How a rodent made me get serious about my base weight

Wet, everything is wet. My tent is wet, my quilt is wet, my rain jacket lies in a sodden wet pile in the corner of my tent, wetter than it was when I’d shoved it there the night before. It’s early. My alarm went off just before 5:30am and I need to get moving as I’m meeting a friend later that morning. I’m so ready to be done with the Shenandoah. This easy flat section of the AT had been ruined by me desperately needing to get new shoes. I’d thought I’d ordered some the previous week only to discover the payment actually hadn’t gone through. Heavy rain had started the previous day and I turn on my sleeping pad wincing as the rock I’d pitched my tent on digs into my fresh trail injury. A huge bruise is forming on my left glute. It really, really hurts. I’d cried after I’d tripped and fell and spent the rest of the day feeling desperately sorry for myself. My left leg is covered in road rash and bruises from the fall. I’d sworn and kicked at a rock and hated the trail and told it so. I was tired and premenstrual and just needed rest and new shoes. I slowly start to deflate my mat, I’m moving slower than I should be but I just can’t seem to find the energy. I organize my stuff to pack away and reach for my soaking wet pack which I’d left in the vestibule of my tent. Funny. Had my pack strap broken yesterday? How had it broken over night? Wait a moment. Where had the entire hip belt on my pack gone? Why are there loose threads? It takes me a moment and then I realize in disgust, a rodent (probably a saber toothed rat although at the time I like to imagine a sweet little mouse) had eaten my lovely Atom Pack.

I sit back down in my tent. I feel defeated but too exhausted to really put any emotion apart from the feeling that of course this has happened to me. I am Scorpion Queen, and if the trail can find a way to test me it will.

Karmas a trail god

You see, I believe in karma and I believe that this had happened to me as the previous day I’d lost my headlamp. I’d only realized as darkness fell around me and I emptied out my pack searching frantically for it. With an impending sense of doom as the light faded into the cloud I made the decision to set up camp on the mountain where I was as it felt like the safest option. It was in a no camp area but there was a stealth site. (I need to make it very clear, I do my absolute best to practice Leave No Trace and follow the regulations of the ATC, but I made this decision for my safety as in felt safer to camp rather than try to hike in the dark fog.)

I believe that the trail gods gave me a valuable lesson of not loosing my head lamp again. I’ve lost 4 pairs of headphones and one pair of sunglasses so who knows whether this will actually happen.

The shakedown

Later that day I sit on my bed at The Super 8 with Cool Rocks and Lambchop. I’ve taken the frame out of my pack, removed the hip belt entirely and I am now selecting only the essentials and what I most absolutely need to survive on trail until I can get a new pack. My base weight had been teetering on the edge of comfort light and ultra light since I’d started my hike, edging more towards the later as I’d ditched winter layers, rain gear, my stove, anything that I’d felt I could survive without. Now, with a chewed pack and no hip belt It became about survival.

Truth be told I got rid of my one pair of underwear, gloves, hat and a few other things but taking the frame and the hip belt out made the biggest difference for the weight and well, just how it felt on my back. I used just the shoulder straps for the next week, held together by leukotape as I tried to figure out what pack to order. I had officially become Ultralight, with a sub 10lb base weight. There was no way I was going back. This was a proud moment.

I eventually settled on a Pa’lante V2 (2022). A frameless UL pack which feels great on my back, with a retractable hip belt. I can’t imagine I will never go back to using a frame. I will get my Atom Pack repaired but probably continue to use it without a frame. Being UL has been something I’d admired and looked up to ever since I’d learnt about thru hiking. It was always a goal that one day I may be ready for that. I may have not made that transition if a rodent hadn’t devoured my pack. I’m not saying I’m grateful for the rodent at all, but I’m proud that I made (ultra)light of a bad situation. It’s also something I have learnt that it’s often not just about carrying the lightest version of something, but mostly going without. On the AT it is very easy to get into a town most days, this is not the trail to pack for your fears on! (Unless it is the cold in winter- pack for your fears!). Ironically I believe that on a trail of super heavy packs, this is the trail to really learn how to be UL.

Being UL works for me as I am a minimalist in everyday life. I need very few possessions as a nomad and most of what I own can fit into a couple of suitcases. My base weight has dropped gradually over my experiences thru hiking. on my first hike of the PCT I think I needed more comfort items than I do now. I am also fortunate to be in a situation where I was able to afford to replace some of my used and battered PCT gear with lighter options.

Happy to answer any questions on how to shake down your base weight! Find me on instagram @juliette.outdoors

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