28 June 2010

backpacking 101 (kind of a long post, you might want to get a snack or something)

At the beginning of our vacation, we traveled to Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. We camped our first night in a regular campground and then headed out the next morning for a four-day/three night trek... (or so we thought.) The first night camping was pretty uneventful, except that Walker barely slept, and I don't think Brad or I slept that well either. We had our breakfast, filled our water bags & bottles, stuffed our packs, and picked up our permits. The weather was nearly perfect - warm, but not too hot.

Here we are on our way up...We knew the first day was going to be the hardest day. We were gaining 1600 feet elevation in three miles. We had hiked a three mile loop at Providence canyon, so we knew the boys could handle the distance. The uphill was a bit tougher than we expected. We decided to keep our pace slow and we stopped often. We encouraged the boys to drink a lot of water, and gave Muskoka plenty of water breaks too. Brad and I kept ourselves hydrated along the trail as well...
Our 3.4 mile trek took us about 5 hours. We had lunch and a few snacks along the way. When we got to camp, the first priority was to get our food bags hung on the bear rope (thankfully the park had a great set-up provided, so we didn't have to rig our own.) The next step was to get the tent up... Wilson helped Daddy get it up pretty quickly. I did my best to keep Walker from having a melt-down. The lack of sleep from the night before (combined with a strenuous hike) was catching up to him.

Our campsite was on the side of the mountain, we crossed the ridge trail to get to it. Our tent was up about ten feet or so from where the fire pit was, and the bear rope was about 15-20 feet from the fire pit. (I am sitting at the fire pit when I snapped this picture... you can see the tent is uphill from me).
Wilson relaxing for a bit after helping Daddy get the tent up. I think Brad was getting the GPS ready and gathering the water bottles so we could go get water at this point...
...and this is where the trouble cropped up. The GPS points that we had downloaded were not correct. We didn't know where the water source was... We drank almost all of our water getting to our campsite. The park office was out of the more-detailed maps when we picked up our permit. You can see in the above pictures that the area was covered in thick growth and lots of trees.

Brad went out a bit but didn't find anything.

All of us went back up the trail a little and tried to see if we could spot a small trail leading to water.


Brad decided to go off on his own a little further to see if he could find water. We prayed with him before he left. We prayed for him after he left. He had the GPS, his cell phone, and all of the water bottles/bags. I had my cell phone too. The boys and I sang some songs. And we sat and waited. It was late afternoon. We watched for Brad to come back. He was gone for a long time, it seemed. I was certain that he would have water when he came back. I tried to figure out if we could get back off the mountain that night if we had to. I think we still had a liter or two of water. I prayed some more. Wilson was a little worried, and Muskoka whined when Brad left us.

An hour... or longer?... passed and we heard "I'm Back!" We couldn't see Brad yet, but we hurried to tie our boots back up so we could help him with all the water. (I just knew he had water.) When he got in sight, we asked if he had found some water... I could tell by looking at him that it had not been a fun adventure for him...he pretty much looked awful. He had found water, a tiny, dirty trickle. He had to stack rocks around the trickle to make it deep enough for our filter to work. He got enough water for us to make dinner and stick around for the night.

Sometime while we were getting dinner ready, Walker got bit/stung by something. He totally freaked out...screaming that it was "burning." We never saw the insect, and there was only a tiny mark on his forehead. We gave him some benadryl - justincase.

Dinner hit the spot! We had some noodles with tuna, and followed it with some hot cocoa.

We climbed into the tent early... maybe 7pm. The boys wanted to tell "ghost stories." There was nothing ghostly about the stories, but they were adorable. There were at least 40 flies between the tent and our rain fly (which means we could see them and hear them, but they weren't actually inside the tent). All the buzzing was actually kind of soothing - knowing they couldn't get to us. The boys dozed off early. After they were asleep, Brad and I talked a little about what we were going to do the next day. He said there was no way he would go back to that same spot for water. (He had fallen three times!) Our next campsite was 4 miles away (on the ridge trail so it would be pretty level ground). We weren't sure if water would be any easier to find there than here. So we decided we would head off the mountain the next morning, and maybe go back to that same campground that we spent our first uneventful night.

