Hiking [Mis] Adventures: What NOT to pack

As a warning…this is not going to be a life-affirming post filled with globs of advice. This is a adventure if anything, but an especially loved and appreciated one at that.  I’m writing about the adventures of one Sarah Nicole Tollackson and her trusty steed, “The Beast”—named for his unwavering support for my outlandish whims and his emotional comfort in my times of need (mostly when I’m muttering incoherently to myself dragging ass up a mountain), while simultaneously resisting his primal desire to destroy me. He always knows exactly what I need: complete and utter silence to every mention of quitting I throw his way. And he always performs his duties with such grace. Thank you my love.

Now, moving past my doomed love affair with my backpack and onto the real reason why I’m writing. I have only one sound piece of hiking advice for you throughout this whole post. The rest will prove to be just mindless drivel. So I am beginning at the end. I was going to tell this incredible life changing story leading up to quite the climatic ending, but upon rereading what I wrote over the past weekend—between intermittent drunken states and hallucinations brought upon by completely unexpected dehydration—I decided it’s actually all shit. And of course my point is, as always, made at the end. So here you go. My end….

I drunkenly packed for a solo three day hiking trip, which I decided to do the day before I left, to an island I had never been to before. In my defense though, I was celebrating a much needed four day break from work and previous plans had fallen through. So I have somewhat of an excuse…sort of.

Following is the list of the items I found in my pack once my alcoholic stupor wore off enough to think logically.

  • A sleeping bag and tent (the necessities of course)
  • A bag of 8 apples (the demands of my stomach obviously outweighed the extra 3 lbs in my bag—strike one Sarah)
  • A pair of men’s plaid boxer shorts and a dress (not even sure where that line of thinking was headed)
  • One men’s plaid button up shirt (at least I had a complete matching ensemble for the weekend)
  • 3 books—one of them a hardback (accepting any and all forms of judgment there)
  • NO raingear (weather was calling for a typhoon over the 3 days)
  • Again…NO sunscreen or hat (my face and scalp are very sad today)
  • A variable plethora of other nonessential items (I wont even humor you with a complete list)

Moral of the story for you AT hikers—never pack for a multiday hiking trip drunk. Now you’re welcome to stop reading there because the rest of this post is just inconsequential chatter as pointless as what was in my backpack. Granted, parts of this were written while in the previously mentioned drunken state, so they could provide some comic relief to an otherwise average day. You be the judge.

Still slightly drunk (“slightly” to the loosest degree possible) I departed on a 5:40am bus to Mokpo, a city on the west coast of South Korea. Less than an hour later, glaring lights and the shuffle of people around me momentarily aroused my jumbled mind. Completely disoriented, I stumbled off the bus while entirely neglecting to pick my bag up from the storage under the bus. An angry Korean bus driver proceeded to chase me down and quite impatiently force my backpack onto me. It took me a few minutes of deep breathing to quell the drunken nausea stewing in my stomach and to force the hazy picture in front of me to the edge of my perception. Upon getting my bearings and realizing that yes, I was in a completely foreign city, and yes, I had no idea where to go and an intoxicated mind to achieve my ultimate goal, I started to question my assumption that pursuing this journey drunk would turn out any way but negative (sorry mom for any panic that is now arising in you!).


My “8am ferry sucks” face

Somehow I made my way to the ferry terminal (after some lucky maneuvering through a few different local buses). I walked up to the first desk I saw, asked for a ticket to Heuksando Island (at least I hoped), and followed behind a crowd of Koreans being herded toward the gangplank to an unsuspecting ferry amidst 50 other identical ferries. Walking past the spot where the ticket check should have been (there wasn’t one), I fully gave in to the faith that these Koreans wouldn’t lead me astray. So there I was, floating off into the East China Sea with no idea where I was heading, and three days to figure it out.

Fast forward two hours, I’m once again startled awake, this time by the sound of an announcement over the loud speaker. We were stopping. The problem was that there are approximately 1,000 islands off this particularly part of South Korea, and this ferry stopped at many of them. Using my phenomenal powers of probability, I saw it as a 60% chance of this island being the one I wanted. I’m not sure how I came to this exact percentage, but it seemed like it took the right amount of time to arrive there from Mokpo, and about half the people on the ferry were departing. So I took my chances and jumped. I jumped right off the ferry and onto the gangplank currently being assailed by a typhoon. For the next hour, while trudging through puddles up to my ankles, I was yet again, 60% sure I was on the wrong island, while 40% not really caring. Eventually, I found a map, which was of course in Korean, and concluded that the shape of the island on the map vaguely looked like the one I had seen on Google Maps. I was convinced. I was staying.

