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw a pattern in the leaves that seemed out of place. I slowly backed away as it stared at me. It was a snake, but what kind? We watched it from a safe distance and threw a few pebbles at the ground in front of it to scare it off. When we did eventually get its attention, a loud rattle pierced the air. We knew then it was a rattlesnake. It was staying put so we bushwhacked around where it was laying on the trail. I might have been shaking when I first saw it because it surprised me, but I was ecstatic that Meg had the chance to see her first rattler. I looked it up later to find out it was a timber rattlesnake, an endangered species in Connecticut, and to come across one is a special and rare occurrence.

Our legs and joints were aching as we walked into camp. We were relieved to see the shelter, but were a little bummed when we realized it was already crammed with hikers. We set up the tent nearby and hoped the rain that was expected would at least let up by the morning. There were more people in camp than I expected, but we welcomed it for our first night out.

Mt Algo Shelter to Caesar Brook Campsite

Daily Mileage: 13.9

Well today was a long day. A thunderstorm persisted throughout the night so our tent lit up every few minutes. Thankfully it didn’t wet out and we stayed dry inside. By the time the sun came up the rain had ceased. We ate breakfast, packed up and headed out of camp. Within five minutes we stopped to stare at a tiny red-spotted newt making his way across a wet rock. Just as we were standing still, I noticed a fluffy tail roughly two hundred feet away and figured a hiker and their dog was heading toward us from the road that we would be approaching soon. Then I saw another fluffy tail, and another one. It was then that I realized we were seeing coyotes. Meg was able to snatch a glance as well. She already mentioned it, but I was starting to believe her that she really was Dr. Doolittle.

We spotted a few turkeys as we made it up our first climb. We had a beautiful view of the Housatonic and one of the towns below. Not too long after, we were hiking 5 feet away from the river. It was definitely a sight. We thought we beat the rain but it did eventually come down, full force. By the time we almost had enough, we reached one of the shelters and decided to stop for lunch and to dry out.

We didn’t want to leave but knew we had to keep going. Meg’s knee was hurting her but she wanted to push on toward camp. We kept joking about the brief relief of flat terrain ahead of us as if it were our savior. It felt as if the world was against us. It would stop raining and a tiny bit of sun would shine through the clouds, then it would downpour. And of course it would always occur as we were making our way down steep boulder fields. We fluctuated back and forth between frustration and laughter as we moseyed along the trail with our ponchos covering ourselves and our packs.

We did eventually make it to camp just before the last light of the day. We didn’t even know if we would make it that far with Meg’s knee hurting as badly as it was, but she was a trooper. We scurried to set up the tent and opted to skip dinner so we could jump in and warm up. Being exhausted and having a creek nearby put us to sleep right away.

Caesar Brook Campsite to Mile 1484.2

Daily Mileage: 1.5

Total Trip Mileage: 26.6

It was a quiet night aside from the random gusts of wind that made their way through the campsite. It was chilly when we woke up, but the sun was shining. We took our time with breakfast and then packed up the tent. I could see that Meg was starting to get used to the gear, like how everything operated and in what order to pack things away.

After about a mile, we realized Meg’s knee wasn’t bouncing back to its normal self. We weighed the options and decided to take an abandoned forest service road off trail. We phoned a friend and arranged for her to pick us up.

It’s always a tough call to make to get off trail but the entire point of this trip was to have fun, and at this point, Meg’s pain wasn’t allowing her to enjoy herself. We chatted and realized we already acquired what we were looking for from the experience- beautiful views, hard climbs, a sunny day, a very rainy day, a rattlesnake, turkeys, coyotes, fun nights of camping, battles with ponchos, and endless laughter. It was a truly rewarding experience to take her into the woods and allow her to even experience a glimpse of my life for five months of last year. Luckily, she mentioned that even though her knee was hurting, she enjoyed herself.

As we sit here on the side of the road waiting for our trail angel, we’re smiling as we feel the heat of the sun on our faces. A good meal and delicious beer are in our near future.

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