I’m in!  Oh #@!*, now what do I do?

I was 51 and had never been backpacking before, but I love hiking and had done some camping, although not a great deal. I was also getting more involved with my son’s Boy Scout troop.  In fact, I had agreed to be the adult advisor for a backpacking trip the scouts would be taking in November of that year. So I had some motivation.  So when I ran into Mooch at a local church festival in early August of that year, and he once again asked me if I wanted to go on an upcoming backpacking trip, I didn’t hesitate to say YES. He just about fell over when he heard that.  I think the invite was given mostly because he liked to give me grief over the lame excuses I came up with in the past.  But I had some additional motivation too.  Or maybe it was pent up guilt. Mooch and I, and another one of the Patio Boys, had been pretty close friends at one time.  Marriage, family, work, and other changes in my life caused me to drift apart from them.  Moving to another county had a lot to do with it as well.  It seems there is a huge chasm between the counties we live in and it’s not really from the river that divides the two.   This was the perfect opportunity to get my feet wet with backpacking and to get re-acquainted with these guys and perhaps make a few new friends as well.

Oh #@!*, now what do I do?  I had heard some of the stories about their death marches. I was also not in the greatest of shape. Although these guys were a bit older, they were in a bit better shape. I was 5’8 and pushing 200, I hated exercise, hadn’t jogged in about 20 years and was not about to take it up again. I wasn’t sure I could keep up with these guys or if I could even hike up a moderate incline with a 40 pound pack on my back.  I certainly didn’t want to have them giving me any grief about not being able to keep up.  I also didn’t have the proper gear.  Most of the gear I had was only suitable for car camping.  I did have an OK pair of hiking boots though.

Fear is a great motivator. I started walking regularly – about every other day. I’d generally do a 3 mile loop in our city and extend it to take in some bigger hills when time permitted. I would take the hills at full tilt to increase my stamina.  Later on, I added a day pack with about 20 pounds of weight.  I also tried to get out on the weekends on local trails to get off the sidewalks and away from traffic. Busy roads are a de-motivator for walking.

The guys were great coaches too. They gave me some advice on gear and loaned me a spare backpack and tent, and told me not to worry about a stove or water filter - they would share theirs on the trail.  A neighbor, who is also an avid backpacker, offered great advice on clothing.  He circled some appropriate clothing in a Campmor catalog. I still had to spend about $300 on clothing and gear, but that wasn’t bad to get started. 

Mooch had a planning meeting (party) where I got to meet some of the other Patio Boys. After much socializing, Mooch fired up the overhead projector aimed at a sheet hastily hung to cover up the mini-blinds. The three possible trails/trips he was proposing from throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park system were laid out on crudely drawn transparency film showing what appeared to me to be a plan and elevation views. I’m not sure all of the seasoned veterans understood these were plan and elevation views.  They did look a bit more like Mooch had just traced his varicose veins.  I’ve got to get him up to speed on technology.

After a bit of discussion – to which I had no input, being the newbie – one of the three trips was selected.  The deciding factors being which trails had the best destination view or scenic feature, and secondly, which one Mooch favored after having done all of the research.  Most of the guys don’t really care where we go, just that we go.

A new fear set in for me.  The selected trip included a 4.5 mile hike in to the camp site that didn’t look too bad.  But the 13.8 mile day hike loop had a 2,000 foot elevation gain in the first 3 miles!  What have I gotten myself into?  I better re-double my training efforts.

Next…The trip begins.