by Sarah Chabaane, SCDNR aquatic education coordinator
(Originally published in South Carolina Wild)
The idea was simple. Three colleagues, who happen to be female minorities working in the Natural Resources field, would backpack 18 miles, while closely documenting the trip (and my first experience with Spam).
I love camping and hiking. I love hiking so much that I have traveled to other continents in pursuit of fabled trails. I love camping, too. In fact, one of my earlier childhood memories was playing in a tent my mom set up in the yard. Having a deep appreciation of both activities, I had never put them together until recently. Backpacking always seemed like the logical next step, but it held its own set of challenges and barriers with an intimidation factor holding me back.
I wanted to believe that I was capable, but needed a gentle introduction. When a colleague suggested that the three of us, Alix, Keya and I, undertake a trip to document the basics of backpacking for social media purposes, which would help increase our photo and video resources, I utilized the rules of stand-up comedy by responding “Yes and…”
We included our video and social media staff member, Taylor, and set a date a few months out. However, we didn’t start planning for it until the week before.
We had quite a lot in common, coming from non-traditional user groups, a love of the outdoors, an eagerness to learn, and a desire to prove that a group of three women could hack it on the trail as beginners.
After consulting with Brian, a Diversity Outreach Volunteer and Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, we choose a trail that could serve as a loop. Brian taught us to select a trail with easy access to water that we could filter, which can help keep your backpack weight down and reduce the stress of planning and finding viable water sources.
He also pointed out tips and tricks on reading a topographic map, estimating mileage, and developing an emergency action plan. Brian passed along veteran knowledge on gear and packing lists, in addition to outfitting a member of our party with the basic combination of crucial supplies: backpack, tent/shelter, sleeping bag, sleeping pad and stove.
We all met over coffee to review the map, make shopping lists, prepare a social media plan and try to calm any last-minute jitters. We also determined a few basic skills that we needed to practice before hitting the trail.
Two days before the trip we met after work at my house to practice hanging food, using the two types of stoves we had, setting up our tents and making a menu. This is when it started to feel real! Imagine the five of us standing in my front yard practicing hanging food on a dogwood tree in downtown Columbia. We got some funny looks, especially when we had to fetch the ladder to retrieve an errant toss! After ensuring we were all capable of suspending the food bag, we moved on to getting familiar with the tents as each were different, then we polished off the evening with learning how to situate the gear into our packs.
Through our practice session, I realized that I either needed a new, larger backpack or a smaller sleeping bag. This is when things hit a low for me. My backpack was a gift from my family in 2010 when I took off “backpacking” in Europe. It was a smaller pack designed for clothing, not for toting gear. My sleeping bag was also of that nature, but even older, clocking in from 2002. It was bulky and heavy, taking up half of my pack. A sinking feeling set in that I was going to have to bite the bullet and spend money for upgrades.
Choosing both items is very personal and can take a lot of time in research, which I didn’t have. Buying both a pack and sleeping bag began to feel like a commitment I wasn’t ready to make; what if I didn’t love backpacking and had just invested in new gear I wouldn’t use? Alix reassured me, “You’ll love it, don’t worry.”
After a last-minute trip to Mast General Store, and with guidance from helpful staff, I was set and ready for the trail!
How did the hike go? What about the Spam? Read the rest of the story online to find out. (Spoiler alert: All three made it home safely.)