New Backpacking/Camping Gear 101…Trial and Error

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Flooding preventing us from entering the trailhead to Zaleski!

Flooding preventing us from entering the trailhead to Zaleski!

The original plan was to arrive at Zaleski State Forest by 6:00 pm, hike about 6 miles to the first campsite, do our first overnight camp, then finish the last 15 miles Sunday morning. That idea was halted when we arrived a few hundred yards from the trailhead to find the main road to the entrance totally flooded from the days of constant rain and the river overflowing. We did some quick thinking, google mapping and headed to Tar Hollow State Forst, about 40 minutes away.
It was too late to get any miles in despite the summer solstice, so we picked a primitive campsite by the fire tower to get the tent, sleeping bags and sleeping pads broke in. We bought wood and attempted a fire, but the humidity was too thick and it would not start; not that we needed it other than to ward off the animals. We had no pillows, so we used our sacks containing our more change of clothes. It sucked. Sleeping did not happen; at least not for me and not for even 5 seconds. The tent literally holds just two people with no room for supplies, so we kept our backpacks outside of the fly and it seemed like we were constantly needing to get something out or one of had to get out to use the tree, which was no easy feat. The much-needed rain fly covered our boots and backpacks nicely as it rained off and on all night. We stayed dry but the humidity, partying passers-by on the nearby road and the yapping dog at the next campsite made for a miserable night.
Our sleeping bags kept sliding all over on our inflatable pads with our constant tossing and turning, so we will have to work on this. I’ve only ever tent-camped one day in my entire life and it was during a thunderstorm, so it’s all very new to me.  The Sleeping bags are super light and comfy and supposedly can handle temps down to 23 degrees.  Clearly that part was not trialed and I hate the cold, so I’m hoping we never see nights dipping down that low!  The under pads we slept on look like a cheap, inflatable air mattress, but have an R-value compared to insulation to keep you warm and dry from the underside.  They weren’t much fun blowing up, so a small hand pump is definitely on the next list.
Enough about sleeping (or lack thereof), now onto the backpacks.  Mine weighed in at roughly 19 pounds.  This is the most weight I have hiked with since our Camelbacks weight about 8 lbs.  I do not know how on earth I will ever be able to carry enough stuff to last 4 months on the AT as this was just about my limit.  We packed it as if we were doing a 2-3 day hike just to break ourselves in.  The pack fit perfectly and the level of comfort I do not feel could’ve been any better for me.  Next, for the boots.  I’ve never worn hiking boots; I live in running shoes. They felt heavy, but I loved the traction on the fresh mud and the help from the tread in going up and down the big hills (and Tar Hollow has some HUGE ones!).  Overall, they felt really good (along with the crew-height wool socks) but by mile 8-10, I had some blisters forming on my good foot that generally doesn’t blister.  I’m going to have to tweak a few things, such as maybe adding an insole or applying band aids to my big toe the next trial run.
As for the hike itself, I don’t think any other backpackers have used that trail system in a while.  The trails were overgrown with thick, thorny branches and thankfully, we also bought carbon-fiber hiking poles that were very useful in pushing the prickles out of our path. Our legs were still sliced up and burning from the insect repellent and sweat, so not a pleasant feeling.  This 10 miles took twice as long as our last 10 did at Alum Creek.  The hills were intense, the extra weight was tough and the terrain and prickly foliage really slowed us down.
We stopped once to eat and had pouch tuna, crackers, fruit snacks and a Kind bar.  It was too hot and humid to be hungry.  I consumed all but 16 ounces of my 3 liters in my pack.  The only thing we didn’t trial was our water purifier.  Which is fine by me as I’m not terribly thrilled with drinking creek water!   Our next trip is possibly to Dolly Sods in WVA this weekend to try for a 2-night, 20 mile hike.  We were supposed to run a half marathon in Northern MI this weekend, but lack of training and fitness has caused a deferral to next year.  Hopefully all these hiking miles will motivate us to lace our running shoes back up and get back out there.  Life, injuries and excuses have sidelined us long enough!

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