A Backpacking Legacy
Every hiker can trace their love for backpacking to a single trip.
Maybe it was their first trip ever. Maybe it was their 27th trip that sealed the deal. For me, I guess technically it was my first trip that initiated my love for living out of a backpack, but I would say that what really sparked the fire was a trip I didn’t even go on.
The year was 1992
Six years before I was born. That fall, a guy and girl needed to escape the stress and anxiety born of law and grad school, and what better place to escape than the woods? After borrowing gear from a friend and getting a map from an outfitter in Boon, North Carolina, the two ventured an hour over to Jonas Ridge. As they exited the car and set off down the trail, rain was falling as fast as the light was fading. This was the first time either of them had backpacked, and the conditions were less than ideal. Little did they know as they searched desperately for a camp site, that they were beginning what would become a family tradition.
This trip provided the needed rest and reset the guy and girl needed to survive the rest of their semester. In the words of the guy, who is now my dad, this trip cemented their love for backpacking. They returned to this same spot every year, usually twice. Two years later, in ’94, the guy and girl got married.
The trip remained a biannual tradition, until 1998, when I was born. Raising a newborn became their new adventure, and the Jonas Ridge trip seemed a thing of the past. And then, in the fall of ’99, the beloved camping site resurged as a boy’s trip that my dad, uncle, and grandfather made into an annual thing. My mom didn’t want to go because I was still a baby and she couldn’t bear to leave me and head off into the woods with no means of communication. So the boy trip was born.
The boy trip lasted for many years, but I am the reason it died.
Friends of my dad started asking when he would take Will, the older of my two younger brothers, with them on the boy’s trip which got him thinking: how could he not take me, his daughter? He had a feeling I would love it. When recounting this story for me, he said “I wanted to take Will, but I couldn’t imagine not taking you.” And so the boy trip died.
I went for the first time when I was 7 years old and I loved every second of it. We went with my grandfather, my aunt, uncle and their kids. That first year, us kids carried our school backpacks with only our clothes, sleeping bag, and a water bottle, leaving mom and dad to carry everything else. When we returned from that trip, dad’s backpack weighed over 70lbs—and that was after the trip, so without food and water. But dad says it was worth it, and I’d have to agree (although I definitely got the better end of the deal).
Details from that trip blur with the memories of all the others trips we’ve taken to that same spot over the years. Collecting firewood up and down the ridge behind the campsite. Crossing the river and usually getting a foot wet at least once. Playing cards in the tent at night. Searching everywhere for my grandfather and always finding him on the rock at the top of the waterfall (nicknamed Quiet Time Rock because he would always go up there to read his Bible in the morning). Hiking up to the mountain top, throwing shoes and rotten apples at good apples still in the trees of the apple orchard along the way (still to this day the best apples I’ve ever eaten). Learning from my dad how to use the camping stove, and cooking alongside him. Simply being in the woods with my family.
From my first trip to Jonas Ridge I have loved backpacking, but my love would not be possible without that trip a guy and girl took many years before I was born. This campsite has become one of my favorite places in the world. As I enter the trail from the road, wind through the rhododendron, cross the river and look upon the small clearing, it feels like coming home. I could tell a million stories about the good times I’ve spent at this place, the lessons it has taught me. But the most important thing it has given me, besides my love for backpacking, is the relationships I have with not just my immediate family, but my uncle, cousins, and grandfather because of it.
Jonas Ridge gave me my love for backpacking. It was my stomping ground that prepared me for the thru-hike I will embark on next month. But it has given me so much more than outdoor skills. It has given me my family. It is my hope that on the AT, not only will my skills be challenged and strengthened, but my relationships will grow. With myself, with God, with my family back home, and with other hikers on the same journey as me.
My dad summed up our memories and love for Jonas Ridge the best:
You figure out life when you figure out relationships. That place is relationships.
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