Life's Pilgrims

Life is a journey, and we are all pilgrims traveling its varied paths.

How My Backpacking Life Started

By Karen Anderson

Original Article March 30, 2014 - Updated April 29, 2018
The weekend of May 13, 2004, I had a nice quiet three day weekend all planned out, starting with treating myself to a haircut, manicure and pedicure; something I rarely treat myself to. I had just finished with the pedicure when my cell phone rang. I answered it to my husband asking “What’cha doing this weekend?”
“Having a nice quiet three-day weekend to myself because you and Adam are backpacking with the troop.” 

“How would you like to go with us? We need another adult to go with the younger boys. It’s only five miles total. We’ve talked about backpacking as a family, this will give you the perfect opportunity to try out your new pack and see how you really like it. I’ll help you get everything packed as soon as I get home, ok?”

I took a deep breath. He was right; this would be as good a time as any and five miles couldn’t be all that bad. “Okay, I’ll do it.”
I could see him in my mind smiling like a little kid, “Great, I’ll let the Scoutmaster know we have it covered.” 

I hung up my phone and as I put it back in my purse told my beautician, “You’re never going to believe this, but I’m going backpacking this weekend.”
We finished my nails, and she was cutting my hair when the phone rang again, it was my husband.
“What’cha doing this weekend?”
“Going on a five mile hike with the younger boys?”
There was silence for a moment, then “How would you like to go on the fifteen mile trip with me? The third leader just called in sick and no-one else can go. We have enough coverage for the younger boys and NEED another adult for the Philmont crew. This is our most experienced group, they know what they are doing; you just have to follow along. They have taken care of everything.”
I was not really sure about this one. Five miles I knew I could handle, but fifteen? I convinced myself that Chris would not ask me to do something he didn’t think I could handle, and finally said “Yes, I’ll do it. Fifteen miles.”
I ventured for the first time out into the wilderness with almost everything I needed to survive strapped to my back. I had never been backpacking before and suddenly found myself on Florida’s west coast blindly trusting my life to my husband, who had not been long distance backpacking for almost thirty years, and several high school Boy Scouts who were about to go to Philmont. I learned a new definition of fear and trust as we hit the trail around midnight that first Friday night. 

What makes the best memories from trips is not so much what goes according to plan, but what goes wrong and how we work around the obstacles. Chris and I are making a final check of our gear as the boys are unloading their packs from the trailer and getting ready to leave when we hear,
“My sleeping bag is soaking wet!” from one of the boys in our crew.
Chris and the other adult go over to see what the problem is, while everyone finishes prepping the gear. The kid had refilled a gallon water jug with a pop-top and during the drive the top had come off, soaking his sleeping bag. They decided that it was warm enough he wouldn’t need the sleeping bag so everything else was replaced in the pack, the sleeping bag spread out in the trailer to dry, and we lined up and headed out. At least Chris’s butterflies had been quelled. 
Saturday morning after a quick breakfast of Slim Jims and cereal bars I started packing up my gear as one of the boys brings me a sandwich sized ziplock bag.
“Here are your trail snacks for today Mrs. Anderson.”
He walks away as I look at the bag wondering how the breaks would work. After deciding that we would surely stop and eat our snacks, I put it on top of everything so I could get to it easily. A few minutes later, we took off heading further into Mayaca State Park. Chris and I had been assured that the pace would be comfortable for us, the scouts always put the slowest person at point, but I felt like I was jogging to keep up. Chris stopped and pulled out his GPS to find out we were moving at four miles an hour. We looked at each other and decided we were in for a long hard day if this was the slowest kid. I quickly took Chris’s advice of setting my goal on the next tree line and mentally hunkered down for each section of the day.
Unfortunately, there were no breaks for snacks and I was determined not to be the weak one in the group, so I kept the pace with the group and said nothing. About 11:00 I started wobbling all over the place and when Chris stopped me to see if I was okay, I simply sat down, light headed.
"Why don't we just sit here for a little bit. Where are your snacks?"

He helped me out of my straps as he and the other adult took his pack off and sat down with me.
"What about the boys?" I asked, almost panicked because I knew groups should never split up. "Don't we need to tell them to stop?"
He looked up the trail and yelled a few times. There was no answer.
"It'll be fine," he said calmly, "a good test to see how aware they are of the group and if they follow procedures. Why are all your snacks in your backpack? We covered all of this in the meetings."
"I wasn't at those meetings."
"Oh yeah, you weren't supposed to be coming with us. Keep your snacks in your cargo pockets. That way you can eat without having to stop."
We sat in the cool shade and I continued eating my snacks as two of the boys came running back towards us. Sure enough, we had been missed in a reasonable amount of time and the two of them had dropped their packs and ran back up the trail to find us.
"Is she okay?"
Irritated, Chris looked up at them and replied, "Yes, WE are fine, thank you."
"Oh, we weren't worried about you Mr. Anderson. The scoutmaster told us we had better take good care of Mrs. Anderson."
"Again, WE are fine." Chris looked at me, 'Are you ready to head on? We should be stopping for lunch soon."
We all laughed as we geared back up and continued on the trail. The rest of the afternoon was beautiful. We passed through the scrub and dry marsh. I saw a deer run off as we passed by it. The weather was warm and sunny, but patches of trees gave us some nice shade and kept us from getting too hot.
Near the campsite for Saturday night, we took a quick stock of our water. We decided to chug most of what we had left and fill up our Nalgenes as we came into camp. While the water tablets were doing their job for 45 minutes, we could set up the tents and have potable water when we were ready to cook supper. We left our empty bottles with one of the scouts at the pump. A few minutes later, he comes up to us reporting that the pump wasn't working. Chris finished setting up the tent and went to check the pump, certain that the boys hadn't primed it correctly. A few minutes later, he came back and announced that the O-ring seal had failed, rendering the pump inoperative.
The group started debating options, which included sending a runner to another campsite 5 miles away or going on ahead to where the cars were parked. Deciding that none of these were any good, Chris pulls out his cell phone and calls the ranger's office. After a brief argument he put the phone away and announced to the boys to finish setting up camp, he had it taken care of. Normally, the rangers don't bring water to hikers, but Chris had called Friday afternoon specifically to make sure the pumps were working. They told Chris they were, so an exception had to be made. Just as the tents were done, a four wheeler pulled into our campsite and left us a five-gallon cooler of water that we would have to return on Sunday.
Our water situation now resolved, Chris and I were turning our attention to the evening meal, when once again, we heard the boys arguing. They had packed some freeze-dried stew, enough for everyone, but it required two stoves to boil the water. They had the cook-pots, we had more than enough water, but the boy who was supposed to bring the second stove had left it at home.
Evidently, his pack had been too heavy for the weigh-in Thursday night and he had been told by Chris to reduce the weight. The scout decided that the second patrol stove was not necessary. All the yelling was because he was trying to defend his decision. The patrol leader told him to bring his pack out, they wanted to take a look at it and after another discussion of why, he finally complied. The packs contents were: his tent, a pillow, mess kit, and a full bar of soap. His sleeping bag and water had been ditched in the parking lot Friday night. Now everyone knew why he had been able to set such a fast pace all day. It was decided by the patrol, with only one dissenting vote, that he would haul the garbage out the next day.
Luckily, Chris always insists on bringing an extra meal when he goes camping with the troop. He knows the boys usually cook for the adults and how good or how bad the food can be. For this trip, we had a couple of MRE's and I had packed an Esbit stove. Chris used the Esbit stove to cook the adult's meals to allow everyone to eat sooner.
Late Sunday morning we made it back to the starting point where we had parked our cars. Chris had the cooler strapped to his backpack. I was footsore and nursing a couple of blisters and riding a feeling of elation from successfully completing all fifteen miles. The group of younger boys had been there for a while waiting and rushed out to greet us as we came in and everyone was laughing and talking about each group's trip. I rediscovered the passion for the outdoors that I had first obtained as a kid in Girl Scouts and fell in love with hiking. 

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