My First Backpacking Experience

Hiking in to the Illinois River Trail

I’ve been out of touch because I’ve been away, exploring the outdoors. We were all psyched up and preparing to go on the Rogue River trail in May, but circumstances prevented us from doing that trip. Because we had gathered our gear and were excited to try it all out in the real world, we opted to take a 2 night hike along the Illinois River trail, located just outside Selma, OR. I am a first-timer, but Monica has been backpacking for a zillion years. It has always been her passion and she was more than happy to introduce me to it. Our friend, Kc, came along with us, but because she is in much better shape than we are, was about 2 miles ahead of us the whole way. We had Samson and he carried his own pack, for the most part. We had perfect weather. It was a little hot and dry, but we did really well.  Half the challenge was getting to the trailhead which was a looooong drive on a gravelly rutted road that we hoped wouldn’t turn to mud while we were out on the trail.  Monica drives my car as if it’s a Jeep, which it is not. I sat in the backseat with Samson. I’m not sure which one of us was greener.

Monica kickin' it "old skool"

Monica still uses the same external frame pack she’s been using for over 20 years. I called it her condo. All I could see was a big blue pack and her tiny legs sticking out the bottom. Sponge Bob Square Pack.  She was adamant we stop and rest ever hour so she found a place in the shade. “Do you take your pack off?” I asked.

“No,” she said, as she sat on a rock, her pack neatly resting on it’s frame behind her.

I followed suit, only my pack has no metal frame, so the weight of the pack just buckled and crushed me into a heap as I sat on the rock next to her. This was not very restful. She looked over at me and said, “You don’t look very comfortable.”

“Well, you have a kickstand,” I showed her.

She laughed. “You can take your pack off.”

“I asked you if you were taking your pack off.”

“Yes, I said *I’m* not taking my pack off. It doesn’t mean you can’t,” she said, by now thinking I’m a total idiot.

“I mean, when I ask you if you are going to do something, I am really asking if it’s protocol to do something. Since you’re the experienced backpacker and all.”

“You’re a dork,” she said simply.

None of us were really prepared for our packs to be so heavy. I carried the bear canister and Monica carried the tent. She generously gave me the more comfortable Thermarest pad, relatively speaking.  The trail was rocky and narrow for the most part with drops into Illinois river. Samson was moving along, usually ahead of us. At one point I saw him ahead of me on the trail and he was rolling around on the trail. Usually, that’s a bad sign because it means he’s found some kind of exotic excrement to coat himself with. I yelled at him and he leapt to his feet, but the momentum of his backpack caused him to fall over again. And again.  I watched in horror as he rolled off the trail and down the cliff, his backpack tangling and flopping.  He settled, somewhat stunned, among a few trees about eight feet off the trail. He couldn’t get himself up so I went after him with Monica convinced that we were both going to fall to our deaths.  I managed to get him back on the trail and unloaded weight from his pack. He seemed a little stunned the rest of the way and I was a worried about him. I’m pretty sure he was just tired and freaked out.

Looking down into the Illinois River
One pooped pup

Fetching water

About a half mile away, we crossed small  wooden bridge over a roaring clear creek and found our campsite. There was not another soul around. The camp was in a shady area surrounded by trees with no other sounds but the rushing water beside us. Our first mission was to figure out how to get water from the creek.  Kc and I figured out a way to climb down onto rocks and and reach the water.  I was new at this whole procedure and Monica showed me how to use the filter. I dropped the intake end into the stream, but had a hard time getting the thing to sink under water. Kc held the output end into our Nalgene bottles.

