Before every backpack trip, we hold a trip planning meeting. We call it a “trip planning” meeting; in truth, the trips are pretty much already planned. It’s more of a “trip explanation” meeting. We go over basic logistics: carpooling, the route, the campsites, where we’ll find water, the weather forecast, any special precautions to take — for instance, if it’s an exposed route, bring extra sunscreen; if there are multiple water crossings, bring water shoes; if there are bears, bring a bear canister.
The first time I went on a solo backpacking trip, I didn’t.
It was back in the 1990s, I’d been backpacking with friends for about 5 years, and convinced myself I should take a solo backpack trip. I felt good about my basic backpacking skills, I loved hiking alone … still, there was this worrisome doubt.
It was cold and dark, and we were occasionally plunked with raindrops. But not a one of us moved from our spot by the fire.
“What is it about a campfire?” someone asks.
We’re drawn to fire for its light and heat, of course. But for us, on a three-day backpack trip on the Neusiok Trail in the Croatan National Forest, it was less about survival and more about pondering, as Guy Noir might say, life’s persistent questions. Like whether one would survive a freeze-dried meal with an expiration date of 1997. (Answer: yes, surprisingly.)
“Well, I learned something new on this trip,” Cat said as she watched Brandon hoist his backpack to his bent knee before pausing to swing it onto his back.
“That’s the thing about backpacking,” I said. “Every trip, you learn new things.”
Usually, backpackers show up at the trailhead, packs on their backs, with maybe a pound of food stowed among their weekend necessities.
On this morning, 14 backpackers showed up with no packs at all. All each had was a little bag with enough clothes and whatnot for an overnight trip. In their defense, they hadn’t been told to bring a pack; they were simply told where to meet.