Before the trip began, I started doing my research. If you don't know, I have a tendancy to analyze things (perhaps over analyze, in some regards, like buying a condo...), and I started to read and read and read all sites. I searched on Google for "How to Backpack", "How to prepare for a Hike", "What to bring backpacking for a weekend". Stuff like that. The basic stuff like "Tent", "Backpack", "Boots", "Water", "Sleeping bag" were all coming up, but I didn't want to be caught unprepared out there. I made a list, shared it with Matt, and he told me what he thought. I kept reading over and over how weekend backpackers always overpack, and I tried to whittle down my list of gear to little as possible.
Packing wasn't too bad, but I did run into a snag. My sleeping bag was a regular sized bag. It wasn't a compact one, and I kept telling Matt over email that my backpack must be too small, the sleeping bag wouldn't fit. Without a visual, Matt didn't understand. When he came over to look, he pointed out that the backpacks he was familiar with were designed to be more compact. I didn't know this, and we decided to lash the sleeping bag to the backpack. It wouldn't be a major problem, just a bit awkward.
On Friday Matt and I were joined by Dan, who he met on Team Hike and also lived near Hoboken. We drove up together (leaving at 3:30pm) to Wind Gap, PA, taking 78 the majority of the way. It should have taken us less than 2 hours to get there, but 78 was a mess with construction. We got there about 6:30.
I discovered that in hiking there is something known as "Trail Names". Matt is known as "Popper" and Dan is known as "Hummer". When we got to the parking lot we were joined by "Spugs" and "Gramps", who are the original members of Team Hike. Gramps maintains the Team Hike website. Spugs hasn't missed a single trip.
We get our gear on, and hiked about 1.8 miles from the parking lot to our campsite for Friday night which is called "New Tripoli Campsite". It's great. Its far off the trail, with a big stone firepit, three large logs around it, and plenty of flat area for the tents. No one was there, and we had the campsite to ourselves.
Everyone busted out their tents, got their beer/alcohol (which is technically illegal at this part of the trail) and we started the campfire. I have said it before, and I will say it again, but it is my firm belief that if campfires were illegal, no one would camp. Everyone gets out their inner pyromaniac, and loves to partake in getting a fire going. These guys made the most of it, breaking out meats, fish, shellfish, and appetizers that were pre-made & marinating the night before. Since the hike was less than 2 miles from the parking lot to the campsite, it wasn't too hard to carry a bit extra baggage Friday night - knowing that your pack would be much lighter on Saturday afternoon for the hike.
We ate, drank and were joined by Fallon, Grant, Rocco and Hicks who came later with their own food in tow. Easily one of the best outdoor BBQs I have been to in a long time. Popper even hiked with his guitar, and was busting out songs that had us laughing, singing and clapping. At 2am - TWO AM! - two more of our hikers joined us after they were at a Stevie Nicks concert with their wives. They got harassed for it as soon as they showed up by an off-key warbling by everyone: "Just like the white winged dove / Sings a song / Sounds like shes singing / Whoo... whoo... whoo..."
The guys were all in their late 20's to mid 30's, most married or engaged, and some with kids. They were the same kind of guys that were in Delta Tau Delta at Villanova - just fun, laid back and loved to get their drink on. Even though it was my first hike I felt like I was included right away, and joined in with the various bantering. I was able to hold my own with the movie quotes ("Milk was a bad idea...") and discussion of the upcoming footballs season to the various jokes and gags that crop up when you get guys together. Popper learned why you don't drink and then try to saw wood - due to a poor position of its axis, his decision to stomp on the branch to break it and getting clobbered by the branch that flipped up and nailed him in his right temple. Concern quickly turned to laughter after that one, with Matt taking a 10 minute break recovering.
We were up Friday until about 5am Saturday morning. Slept a few hours and left the New Tripoli campsite around 11am.
Saturday's hike was...tough. Now this was my first hike and I have nothing to base it on, except that the others in the group kept reminding me that other hikes weren't this hard (remember, 17 years of hiking with some of these guys). There were parts of the hike where we had to skip along rocks with a 40-50 pound backpack. You make a mistake and slip and it meant a very severe injury (look at the pictures for some examples).
While on the trail I kept thinking two things:
1. I am SO HAPPY I got my Asolo boots. I was thinking of just using gym sneakers, and read far too many times about backpackers getting sprained ankles. If I didn't have a backpack, i'm sure sneakers would have been ok enough. The boots were the best $160 spent on the trip.
2. You seriously needed to be athletic to do this trip. I don't care what age or gender you are, but this wasn't an easy hike. More than half of the trail were filled with rocks that required very good dexterity to navigate especially with a backpack. Most of my trail walking was me looking down at where to place my next step, so that I didn't twist an ankle.
Saturday's hike provided a few scenic views. We made it to Bake Oven Knob & stopped for lunch. We met other hikers there and Webelos scouts. We noticed thunderstorms in the distance and we decided to make haste towards our next camping site which had a shelter.
Along the way, I developed a blister on the ball of my foot and Spugs was quick to help me, since he had some experience with this and also was known as "Doctor Feet" on the trips. He broke out some Dr. Scholl's moleskin plus padding (I discovered later that I had moleskin in my first aid kit), and I was ready to go again.
Also, Spugs and Gramps were smart enough to stash three coolers of water & beer at another parking lot along the trail (mid way between New Tripoli & Bake Oven Knob). We were able to load up on cold water, cold beer and ice. We put the coolers back into the woods and would pick them up on Sunday. That really helped because I was thinking of bringing a lot of water, and left a 4 liter bladder in my car when Spugs told me about this.
Once we got to the shelter we were joined by other thru hikers. One was "Chillout", I would hazard he was about 60+ years old, with white hair and a white beard. Thru hikers are the hardcore hikers who started in Georgia, and live on the "AT". I'm sure weekend warriors to him are like Benny's from the shore to the locals. He hung out with us, while the storm passed, and a few other thru hikers showed up also. Some were a bit...ripe. I'm fully aware of the lack of showers on the AT, but it was hard to sit next to them in a shelter during a rain storm.
Saturday night was a bit more low key. Everyone was really tired from the night before, and around the new campsite we had trouble finding wood & the rain got everything wet, which made starting a fire tough. We were joined by Manning who quickly got the name "Johnny Cakes" because he hiked in wearing a pink long sleeve button down shirt. He never watched the Sopranos and didn't quite get the joke, but we had a good laugh over it. He came from the opposite direction, at the end of our trail and parked there. He was able to bring us a case of cold beer, which was pretty sweet.
We drank some more, listened to Popper play guitar and made the best of it. This campsite wasn't as good as the New Tripoli one, but it did have a shelter that some of the guys opted to sleep in rather than pitch a tent.
We woke up at 7am, packed our things and hiked out. Lots of us were very hungover, and the hike to the last parking lot took about a hour and a half. Matt and I drove home and were back in Hoboken by 11am Sunday.
Now after all that here's the Top 5 things I learned backpacking: