After weeks of acquiring items – long hours of research, trips to local and distant outdoor stores and searching for deals online – we were prepared to embark on our first trip in the wilderness… almost. I say almost because as my Husband already explained, trying to obtain quality backpacking gear for two people in one go would cost a small fortune, so we may or may not have been missing a couple key items. Nonetheless, having most of what we needed plus the insatiable itch that could only be scratched by getting out there, we decided to go. But where?
As beginner backpackers, we needed a trail that was relatively easy, well known, well-marked and preferably close to home in order to prepare an emergency exit if need be. My researched obsessed Husband took to reddit and other sources and determined the Charles C Deem Wilderness within the Hoosier National Forest (Indiana) would be the best option. A mere 3 hours away (which is close considering we live in Southwest Ohio), it was popular for a first trip and we had a readily available, easy to follow map.
With most of our gear and finally a destination in mind, it was my time to shine! Though I detest researching and deciding on a place to go, once those details are settled upon, I LOVE to organize and prepare for a trip. I studied the map – the trails, the mileage, the warning of chiggers and ticks (“It’s still May! We should be okay, they probably aren’t even out yet”, I say). I begin meal planning – no cans, rehydratable meals, snacks and water – high caloric intake with smallest weight. The end result was a living room full of food, clothes and gear, ready to be arranged in our packs for the first time. After only a few attempts, we were both satisfied with the weight distribution of our packs. We were ready.
The next day, we got up at the crack of dawn and headed to our destination. The drive was uneventful as we passed cornfield after cornfield until we reached the boundary of the Hoosier National Forest. It became near single lane traffic under a canopy of woods. The road then became even more primitive as we made our way the last 6 miles on dirt road where cell service was scarce. We made it to the packed trailhead. It was a Sunday so we were hoping that the majority of other backpackers would be heading home so there would be plenty of camp sites available, yet still some traffic in the event we got lost or injured.
Our excitement was palpable as we completed our last pack checks and locked the car. We took a quick selfie as a memento for our first backpacking trip and started on our 5.3 miles to Lake Monroe, where we would call home for the night. Typically we are pretty slow hikers. We like to take in the sights and take our time, plus it was the first time with fully loaded down backpacks. As with every trip, you can’t plan everything. We met a day hiker whose group had started without him so he decided to hike with us. His long legs and light pack made for a quick, though strenuous trip for us as we panted and poured sweat to keep up with him. It was 12:30pm and we were already at Lake Monroe – what a pretty sight. We said goodbye to our new friend as he caught up with his group and started heading back while we began to set up camp.
With the tent set up, the pads and sleeping BAG (just one) laid out, it happened. The first sighting of what would be many – the dreaded tick. From that point on, we started checking each other hourly, just for peace of mind. With the thought of ticks looming over us, we decided to take it in stride and embrace the suck for the moment. The sight was beautiful and weather was warm so we decided to take a dip in the lake. It was so refreshing to cool down in the man-made lake, albeit a tad on the stinky side – beggars can’t be choosers.
After another check for ticks, we lounged around until dinner time where I tried a concoction of a Steak Fajita Knorr side with Babybel cheese and beef jerky. The result? Not as bad as you would think but surprisingly, nowhere near as good as my Husband’s choice of Mountain House Beef Stroganoff. I’m a little fussy when it comes to meat so when I think of dehydrated hamburger, my stomach starts doing flips but I have to tell you, Mountain House knows what they’re doing. After supper was cleaned up, we enjoyed the sunset over the lake – a sight I can assure could not possibly get old, and settled down in front of a roaring fire. When the logs were nothing but faint embers, we did one last tick check and retired to the tent.
Now, remember when I said we were almost prepared for a trip but may be lacking an item or two? Well, we hadn’t gotten around to purchasing a sleeping bag for me, but my Husband had an Enlightened Equipment Conundrum. It’s similar to a regular mummy sleeping bag but it only zips ¾ of the way down to keep your feet nice and toasty. We did a test run at home where we opened it up as far as it would go and shared it spread out on the bed. “It should work,” I thought. WRONG! We have two different sleeping pads, me with a fancy-free accordion style Therma-Rest Z-light and Husband with a fancy blow-up, loud as can be Thermarest Neo Air. He’s about 2” higher off the ground than I am and though I set our pads as close together as I could, somehow the Neo-Air tended to travel… along with the sleeping bag. It was a restless, chilly night but hey, I survived and learned I DO in fact need my own sleeping bag.
We woke up the next morning and made some oatmeal and a fancy drip coffee (ooo lala). At $2.50 per coffee pack, I almost expected it to make itself, but as it was our first backpacking trip, I figured what the heck. I have to admit it was a pretty good cup of coffee, especially with the sugar and powdered creamer I brought. After breakfast we packed up and headed back the way we came to find another spot to make camp. I don’t know about you, but one of the reasons I like a cup of coffee in the morning is because it keeps me regular – if you know what I mean. I was cruelly reminded of this fact about 2 miles down the trail. I had to go, NOW! I made a B-line straight in the bush with my ziplock bag of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. What about your trowel you may ask? “Almost prepared” is my answer. I kicked a cat hole with my foot the best and as fast as I could but made a bolded, underlined mental note to purchase a trowel when we got to a town. With business taken care of, we kept on trekking down the trail.
At around the 3 mile mark, we found a neat camp spot just off the trail. It was nicely shaded and surprisingly secluded us from the trail with a natural “fence” of trees. Extra bonus – there wasn’t as much tall grass surrounding us which would minimize the amount of ticks that plagued us the previous night. I realized at this point that we may not have brought enough water for the night so we made the decision to trek back to the car, restock on water and head back. It was early enough and the mileage wasn’t too awful (~8 miles from the lake to the car and back to the campsite). All in all, a good decision because I like a hot meal at night, but in the future, packing enough water or having a filter to treat water (if water sources are available) would be the better option as the added weight on my back for 8 miles when it could have been 3 made for sore feet and achy muscles.
We set up camp and relaxed before we felt the first few rain drops from the looming rainclouds. We decided to take solace in the tent and allowed ourselves to be lolled to sleep by the gentle pitter-patter of the rain against our tent. When we woke up and the rain had subsided for the time being, we took the opportunity to make supper. On the menu tonight: my leftovers from the previous night and a new Mountain House meal for Husband: Biscuits and Gravy. Once again, you think to yourself “Dehydrated biscuits and gravy? Gross!” Wrong! It was delicious as I ended up helping Husband finish it as my meal was a let-down. We quickly cleaned up, as the rain which had graced us with a break to eat ran out of patience and started spitting on us again. We retired to the tent and passed the time by reading aloud by headlamp. There’s nothing better than reading a spooky story about a group of scouts on a hiking trip while camping yourself. It didn’t take long for our eyes to get heavy with the natural lullaby of the rain. We drifted off sleep, for a while at least until I was rudely reminded of how hard it is to share one sleeping bag. Nonetheless, we had somewhat of a decent sleep and woke bright and early the next morning.
The trek out was a little muddy and wet, a combination from the previous nights rain and the dew of the morning. Our steps were slow and calculated and we zig-zagged our way through the mud and horse “exhaust” (I forgot to mention we hikers shared this particular trail with horse riders as well). Alas, we reached the car with our first backpacking trip under our belts and lessons learned for our next adventure, wherever that would be.