Are We Real Backpackers Yet?

A few weeks ago, Thomas and I went on our first backpacking trip together.

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Thomas took the picture of me, I took the one of him. You can see who’s the better photographer…

We have a glorious fourteen days of freedom this summer, and for weeks we were waffling back and forth on how we wanted to fill it. Travel to Italy? Promising, but too expensive. Road trip? Cool, but too much road and not enough trip…

Backpacking? YES!

I’ve dreamed off and on of hiking the Appalachian Trail for years now, but I’ve never felt I could do it on my own. Thomas was similar–he loves being out in the wilderness, but wanted someone to share it with. After Thomas casually threw out the idea of hiking a section of the trail over the course of two weeks, we quickly realized that this was the perfect way to experience something new, grow closer as a couple, and be awed by the simple beauty of nature that exists right in our own states.

We wanted to get all our gear in time to have a trial-run backpacking trip before I left for Costa Rica. So we jumped right in, feverishly consuming Backpacker.com articles and compiling a list of everything we would need to go from total newbies to nature-trekking aficionados (or at least look that way). Thomas compared prices and quality of gear, I came up with a menu of lightweight and calorically dense trail food (and broke out the dehydrator to make our own meals), and we both scrambled to buy everything we needed. Luckily, our efforts coincided perfectly with the timing of the March REI garage sale, and we were both able to score awesome deals. (I got an Osprey Atmos 65 backpack–practically new–for 50% off!!!)

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Thomas assembling the gear.

Within two weeks we were outfitted and ready to go.

Thomas’ co-worker suggested the Three Ridges trail near Lyndhurst, Virginia. We assumed that since he suggested it, it would be a good beginner route… You know, nice even trail, nothing too difficult, no stress. It turned out to be much more difficult than we anticipated–but all the more rewarding because of it.

We arrived around 6pm and hiked a mile up to the first campsite, where we excitedly pitched our tent for the first time and camped out for the night. We were giddy like kids trying out all our new gear–look at this! We made a fire! We have a tent!–and it was so exciting to realize that our dreams of backpacking were coming to fruition in real life. Everything seemed to work perfectly, from our dehydrated dinner and tiny stove to our cozy tent that our two sleeping bags just barely fit into, and it was amazing to realize that we were living the adventure that we had spent so much time imagining.

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The next day, we did the brunt of our hike. We hiked past waterfalls and alongside gorges, over cliffs and up steep rock walls. It was exhausting–much more challenging than the kind of long leisurely walk we were expecting! But even while we complained about yet another switchback (ughhhh), we realized that the views we got to see were so worth it. The trail was abounding with natural beauty, and we were in awe.

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By the time we finished our hike early Sunday afternoon, we immediately wanted to hit the trail again.

Afterwards, when we good-naturedly grumbled to Thomas’ co-worker about the difficulty of the trail he recommended, he reminded us that if we wanted to be serious backpackers, we had to get used to working hard. He was right: the trail was a challenge, but the difficulty had only helped us realize all the more clearly that backpacking was something we wanted to keep doing, a challenge we wanted to face again and again.

We complained a lot on the trail–but all along, we were doing what we had dreamed of. We had taken steps to make our hopes a reality, and they paid off. The result was exhilarating and energizing. We can’t wait to explore more, to go farther and become stronger and better at backpacking, in the future.

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