Backpacker’s Paradise, Our Annual Trip
I’ve been fortunate enough to be blessed with excellent backpacking buddies. It all started in 2013 when my high school friend Rich decided to plan a camping trip for some people he knew, bringing together high school friends, college friends, friends of friends, siblings, etc. In the first year of what he dubbed Backpacker’s Paradise, we took on an overnight near Bryce Canyon NP, 3 days and 2 nights in Zion NP, and a day trip to the Grand Canyon. Most of the 9 of us had little or no backpacking experience. We didn’t even all know each other until Day 1, meeting in Vegas, but we certainly bonded quickly, and together we all went through something like backcountry culture shock. It was a steep learning curve, but we all came away from that first trip madly in love with this new sport. We decided this would now be an annual adventure.
In 2014 we headed back out West for Backpacker’s Paradise Part II, this time meeting up in wild Jackson Hole, WY. We started in Yellowstone, spending two nights car-camping in the park. Our big hike this time was 38 miles through the Tetons, 3 nights and 4 days, our longest hike yet and offering more challenges than Year One in the form of rain and snow and heavier packs with more food. Again, we learned, we bonded, we laughed, we cried, and we fell deeper in love. We had already started planning for next year, and we wanted more.
2015 saw us taking on the “Crown Jewel” of the American National Park system, Yosemite. The last two years, we relied on Rich for all the planning – he picked our destination and our route, made meal suggestions, helped us pick gear, and acted as tour guide and Den Mother. However, this year we all stepped up to help with the planning. The rest of us who weren’t Rich felt like pros at this point: this was our third year, after all. Most of us had been truly bitten by the hiking bug. Years 1 and 2 we either were newbies or had newbies with us, but this time, we were down to a slim group of 8 who had all been part of the previous trips. We all had our own sexy new gear instead of the hodgepodge of hand-me-downs and loaners that came with us the first years. We were confident and excited. Somehow yours truly got the honor of planning our route. And that, my friends, is a story for another time.
I want to share the details of our Yosemite trip in a separate post, but yes, it was epic, and yes, within days of returning we all got Facebook invites to 2016 Backpacker’s Paradise Part IV: Location TBD. I’ll be missing it to hike the AT. I suppose the point of this trip down memory lane was to share how I went from novice with borrowed, blister-inducing boots to 2016 NOBO Thru-Hiker (with trail runners BTW). It has been amazing watching this group of newbies learn and gain confidence and start talking gear and mileage and future trips. We feel lucky to have all been brought together and to all have this love in common.
Initially, I felt like perhaps I didn’t have enough experience for the AT, but in reflecting on these trips, I’m feeling like maybe I do actually know what I’m doing. I know that experience doesn’t necessarily correlate with AT success, but at least for me, having these three amazing trips under my belt at least confirms that A) I’m a big fan of the backpacking thing, and B) I probably won’t die, and C) I know some seriously awesome and badass hiker people who are supporting me.
As a funny last thought, I want to leave you with an observation we made during this most recent trip. As many of you may have heard, there were several cases of plague in Yosemite this past summer, and as a precaution the park was spraying for fleas and ticks in several major group campsites. The backcountry permit office made us change our departure date to avoid the spraying. We realized something slightly ridiculous has happened to change our plan on all three trips. Our route for Part II in the Tetons had to be adjusted because it was still snowed in – in early August. And on Part I, we had to cancel our Bryce Canyon backcountry overnight because of – this is great — hyper bear activity. You can’t make this stuff up.
So, here’s to many more unexpected changes, despite the best laid plans. Cheers to plague, summer snow, and hyper bears, to my Backpacker’s Paradise buddies, and looking forward to 2016.
Find me on the Instagram! @nicholeyoung1
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