Imagine, if you will, a first weekend of November that begins bright and sunny with a temperature in the 30s, a temperature not likely to get out of the 50s during the afternoon peak. And a weekend that, throughout much of the state, will be festooned with the best fall color of the year. Imagine, if you will, this weekend … .
It seemed like a good idea when it first occurred to us. Based on how this past weekend went, turns out it was.
This weekend we held our first GetBackpacking! Weekend Quick Escape. The premise: fall is perhaps the best time of year to be in the backcountry. It’s also the time when us working stiffs discover we’ve plowed through our PTO (or what we referred to as “vacation” in simpler times). The challenge: cram as much adventure into the time between when the 5 o’clock whistle blows on Friday and it’s time to pick out our wardrobe for Monday.
We hate to hike alone.
So when a scant few sign up for a hike or trip — or worse, no one shoes up at the trailhead — we try hard to figure out why this particular hike didn’t resonate. More importantly, we try to figure out what might.
For instance, the past couple of years we noticed that attendance for our backpacking trips dropped markedly in fall, the prime time for being in the backcountry in the Southeast: cool temperatures, dry air, fall color. After asking around we learned something that should have been obvious: come September, most folks have burned through their vacation time. “I’d love to do a trip in the fall. I just don’t have the time,” was a popular response.
The times they are a changin’. And that change is affecting when we get out and play. Two factors in particular affect the when-we-play factor in North Carolina:
- North Carolina ranks 9th nationally in number of telecommuting jobs, a position bolstered largely by the state’s high-tech industry, which is more likely to let employees work from home. (Jobs that are most likely to support telecommuting — software programming, information security, data analyst, technical writer — are common here, especially in the Triangle.) Further, the trend is growing: the number of regular telecommuting employees nationwide has increased by 115 percent since 2005, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
- Between 2000 and 2010, the Raleigh-Cary area had the fastest growing retiree population in the country; the state’s Division of Aging and Adult Services says the senior population in Wake County alone will increase by 163 percent over the next two decades.
Telecommuters with more flexible work schedules and retirees whose time is likewise more malleable means that these two sizable demographics aren’t relegated to just getting out on weekends. Add in a sizable service industry with varied working hours that can leave time off during the day, and we’ve got a seemingly sizable number of candidates for midweek escapes.
It was about 10:30 on a Friday night, mid November, when we pulled out of the light rain and into the covered bank drive-thru in Canton, N.C. After a quick surveillance, with particular attention for the local constable, we decided the coast was clear: the five of us scrambled out of the SUV and quickly slipped into our rain gear. We wanted to be as prepared as possible when we hit the trailhead in a half hour or so to finally get our two-day backpack trip underway.