A New Experience: Backpacking and Camping in Yosemite (Part 1)

I was a failed Girl Scout. It never occurred to me that at my age I’d be going on my first backpacking and camping trip.

When my Girl Scout troop went camping, we were given the choice of being in the lodge or doing it primitive.  I firmly called out, “Lodge.”  I’ll see you around the campfire, but I want a bed and flushing toilet.  Among the other Girl Scouts, I wasn’t the least bit ashamed about it; nor was I alone.

I’ve ignored the possibilities of a trip like this all my life. When my brothers, Daryl and David, would backpack and camp, I never thought: Wow, I’d like to do that someday. It simply never occurred to me. I’m all about comfort. So, how did I end up here?

Believe me, it wasn’t my idea.

A soror, who’s also a work colleague, told me about REI Adventures‘  four-day backpacking and camping trip to Yosemite. I didn’t even know where Yosemite is and I used to live in California! But, I did know this is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

I usually travel solo, and so does my soror. After talking about our traveling style, we thought we might travel well together. What the hell, I thought… let me challenge myself with this backpacking trip. We talked about this trip for about a month before I booked it.  My “travel partner” said she couldn’t make it after all. I had 30 days to cancel the trip and get all my money back.

I gave it about a half-day’s thought and decided I’d go anyway. It’s a challenge. I’d already wrapped my head around the trip and made the commitment. I wasn’t going to let my plans be wrecked because a travel partner falls through.  I can be stubborn that way.

David offered up his son’s backpack, sleeping bag, and bedroll. He even included a water filter, mess kit, and rope. He sent me a text when he found out REI had a sale on hiking boots. He told me to buy the Vasque hiking boot because he had already researched it. This is why I often say, “My brother says….”, which is, of course, exactly how I started off with the sales associate in the shoe department. I’m sure she could give a damn, but I knew I was making the right choice because David said so. And no one could have sold me a different brand of boot if they wanted to.

I started breaking in the boots about six weeks before the trip. I wore them all day to work, not making a fashion statement. I even wore them with shorts and a tee shirt for 12 hours at a music festival on a hot summer day. The Vasque hiking boot is very comfortable and the only tightness was in my right instep. Breaking in the boots didn’t take long.

I bought clothes and gear for the trip based on REI’s packing list. My good friend, Phil — a former Army officer and Eagle Scout — showed me how to pack and put clothes on fast from inside my sleeping bag.

Backpacking and camping gearA Lesson in Packing the BackpackPre-packing for Yosemite

This trip is more expensive than I anticipated because of the gear I had to buy, the plane ticket, and rental car. (Thank goodness I have cousins in Oakland to stay with before and after the trip.)

I received an email from the trip coordinator that said I should be fit enough to hike 6-9 miles a day carrying 35-40 pounds on my back. Everyone will help carry tents, water filters, cooking gear, and the bear cans REI will provide. I did mean “bear cans” and not “beer cans.” In fact, every facet of this trip seems to strike a cautionary note about the damn bears. I became concerned.

About a month out, I came up with a training plan.This was crucial because I have a job where I sit all day long. I planned to finally put in a regular appearance at my gym and do treadmill work at an incline, wearing the boots and loaded backpack. I’d regularly walk up the escalator at Wheaton Station, which has the longest single span escalator in the Western Hemisphere. (I figured all the heavy crap I carry when I commute to work would help my training efforts.)  I’d go on practice hikes with the loaded backpack on terrain. I’d continue playing tennis 3-4 times a week. Since my lower back has become achy, I’d go to my barre class regularly to strengthen my core.

Lake Frank training hike

Practice hike on trail in Montgomery County, Maryland

Training hike - Lake FrankLake Frank

That was the plan. As it happened, other things intervened. Work can be so inconvenient. Hopefully, I’ve done enough. I don’t know what I’m going to do about the altitude, though. My particular backpacking trip is in the high country. I didn’t fully realize that when I booked the trip. I was only paying attention to prices and dates. There was no training for altitude where I live. All I can do now is hydrate, hydrate, and hydrate and be well-rested. Plus, I went to California a couple of days early so I could get past the jet lag and not add that to my pain.

Now about the bears. I’ve been to REI so many times  in the last six weeks. My last time there, I got some truth from a couple of sales associates. I had probing questions about hygiene. I was told no soap, no deodorant, no wipes (even the unscented ones), no lotion, and no toothpaste. The scent of any of those things and food would attract…what?…the bears. Why, of course. (But, can’t I bring a little plastic bottle of baking soda so I can brush my teeth and rub some under my armpits? Surely, baking soda won’t attract bears.)

Another seasoned backpacker said I should expect to be ripe by the end of the trip. He said I should want to smell like a human to keep bears at bay. I asked about the packages of unscented wipes I’d bought anyway. Nope, he said. Forget about it — just use water. I’m also not supposed to leave any mark on the land, if what I do is not biodegradable.  So… I need to consider that I will be carrying all my trash with me, including wrappers from protein bars and used toilet paper. That’s the nature of this trip, so to speak.

I’ve already been concerned about how I’m going to eliminate and whether my system will go on lock for four days, which really would not be good. I packed my probiotics. I cannot imagine how I will handle it, except I know I will.

As I took my last training hike with my cousin, Doreen, I became anxious again about the altitude and the weight of the pack. I checked the weather again and discussed it with David. He told me what I should still take and what should stay behind at Doreen’s.

Last training hike in Oakland CA

And then he helped lift my anxiety by focusing me on this:  I’m taking his trip, he said. Yosemite is where he has always wanted to go. Got it, David. I’m looking forward to my adventure in the famed Yosemite National Park.  Thanks for getting me ready.

(Check out Part 2 of this series!)

12 thoughts on “A New Experience: Backpacking and Camping in Yosemite (Part 1)

  1. fransiweinstein

    Wow! I’m impressed. I’m a “lodge” gal myself so I totally get what a big deal this is. Can’t wait to hear the rest of the story. I think there could be a book that comes out of this adventure.

    Like

  2. Cheryl

    Funny, Little Sis! I never even considered the altitude; kind of hard, when you’re riveted on the idea of a bear. May they remain conceptual for your trip! Can’t wait for next installment!

    Like

  3. Cousin Becky

    Kim, I am so proud of you cousin for choosing this adventure. I can’t wait to hear the rest of the story. Please be safe and take special care of yourself. Love you, hope you have a great time.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Angela Marshall

    Wow Hazel! Your “no vacation for me this year” turned into a wilderness adventure! Enjoy – you are brave. I’ll stick to a cottage in the woods complete with all the comforts of home. 🙂

    Like

  5. Sharon Carrington

    Hi Kim, Loved this article- always wanted to see Yosemite!! Waiting with bated breath for Part II!! :). -Sharon

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

  6. Michelle Boucher Maffeo

    Kim – I am so impressed with you. I want to do something like this along the AT. I’ve been talking and reading about it for years, but I’ve only done day hiking trips. My extreme is three days of camping with day hikes. I need to step it up and start carrying the gear and camping out for real. So proud of you 🙂 Michelle

    Like

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