This is going to be a very long one! I’ll do the summary first.
Performed to expectations, or higher:
Trekking poles (!!)
Sleeping bag liner
Needs practicing with:
Packing and repacking the backpack
Needs to be replaced / enhanced:
Betsy’s mapreading ability, or observational skills
Betsy’s common sense
Water treatment drops
Water pump & filter
*Very long account commences*
Well, I got to the park around 1:45, and promptly hit the first hurdle of bad planning – I’d brought cash for the park fee, but not enough to cover the camping fee. No matter! I dashed out to a nearby town, and found an open bar with an ATM. In the first hurdle of good planning, I filled my two 1-liter collapsible water bottles there as well, figuring there would be no water available in the park in the wintertime. (I was right about that.) The drinks BEHIND the bar looked very tempting, too, but… no.
Hiking commenced about 2:30. I picked a trail that, according to the map, had plenty of backcountry tenting sites and Adirondack shelters along it, where I planned to pitch camp. Truth to tell, I never saw ONE. And I should have, I walked far enough, according to the map. My water bottles were out of reach unless I took my pack off (bad planning – I have to figure out how to fix that), but a small bag of GORP and two nut and honey bars were attached to my shoulder strap by a carabiner, within easy reach (good planning).
Here’s where my trekking poles proved their weight in gold. I’d figured the trails would be muddy, with all the snowmelt, but I didn’t realize just HOW muddy. The trail started off with a pretty steep little hill, coated in mud, and I found myself ‘skiing’ with the poles to avoid slipping back down; plant both tips behind me, and push off, upwards. Release, repeat. Even so, I must have been carrying a couple pounds worth of mud on the boots! Mercifully, though, there were long stretches where I could walk on fallen leaves, or the sides of the trail, make some ground, and clean off some of the mud. But it got everywhere! I literally could not have made it without the poles. There was a lot of up and down; oddly enough, during this, I got a blister at the base of my thumb from the pressure of pushing against the poles. After a while, particularly on the way back, I stopped caring about the mud (see below).
I don’t know how far I walked, but I walked about an hour or so in, I’d estimate, and couldn’t find any tent sites or shelters. I was also starting to get cold, despite my fleece parka – I was sweating pretty hard under it, and in a cotton shirt, which provides zero warmth when it gets wet (BAD planning! BAD!). I knew if I stopped moving before it dried, I’ll get really cold really quickly. So I came to a trail junction, but though the trails were clearly marked, the map was confusing. I made the decision to turn around and go back the way I came, while I still had daylight enough to get back to the parking lot, find a “front-country” campsite (after all, I’d paid for it), set up camp, and cook dinner. I also stopped for a “snack break” – a couple handfuls of GORP to provide some needed energy.
Walking back down took about half the time, I swear; I was hurrying, and I’d mastered the trick of moving too quickly to slide in the mud, or let too much collect on the boots. When I got back to the car, I drank about half a liter of water, and cranked up the heater to warm up. I picked a camping spot next to a picnic table, and across from the modern restroom, but further from the outhouse at the road junction. (bad planning! The restroom was closed for the winter!)
Setting up the tent and gear was painless, I’ve done it before. One trick I learned was to put the sleeping pad inside the sleeping bag; that way you don’t wake up in the middle of the night having slid off the thing, and have to reposition yourself. That done, it was time to make dinner, and that led to a comedy of errors. I’d brought along a Knorr rice dish that required cooking, and as a backup, two of those silly Starkist “mix your own tuna salad” kits. (Good and bad planning – good to have a “no-cook” option, bad to have the smell of tuna fish lingering nearby.)
Two stoves. One a small backpacking stove that screws onto a propane canister, and one a “emergency” camping stove that holds three fuel pellets. Propane-fed stoves hate me, and I haven’t figured out how to work them very well; one went to pieces on me a few weeks ago, and I could not get this one to light. The emergency stove worked well enough – that is, the pellets obligingly lit, but I could not position my small cooking pot properly. It slanted. When I tried to straighten it (after overfilling it by accident), it not-so-obliging dumped water and uncooked rice onto the flaming fuel tablets, which quickly went out. So much for a hot, cooked meal! I used the second liter of water to clean the dishes, and resigned myself to tuna salad, water, and GORP.
Night fell. I crawled into the sleeping bag, and Kindled away a good chunk of time. As the night went on, I added the sleeping bag liner inside as well; that usually lowers the sleeping bag temperature rating by about 10 degrees. My bag was rated for 20 degrees and higher, but I get cold very easily, so I needed the additional warmth. It worked; but I still could not sleep. Acid reflux made an unwelcome visit (bad planning! Add antacids to the med kit!), and my head decided it needed to ache. (Good planning – I had Advil in the kit.) Plus a ranger kept driving back, shining lights into my tent – he was looking for two Mexican women who were apparently missing, I never did find out what that was all about.
Anyway, about 11 pm, I threw in the towel. I’d done everything I wanted to, tested everything I wanted to test, and I just couldn’t sleep. Packing up was easy, because I didn’t. I just broke down the tent, threw everything into the car, and drove 90 minutes home. I’m going to have to work on packing/unpacking: arranging things in the backpack in order of priority, compressing bulky items to save space, making sure essential items (snacks, water) are accessible without taking the pack off. But that I can do at home.
Was it a failure? Looking back, I’d say not. I did everything but sleep out there. I learned why trekking poles are essential, I learned what I need to improve on, what I did right, and what equipment I need to replace or work on, and that a sleeping bag liner is a lightweight necessity for me on cold nights. I was very happy to realize that all the exercise seems to be paying off – carrying the pack while hiking was not one of the problems I recognized. 🙂 And I know it had to weigh more than 17.5 lbs, though I never weighed it! My back, arms, and hips are a little sore this morning, but nothing bad. The heel blisters have healed; no feet problems, legs held up well.
Today I start breaking in the new boots. Today is a “rest day”. But I feel restless, so I might go for a long walk anyway, sans pack.