Brad and I didn't sleep that great, we are pretty sure there was a deer scampering around outside our tent. Muskoka growled a few times. Wilson asked, "what's going on?" while he was sleeping!

And then it started raining. Our tent was on the side of the mountain and our feet were downhill. It was a noticeable slope, Brad and I had to yank the boys up their sleeping pads a few times during the night (they were sleeping so hard that they don't remember this). So I was just waiting to get wet... I figured all the rain running down the hillside would eventually penetrate our little tent... But thankfully it didn't. We all stayed dry...

...almost. The hot cocoa right before bed, along with a benadryl, was a bit much for Walker. He woke up soaked... through his sleeping bag and even onto his sleeping pad.

Meanwhile, it was still raining. And was that thunder we heard? No, surely it was an airplane, right?

We had a breakfast of Clif Bars, so we could conserve water. We had about half the water that we had the day before when we hiked up the mountain. We wanted to save as much as possible for our hike down the mountain. You can see the boys were chipper as they ate breakfast...
Brad scurried around outside the tent getting things ready to pack up... Wilson cheesed for the camera...

We got everything packed up pretty quickly. And as the tent came down, we were certain that was thunder we heard.

We knew that the trail was steep the day before when it was dry. We knew we wanted off the top of the mountain as soon as possible while it was lightening!

We prayed for steady feet and for God's angels to protect us. We set out.

(At this point, I did kind of feel like we were going to be a Reader's Digest article)

Shortly after we crossed the ridge trail and began our decent, a crack of lightening lit up the steepest part of the trail...which was also the most-exposed part of the trail. At this moment, Brad and I exchanged a look that was probably the most serious of our marriage. When he turned back to continue leading us, my eyes began to fill with tears. The only prayer I could manage was "Lord get us down."

I assure you, God led us down that mountain.

We stopped once for a short snack and a few swigs of water. Our boys were amazing. They just kept moving. They were strong, they were brave, and they just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Brad and I were so very proud of them. We were so thankful that God protected us and gave us sure steps. We made it back to the van in less than 2 hours. We were soaked, we were tired, and even a little cold, but we were also grateful.

After the soaking rain and one peed-on sleeping bag, we decided to cancel the rest of our backpacking trip. We made a hotel reservation in Ohio, and called to see if Grandpa & Grandma G wouldn't mind some company for few days. In the end, I am certain that was the right decision.

I did learn a few things on the trail though...God is always eager to teach us...

1. Rain can be a great motivator.
You know, we often compare difficulties in this life to rain. And even say, "when it rains it pours." As we were walking down that mountain, I couldn't help but marvel at how well we were covering ground and working together. I believe that asking God to protect us helped keep us moving. And that rain caused us to ask for the help we needed. Often the "rain" keeps our perspective in the right place, and reminds us that we can't do this life alone.

2. The trail is always changing.
This might be a little harder to explain. We were walking down the very same trail - less than 24 hours after we had walked up it. But so much had changed, rocks were overturned, twigs were down, water was pooling all around. {OK, I have tried to type up what this means twice now and it makes sense in my head, but I just can't get it all out with words. Just know that is was a meaningful lesson for me.}

3. No matter how much you read about something, until you experience it, you just don't know that much.
Obviously, now that we have hiked a 3 mile trail with a 1600 foot elevation gain, we know how hard it is. We know we probably won't do that again for a few years (at least!). We know that we need to have a more verifiable source of information regarding water sources at back-country campsites. As we prepare to do some totally unrelated (to camping) things, I realize that I can read all I want to, but until I start stepping out in faith, I won't really know much about it.


  1. Wow, you and the boys are troopers! (One would expect an Army guy to deal with the situation...his wife and kids maybe not so much)

    I really think it's great how you related life in general to backpacking on that trail, and how God worked in your situation. You are always so insightful with that kind of stuff!

    And, as always, I admire that you are even willing to camp with no amenities. :)

  2. Sounds like the fun God likes us to enjoy! We know we can have a blast other times!

  3. That sounds like a Polliard style adventure!!! I'm glad you were able to see some wisdom in your experience.

  4. Sounds like quite an adventure! it is amazing how God can speak through all of these different situations when you are willing and able to hear!