Agua Bonita

We got our tents put up. Kc put her tent up the hill from ours in the “penthouse.” Kc became our official firebuilder. Good thing. I enjoyed my first backpack dinner: dehydrated Pad Thai from a bag, cooked on our handy dandy new stove:

Happy campers

Monica added a touch too much water to it, so we had Pad Thai soup. Super yummy. Hmm. Well, I have to admit, backpack food isn’t THAT bad. Hospital food is much worse. We were thrilled with our stove. Kc had a different stove, called a Jet Boil. We lit the stoves simultaneously and the both blasted like two rockets.  We sat by the campfire, ate our grub and kept warm. We were all pretty sleepy and ready for a good night’s sleep. Yes, that is a flask in my hand, filled with quality Kentucky bourbon.

Bustamante style tea

What do you call Red Zinger tea and Maker’s Mark? Monica calls it Goooooood.

Our Humble Abode

I crawled into the tent to go to bed while Monica squelched the fire. As I said, she gave me the good Thermarest. “Lay it out in the tent and it will inflate a little, then just give it a couple of puffs,” she instructed. Being the literal-minded dope that I am, I gave it a couple of puffs. Well, I guess it’s not supposed to be luxurious. I brought Samson in the tent and he immediately made himself at home in Monica’s sleeping bag. When Monica climbed in she discovered a dog in her bed and her moronic partner sleeping on an un-inflated mattress.

“I gave it a couple of puffs, like you told me, ” I protested. So by a “couple of puffs” she really meant 30 or 40 puffs. She demonstrated. Ah, yes, that IS much better.

Samson collapsed between us for a while, his head resting on my arm. I lay there, hoping he’d move because I was getting stiff. At some point during the night, he retreated to our feet, probably because he got hot. I slept fairly well, except that I have not mastered the art of turning in my sleep so I woke up completely wrapped in my bag, the zipper lodged in my butt, and the mummy hood covering my face. I extricated myself, turned the bag every which way before, grappling blindly in the dark to make myself comfortable. “No one likes sleeping on the ground,” Monica constantly reminds me.  Oh sure.

I don’t sleep late when I camp because I can’t lie there that long. I have to move around or I become rigor mortis. Samson was nudging his nose under my sleeping bag because he wanted to go out and pee and eat. Not necessarily in that order.  Monica is cognizant of my severe coffee addiction. If I don’t get coffee in the morning, I’m basically a hateful horrible troll.  She found very small, portable coffee single packets from Starbucks. I have to say, they beat Nescafe instant coffee. It was like having a real cup of coffee. I highly recommend them.  Monica stayed in the tent until she was sure it was safe to come out. I gathered some wood and then traipsed off to go and find a secluded place to answer the call of nature. It is imperative to know that I am a one-toilet, at home, doors bolted, kinda potty girl. I hate public toilets. If there is even a hint of another human in the vicinity, my colon recoils and shuts down. There, I said it. It’s true. It’s a fact of my life.  But, here in the wild, with no other soul around, I felt as if I could conquer this phobia. I had perused a book entitled How to Shit in the Woods. Seriously, it’s a real book. Here is the table of contents:

You can buy the book on Amazon.

Because I had seen this book, I learned various comfortable positions, mostly utilizing a lone, downed log. (no pun intended). The biggest challenge was digging a hole in the rocky soil. Samson felt a need to follow me wherever I went and into my personal wilderness WC was no exception. I tried to ignore him and he didn’t really seem to be bothered by the whole matter. Mission accomplished, I returned to camp and announced to Monica that I had achieved what I set out to do. She was thrilled, bless her little heart.  Yes, I had to share this information with you because it will be important later. Trust me.

Monica and I milled around camp, trying like two complete dweebs to start a fire while Kc slept in her penthouse with her big fat air mattress. Finally, Kc emerged from her tent and we tried to act nonchalant. “Oh, you’re up!” we said sweetly. “Now build us a damn fire!”

I owe my colonic health to Monica because she prepares such hearty, fiber filled breakfasts:

Stay tuned for the next installment.

One comment

  1. I love this Tami. My first Backpacking trip was on the same trail in the Spring of 2004. We (my friends and I) had no idea what we were doing. We plan on returning in September, and if we ever work together again (I think we last worked together in December), We’ll have to compare notes.


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