Backpacking Practice

If ever I get to thinking I can play with the big kids, all I need is a day like today to remind me that I am still a neophyte when it comes to hiking and such.

I’m having a hard time getting my backpack adjusted correctly, and today I tried to wear it lower on my hips to see if that helps. When I started out this morning for backpacking practice, I actually felt good, so good that when it came time to turn right to do my usual loop in the desert, I turned left. I thought this would be a good day to take a small risk and saunter through a canyon. The canyon wasn’t much of a canyon, perhaps more of gully, and the trail wasn’t much of a trail — it seemed more like a wash, with sand and rocks strewn about as if left from a flash flood. Still, I managed to pick my way through the canyon without too much trouble.

My mistake was thinking the path would turn right and the bottom of the gully and take me back to trails I was more familiar with. Instead, it turned left, and plunked me in the center of what looked like a dump. It wasn’t a legal dump, just a long section of trail that apparently was easily accessed from the highway. (Cripes — what is wrong with people? This is just one of the numerous piles of trash I saw. I can’t imagine the mindset that believes they have the right to jettison their trash wherever they wish.)


I’d never been to that part of the desert before, and though I knew where I was, I had no idea how to get back to what was familiar. I kept trudging along for miles before I finally ended up where I had originally planned to go, so instead of an easy four miles, I did a difficult seven. Surprisingly, despite carrying twenty-three pounds, I didn’t do too badly. I think I have a blister forming on a toe, some pain in my deformed wrist from using the trekking poles, a bit of chafing on one shoulder (for some reason, I can’t fix the straps while the pack is on), and probably a couple of other minor irritations that will show up later. But nothing major. In fact, it’s similar to how I feel after such a long hike even without the pack.


Still, there is no way I am ready for a long backpacking trip, especially something like a section of the Pacific Crest Trail where there could be huge distances (not huge for thru-hikers, just huge for me) between legal camping spots. (Parts of the trail are regulated, with rules about where you can and cannot camp.) Even more disheartening, are the sometimes long distances from the trail to resupply points. An oddity about long distance hiking is that you also do a lot of hitchhiking. Um. No. Not me. Hitchhiking is  something I am uncomfortable even mentioning.

So, what this means is that when I attempt a long backpacking trip, I need to go somewhere with no camping rules, somewhere like the backcountry of a national park or forest or wilderness area or BLM land, where once I have my backcountry permit, I can hike until I drop and then camp where I land.

Luckily, today I landed back in my room where I can “camp” in luxury for the night.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.