Spring training for backpacking
I show up at the trailhead and realize immediately that it would have been good to have started at the beginning of the Backpack Conditioning Hiking series, rather than mid-course. The series, offered through the Triangle Hiking and Outdoors Group Meetup began in February with a two-mile hike around Shelley Lake. The March get-together was also at Shelley Lake. Today, we’re at Umstead State Park for a ramped-up four-mile hike on the rolling Loblolly Trail. It’s not so much the physical challenge of today’s hike that makes me wish I hadn’t joined mid-stream. It’s the requirement that you wear “a pack — not just a book bag but a pack,” in the words of event organizer SherryB. (In the Meetup world, it’s first names only — at least at first.)
I assume that to mean a full backpack. My eight fellow hikers, seasoned vets of the series, I gather, have come to realize that means a well-appointed day pack. Aaron, for instance, a twentysomething who hiked half the Appalachian Trail (from Springer Mountain, Ga., north to Harper’s Ferry, Va.) in college, is wearing a weight vest loaded with 30 pounds in addition to his day pack. Others have loaded their day packs with bottles of water, bags of beans or dumbbells. I’m the only dumbbell toting a full, conspicuous backpack.
My self-consciousness quickly fades as we head down the trail and the conversation begins. Bill hands me a card for his Web site, hikingat60.com. He tells me he’s trying to carve a niche in the crowded hiking guide field by focusing on places where you can take 10-mile hikes. I like the concept, I tell him. I ask about his hiking poles and he surprises me by saying they aren’t for his knees (the reason I use them), but rather for his eyes. “I have three levels of vision in my glasses, so the trail is always jumping around,” Bill tells me. The poles, he says, make the trail less wobbly.
I walk for a while with Heather, a field biologist with the state Department of Transportation. We talk a little about the rare mussel in Swift Creek that’s causing debate over where the Triangle Expressway will run through Garner. We talk about her specialty areas of birds, fish and bats, and she fills me in one of the latest threats to the wild, white-nose syndrome in bats.
It seems everyone I talk with is getting back into backpacking after a lapse. For some, it was work that got in the way, for others kids. I take the opportunity to mention a new book out on backpacking in North Carolina.
At the turnaround point we take a break. Here I learn that I’m among a librarian and a librarian-in-training, and that the librarian and I just missed each other as students at Colorado State University. And three of us, it turns out, have children of learner's permit age, which leads to some amusing — to the others, at least — stories about kids learning to drive.
I’m curious about everyone’s specific motives for doing the conditioning series. Before I can ask, a passing hiker asks for me: “You all training for a big trip?”
There’s a pause, because it turns out that Bill is the only with a big trip in mind — the AT, though not for at least two years. “We’re all training for different trips,” someone finally answers.
I ponder this lack of a goal on the hike back. For the past two and a half years I’d been consumed with writing “Backpacking North Carolina,” and always knew where my next trip would be and when I’d take it. Now, I was drawing a blank. But not for long.
At hike’s end Sherry said the date and location of the fourth hike in the series was up in the air, but she’d let us know soon. She was, however, planning a graduation trip of sorts over Memorial Day weekend. Location tk, but mark your calendars.
I went home and did just that.