Well folks, I got back earlier today from my first real trip out. I had done some shakedown hikes here locally, but now was the time. I chose the Pine Mountain Trail here in Georgia.
The trail is 23 miles on Pine Mountain, and is rated easy to moderate. Yeah, right!
I had to select my campsite at the Ranger's Station when I got my backcountry permit. I chose one called Brown Dog Campsite located 16 miles down the trail. It's an easy trail, and my trail head pack weight was only 15 lbs. I'd been reading about 15-20 mile days like they were nothing, and it's an easy trail, right?
Well, there are parts of the trail that were very easy. Other parts are fairly strenuous. My earlier shake down hikes were only a mile or two, just enough to get a feel for my pack, and to test out my gear at the campsite. It did nothing to prepare me for yesterday's ordeal.
The trail was very well marked, making it very difficult to get lost. I know I couldn't manage it. And, luckily, there are joining trails that can be used to cut down the distance. That's a good thing too, because without it, I'm not sure I'd have made it to my campsite!
I started out on the trail about 8:45 that morning, eager to start my adventure. Sure enough, I clipped on through, but after a couple of miles, fatigue started setting in. It was bad enough that I didn't even notice the blisters forming on both feet. After a long, hard day; I found myself in the dark, with about a mile or so between me and my camp. I was making pretty lousy time, and now I was going to pay for it. I'm just glad I had decided to go the headlamp route.
I limped into my campsite about 8:30 that night. I quickly set up my Gatewood Camp and crashed out. I usually have some difficulty sleeping in the woods the first night, but not last night. I was out in no time.
I got an early start this morning, and cut through on a shorter trail, knowing now that my hiking pace is far to slow for the timeframe I had in mind for coming off the trail. It worked out well, only coming off 30 minutes later than I had originally planned.
It was, ultimately, a good trip. While I was miserable for most of the trip, I learned some key things.
1. I overestimated my ability. This was stupid, and in some cases has been fatal for others. This won't happen again.
2. I underestimated the trail. Everything I had read said that it was 23 easy to moderate miles with about 300 feet of elevation gain. That wasn't right. There is a lot of ups and downs that can wear you down. Plenty of flat spots too, but the PUDS can kill ya. I will never again assume a trail is easy, even if something says it is, until I've done it already and know myself.
3. I'm glad I started out ultralight. If I had been carrying a traditional load, I'd still be out there!
4. Trekking poles work! At least for me. They will be a part of my kit from now until the end of time.
5. Pick shorter routes. Goes along with #1 and #2, doesn't it?
6. Make double sure your toilet paper is packed. Not fun ;)
7. Get a dehydrator. Some of those freeze-dried meals suck worse than a Hoover!
While I'm still recovering from this trip, and likely will be for a couple of days, it's not enough to deter me. Until the pain and fatigue set in, I was having a blast and am quite sure I'll continue to enjoy myself. Just now, I'll be a good bit smarter.
There is no replacement for experience!