A Day in the Life, Part 1: Stepping Out
You wake up this morning at 4:00 AM. Twilight hasn’t even begun, but the screeching of the alarm, coupled with your subconscious excitement jolts you from sleep. The air is still and dry, as it usually is inside, and you feel overly warm, almost claustrophobic.
Quietly, you roll out of bed, trying not to wake others, and creep to the kitchen. The foresight to load the coffee maker the night before is suddenly much more appreciated. As you press the button and wait for the hissing sounds and smell to fill the kitchen, you don your clothes and brush your teeth. In far too much of a hurry, you pour your cup of coffee before the pot is done brewing, and place the carafe back on the coffee maker to let it finish. You mind is racing, wondering if you’ll have everything you need for the day, and you’re pacing around the kitchen.
As the first sip of coffee hits your lips, the warmth now brings a quiet comfort to your mind. You’ve researched, read articles, pored over information, and spent hours going through different scenarios. “I’m ready”, you silently say to yourself.
The items you packed, unpacked, and repacked numerous times over the past few days are picked up and carried to the car. You’ve even thrown an extra change of clothes in. Having them out of the house and in the vehicle is a milestone, because all that’s left is to pour a cup for the road, quietly say goodbye to your loved ones, and walk out the door.
You’re going backpacking today.
As you pull away, you switch on the radio. Folk and bluegrass always gets you in a “wilderness” mood. The drive to the trailhead takes about two hours, and you’d like to step off at sunrise. Something about hitting the road towards a trailhead clears your head. The roads are empty this early in the morning, save for a few passing trucks. As you exit the highway, you pull off into a gas station to top off your coffee and grab a few snacks; beef jerky, a couple of granola bars, and a snickers will be on the menu this weekend. Back in the car, the secondary roads are just as barren as the expressway. The sky to the east is just barely starting to have the faint purple glow before sunrise. By the time the rest of the world awakens, you’ll already be on a dirt road somewhere, nearing the trailhead.
The forest road you just turned onto (after passing it accidentally the first time) is a single track through the woods. It is not unlike the trail you’ll be on later, only wider. High beams on, you’re squinting to see a small wooden sign denoting the trailhead. Your radio is drowned out by the sound of gravel hitting the fender wells, so you just turn it off. It’s easier to concentrate anyway.
A brown rectangle with weathered white lettering, about 4 feet off the ground on a rusty steel stake appears in the trees. There is a small turnout here with perhaps room for three cars. You have the lot all to yourself, but, being courteous, you pull as far to one side a possible. As you step out of the car, the first thing you notice is how cool and damp the air feels. The sun is just starting to add its warmth, and the dew hasn’t dried yet. Then you observe how quiet it is. No radio or engine, no cars driving by, not even any birds, for they haven’t become active yet. It’s silent. Even when you live in the country, there is always background noise, but here, in the backcountry, the lack of sound is poignant.
As you pull your pack out of the trunk and sling it over your shoulder, you realize that your cell phone is still in the car, along with the snacks you bought at the gas station. You set the pack on the ground, grab those items, and place them in the top pouch. They’ll be easily accessible that way. Once more, you hang the heavy bag over your shoulders, and you notice the weight. It’s heavier than it felt last night when you finished loading it, but you didn’t consider that the water bottles, snacks, and early morning add a few pounds.
Your checklist consists of shrugging your shoulders, clasping the hip belt, and tightening it. Next is the chest strap, followed by the shoulder straps. Your load lifters and hip stabilizers are last. At this point, the pack has become part of you. There are no wobbles or loose feelings. You jump up and down once or twice to warm your legs, check for fit one last time, and settle the load. The trunk is closed, car locked, and you place your keys in the belt pouch. One last glance through the windows to check for valuables in plain view, and you’re ready to walk.
As the tread of your boot rolls onto the first piece of dirt, you turn around, look at your car and the dirt road, and realize that this is the last piece of civilization you’ll see for the next 36 hours. Rotating back, you look ahead into the trees, and step forward.
This is going to be a good day.
This article is the first in a series titled “A Day in the Life”. The entire series puts the reader into the experiences and mindset of a weekend backpacker taking a short overnight trip into the backcountry. I hope that in basing this on my own travels, it encourages you, the reader, to have these experiences yourself.