First Backpacking Adventure

Welcome back! I briefly touched on my first backpacking experience on the Arizona Trail (AZT) in my last blog post. I thought it would be fun to relive that experience with you!

Getting Prepared

About four years ago, Shade Lizard and I decided to take our first backpacking trip. We did some light research on gear we might need and decided we only needed a few items. Over the years, we have enjoyed car camping, so we just needed a few items for transitioning from car camping to backpacking.

So, we purchased a “lightweight” tent (6 pounds) and some miscellaneous items online, and a backpack and shoes from an outdoor retailer. After that, we were prepared and ready to hit the trail.

Putting the Plan in Motion

Taking advantage of Memorial Day weekend, we decided to make it a full family mini vacation. We towed our toy hauler up to our favorite camp site. We would use it as our base camp that the rest of our family could enjoy while we were out on trail. Our plan was to hike a few days and have a few days at camp with the rest of the family.

The Plan

On paper our plan was flawless. We would hike a total of 30 miles (out and back) over three days. As beginners, we knew we needed to take it slower and not go crazy. Therefore, only hiking 10 miles each day seemed within our capabilities, and this section of trail was fairly flat. I promised him, I would not get overzealous and push for more miles.

The Plan in Action

Day 1

Day one was great. Upon arrival, we found our favorite campsite was available. We set up and enjoyed our evening under the stars in anticipation of our upcoming hike.

Day 2 – The Hike

Finally, after all the preparation we were heading out towards the Arizona Trail! We road walked approximately two miles to get to where we could hike for another two miles to meet up with the trail. The photo is when we finally found the trail!

I’ve since learned that you pack your fears. Obviously, I was afraid of starving, running out of water, and freezing! I had overpacked for a short three-day hiking trip. Therefore, advising and helping pack food for my Shade Lizard was also overdone. Our packs were way heavier than they needed to be! (For context, my pack was close to 40 pounds with food and water!)

Not knowing all of that at this point, I just thought a heavy pack was part of the backpacking experience. So, we just kept trekking along! During the day I fell a couple of times. Because of the weight of my pack, as I was falling, I would somehow spin around and land on my butt! At that point, I was like a turtle who couldn’t get back up!  Shade Lizard was always there to help me back up!

The Camp

We hiked a total of 13 miles that day. We were both tired and ready to find camp. It was about 4pm. We found a nice, bedded area that became “home” for the night. Squirrels were running around and climbing trees all around us. It really was a perfect place to enjoy the remainder of the evening.

Up until this point, I hadn’t thought too much about bears. No sooner than finishing dinner, I was ready to practice a “bear hang” and get to bed. It was still light outside, but I figured I’d fall asleep with ease and be fresh for tomorrow. This may be a great logic after multiple days of hiking, but I was wide awake and just laid there for HOURS hearing every little noise KNOWING it was a bear outside my tent.

Did I drop any crumbs from my dinner?

Was it able to smell the sunscreen on my skin?

My mind was RACING, and I couldn’t quiet it down!! Finally, I fell asleep!

Day 3 – The Hike

After a pretty unrestful night, we wake up and enjoy breakfast before heading out. We decided to leave our tent up, since we were going to hike five miles and turn around for the last five miles of the day. So, without knowing what “slackpacking” was, we were essentially slackpacking! Our lighter packs made for a much more enjoyable hike.

The weather was gorgeous, but extremely windy! During our hike back to camp, we noticed a bunch of downed trees that weren’t there earlier when we passed through that portion of the trail.

At this point, I become completely irrational! All of my fears of dying were rushing through my mind! Bears and now widow makers, I was freaking out!

At least Shade Lizard had a clear head and was completely rational, but I wanted no part of it. I was ready to walk back to the camper and call it. The wind was picking up even still.

Shade Lizard was not very pleased with me. I had freaked out and did exactly what I told him I wouldn’t do…push for more miles than we should. He’s such a trooper! He supported me and tried his best to talk me off the ledge, but I was not in the state of mind to hear reason. My mind was made up and that was that. (Remember, I told you I was living in fear…well this is how I used to be!)

The Walk of Shame

We get back to camp, and I start packing up. In my irrational mind, we were very close to the camper. In reality, we were SEVEN miles away! After already hiking 10 miles, my irrational fears added an additional SEVEN miles to our day!

Our packs were once again heavy with the tent, and we had not eaten much of the massive amount of food brought. Onward we go!

During the day, I realized I purchased my shoes too small. My feet were killing me. I knew there was nothing I could do at the time, I just needed to get back to the camper where I had flip flops waiting for me.

Once at the camper, I began to realize how ridiculous I was. How my irrational fears could have put us in danger. How disappointed I was in myself for bailing out on the plan and cutting our hiking experience almost in half. This was one of the moments in my life, I had a real opportunity to do something different, but I chose fear and not to be courageous. There were many other options (to which Shade Lizard had so eloquently tried to point out), but I chose fear!

Lessons Learned

I wish I could tell you that was the last time I made decisions based on fear, but it took me a bit longer to learn that one.

I can tell you that I learned proper backpacking doesn’t need to be unnecessarily uncomfortable. I know I don’t need a ton of food or clothes! My pack is now at a base weight around 13 pounds vs 35 pounds.

My shoes fit properly now, and I am no longer losing toenails consistently! (This trip I lost six!)

Most Important Lesson Learned

I learned to listen to my body, my soul! It’s great to push a bit for growth and advancement, but it’s really important to listen to the message being “spoken”. You hold all of the answers within, you just have to be open enough to listen, truly hear, and understand the message. You are your best advocate! Really sit with yourself before making a decision. Is your next course of action going to take you where you want to be? Does it represent the person you want to be? Only you can answer that question. Choose based on your heart and soul!

Until next time, go get some dirt on your shoes!

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Comments 2

  • Black eyed Susan : Dec 15th

    Nancy, I think we could be sisters in fear based decisions/lessons learned after many experiences of fear. Can’t wait to see you pull through the long haul. I will keep up with your journey in 2023. Me 2028/2029 at age 68/69 first time thru hiker flip flopping I hopeful. Keep on the trek!

    • Nancy Kinnaman : Dec 16th

      Hi Black Eyed Susan, my sister! Fear can be debilitating and I’m happy to say I’m taking more calculated risks these days smartly! This is also my hope for you! I look forward to sharing all of the ups and downs with y’all. That’s wonderful you’re planning to do this amazing adventure as well! You can do this!!! That’s so awesome!!! I look forward to running into you one day in trail. Until then, take some risks and keep on trekking!


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