Some return from the backcountry, never to see it again. Once is enough. Others never really leave the backcountry. It is always with them. These travelers are trailiacs. For more on the term, trailiac, see What is a Trailiac?
My first trip on a long distance trail was back in the autumn of ’99. Bill Bryson had just published, A Walk in the Woods. I backpacked a section of the Appalachian Trail with my brother and his friend. It was unfortunate that none of us had ever backpacked. My pack was too heavy, my equipment rattled with each step, and a topo map was something we would learn to read.
We chose to hike from Maryland to Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. Virginia’s rollercoaster is a series of about a dozen mountains stretching about a dozen miles. There are few views of bucolic farm fields on this section. We seemed to walk uphill only to walk down the other side. This was not really the section to learn about backpacking.
It was a hard week of travel. New boots caused blisters in the most unlikely places. Sore muscles arrived on Day 2 and departed after our return to civilization. Walking, itself, was slow-going because we had packed for all weather scenarios. We couldn’t read a topo map, so we were disappointed by countless false summits. We were woefully unprepared for a week on the trail.
We found refuge at a hiker hostel on Day 3. Bear’s Den is 20 miles south of Harpers Ferry West Virginia, right along the trail. We stumbled into Bear’s Den after sunset. We quickly learned that hikers could stay inside and use a shower and the kitchen for $8, or stay outside for $3. We splurged and stayed inside. It sounds silly, but there is such a difference staying inside. Inside, we’d didn’t care if the dogs howling were really a pack of hungry wolves, because we had a door. Inside, we didn’t’ care if there was the infrequent October snowstorm, because we had a roof. Bear’s Den was a palace in ’99, and still is.
Most of our days were the same. Hike until twilight, set up tents, hang bear bags, and cook in the dark. My brother’s friend claimed to have surprised three bears one night, but there were no witnesses. Each morning we’d shake the frost off the tents and put all of our belongings in our bags. By the way, drinking hot chocolate on a crisp autumn morning cannot be described, only experienced. Hoist pack, and walk until sunset again.
It was a very difficult week of travel. I recommend it.