This past July, my birthday gift to myself was a 60 liter backpack and a rain cover. This August for our anniversary, my boyfriend gifted me a camp stove, propane, and a utility knife. Items are slowly being checked off of my list of things to buy, and I'm discovering that it might just be an ongoing process. But I was itching to get outside for my first attempt at true backpacking, so my boyfriend and I made do with what we already had and headed for the forest.
A friend recommended a great spot for a first attempt at backpacking called Spruce Grove, in Angeles National Forest. The sites sit on a loop trail at a halfway point, resulting in a four mile hike in, and a four mile hike out. My boyfriend is still working with a Jansport backpack, which actually managed to fit a surprising amount of gear. And while he offered to switch backpacks now and then if we needed to, I was determined to carry my pack the whole way, regardless of how tired I got or how long it took me.
I started out strong with a decent into the valley. Easy! Sam and I were thinking to ourselves, "Wow, tomorrow might be the hard day!" The trail weaves past some old cabins that once served as an overnight stopover for hikers and haulers in the early 1900's. It then crosses what used to be a creek and is now more of a trickle. We found ourselves following the most obvious path, which actually led us off-course to the base of a popular waterfall (which is also now more of a trickle). While we stopped briefly to observe the trickle, we realized we needed to backtrack.
We made our way back to the trail fork, where we discovered our intended and far less obvious path. It's here that I met my challenge.
The trail took us uphill quickly, to a point where we were actually above the falls. We were getting to this part of the trail right in the middle of the day, when the sun was at its hottest. Dripping sweat and huffing and puffing, we continued onward. Even after a change of shoes due to blisters, my pack was still feeling good.
We arrived at the trail camp mid-afternoon, and were too late to snag a designated spot with a fire pit and table. We strung up our hammocks and hung up our bags, and sat down for a lunch of trail mix, dried fruit and beef jerky. I was thrilled to see that the trickle creek ran next to the camp, as my feet were sore after the day's hike and nothing sounded better than soaking them in cold water. It was then I realized that the next purchase I made towards gear should be a pair of quality hiking boots.
As we almost always do on our camping trips, we made friends with the campers next to us. This time a father and son, and the son taught Sam and I to make "shanks" out of sticks. We sat by the fire with them and talked until it was hard to keep our eyes open, at which point we retired to our hammocks.
It was then I realized that maybe my next purchase should be a cozy sleeping bag instead of those hiking boots. It got cold quickly, and my thin blanket brought from home didn't do much to keep me warm. I made it through the night, but only slept a few hours. Sam barely slept at all.
We awoke the next morning early, and as I climbed out of my hammock I was already feeling the effects of the first day's hike on my body. I had seemingly awakened new leg muscles, and my hips felt a little bruised from my pack. My feet still had blisters and I hadn't slept well, but when you hike four miles in, you hike four miles out. So we made an effort to get moving so we could beat the heat.
We did beat the heat, and we were sitting in a Denny's in Arcadia before noon. As I sipped my coffee I examined the dirt under my fingernails and rolled my sore ankles under the table. I was exhausted, achy, and very dirty, all of which resulted in my slight embarrassment while sitting in the middle of a restaurant. But the Belgian waffle Grand Slam I had tasted incredible and I was accompanied by a feeling of accomplishment and strength. We'd done it - all 8 miles with that pack on my back, and the help, company and encouragement from my boyfriend.
Now it's just a matter of choosing the next challenge. Maybe 10 miles round-trip? Two nights on the trail? Either way, I think I'm going to need to make some purchases first - maybe the sleeping bag...or the hiking boots...or maybe a CamelBak...or a bear box...or a water filter...