Now here is where I insert the background information, since you all are so enamored with my story. Heuksando Island lies about 97 km (60 miles) southwest from Mokpo, which is in southwest South Korea. The main island is only 19.7 sq km (7.6 sq miles) in area, and has a population around 3,000 people. With the majority of the island being mountainous, the coast is comprised mostly of jagged cliffs, with a few little rocky beaches scattered along its shore. There is one road that circles the whole island. At about 25 km (15 miles) long, it runs through the two main villages on either end of the island, and encompasses some of the most beautiful coastal views I’ve ever seen. This road was my goal.

I don't which is worse...walking up or walking down 12 switchbacks.

I don’t which is worse…walking up or walking down 12 switchbacks.

So began my actual journey. I started walking/dragging myself around this quiet island. Once I actually found the main road, it was pretty easy going: mostly gradual ups and downs while making my way out of the main town. Functioning on only 3 hours of periodic sleep since the night before, I found myself getting pretty drowsy by 11:00am. Not to mention, I was soaked through at this point. Coming across a nice deserted alcove with a tiny sand beach protected by cliffs on either side, I set up camp. The rest of my first day was spent napping off my hangover, attempting to waterproof my tent with an $0.80 poncho I bought at the local mart, and waking up to said poncho being blown off and rain pouring in my tent. Suffice it to say, it was a great first day.

My baby blue companion.

My baby blue companion.

In the morning I woke to sunshine. Yes, sunshine. For the rest of the day I walked in the sun. While I was walking on a paved road the whole time, I still encountered some of the most difficult inclines I’ve ever had to climb before. I have no idea how cars make it up some of them, but the views at the top looking out at the ocean and the surrounding islands always made them worth it.


Morning sunshine


One of the many amazing views around the island.

One of the many amazing views around the island.

By 3pm I made it to within a mile of the main village where the ferry terminal was. I was around the whole island! I camped at a beach with some other Korean travelers to keep me company, and used the time to actually get through some of the three books I brought. The morning provided me with one of the most breathtaking sunrises I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing and my weekend was complete. As always, the beast got me through, and so did my unwavering faith in nature. It provided when I most needed it to. When I was questioning why I was walking around an island in the rain with a pack overloaded with useless junk, the sun rose and provided me the warmth and comfort I sought all along.


The sun rises and sets everyday, but rarely do we rise early enough ourselves to witness it.

If this story provides you with anything, let it be to not pack while drunk, and simply, put your faith in the earth around you. Given the opportunity, it will never abandon you, and it will always provide pure amazement.

SIDE NOTE (warning: all abrasive opinions included)

Ok this really does not have anything to do with hiking. Or camping. Or anything really except for my inability to let anything go. But take note. On this island there are a lot of cats. A LOT Of CATS. And from what I could tell, most of them were younger than 6 months. Furthermore, they are all chained to cement walls and have miniature doghouses within the two feet boundary the chains allow. Now, those of you who don’t know me (which is the majority of you reading this) know I fucking love animals. I’m not all about imprisoning them, hurting them, or eating them. You would also know, however, that as a studied and self-professed anthropologist (pretentiousness aside), I’m not all about that ethnocentric bullshit: to each his own in this world. The world and its people are all beautiful in every single diverse way, and no one deserves berating judgments based off warped cultural norms and societal pressures. That being said, my love for animals and hate for ethnically motivated judgments do tend to butt heads occasionally. This was one of those instances. There are only two reasons I saw as plausible for chaining kittens to a wall: 1) to eat them later, 2) to feed them to dogs. Either way I was floored. Not simply unchaining all those kittens and hiding them in my grungy plaid took all my strength—probably more willpower than actually walking the 15 miles.

Ok…kitty induced rant over.

Maybe next time I’ll actually write an informative post about gear choices or plans for actually planning my AT thru hike. Here’s to hoping.

….Until next time future/current AT thru hikers.

 “I felt like lying down by the side of the trail and remembering it all. The woods do that to you, they always look familiar, long lost, like the face of a long-dead relative, like an old dream, like a piece of forgotten song drifting across the water, most of all like golden eternities of past childhood or past manhood and all the living and the dying and the heartbreak that went on a million years ago and the clouds as they pass overhead seem to testify (by their own lonesome familiarity) to this feeling.”

-Jack Kerouac-

(He seems to always know exactly what I need to hear. Always a pleasure J.K.)




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