Four things I never thought I would say before becoming a backpacker

Well, we’ve made it to Kennedy Meadows, the end of the CA desert and portal to the Sierras. After 700 plus miles on trail, I figured now was a good time to talk about the four things I’d never thought I’d say before becoming a backpacker.

“I can carry that for you in my fanny pack!”

If you told me three months ago before leaving Minnesota that I’d be wearing a fanny pack for five months and actively advocating for how practical they are, I probably would have laughed at you in disbelief.

In fact, my own mother laughed at me when I asked her if she had a spare fanny pack that she could bring me when we met up at Casa de Luna.

What happened was, growing tired of the impractical nature of my pack’s tiny hip pockets, I finally caved to the relentlessly efficient fanny pack. And I got to say, I don’t hate it.

My fanny pack has easily become my one piece of gear that I can’t live without. In any situation, it has proven to be the perfectly efficient item necessary to satisfy my every hiker need. Hungry? Good thing I have a bunch of granola bars readily accessible. Perfect photo opp? The handy dandy fanny pack strikes again with an optimal phone pocket. Lips severely chapped? Good thing I’ve got chapstick hanging conveniently on my hip!

While I can’t say I’ll be as big of a fan of the fanny pack post trail, for now I’m glad to join the elite crew of backpackers as in love with efficiency and lack of style as I am.

When searching for people to take a fanny pack photo, many hikers groaned and said “Ugh, I wish I had one.”

“We got a late start today, about 7:30 a.m.”

I’ve always been a morning person, but considering anything past 6:30 a.m as late is still pretty unusual for me.

In an effort to beat the desert heat, hikers develop patterns of walking at all sorts of odd hours of the day. I’ve heard of many strategies; waking up at 3 a.m, night hiking, long siestas during peak heat. One time we even tried walking through peak heat at a slower pace, hoping to finish the day with more mileage under our belt. This proved to be a less then favorable strategy as we fought for four hours in the grueling Mojave heat to find patches of shade anywhere that could shield us during our five minute breaks.

Each strategy has their perks, but what we’ve found to be most effective is waking up early and working to finish at least 10 miles by 10 a.m. That often means leaving well before 7, waking up and falling asleep with the sun each day. If we’re not out of camp before 6:30 a.m, well, we might as well consider the morning efforts wasted.

“Well, it’s only 20 miles away.”

Much like how our sense of time shifts while backpacking, our perception of mileage has also begun to change.

Within the last week, Bighorn and I found ourselves alone on the trail for the first time since Campo. Wanting to get into Kennedy Meadows quickly, we hiked out of Tehachapi nine miles, followed by 27, 29, 21, 30, and 22 miles consecutively.

Up until that point we had been pushing only about 24 miles a day or less, but our determination to make it to Kennedy Meadows really drove us to push harder. Soon we found ourselves saying things like, “well, if we can do 18 miles by 11 a.m, we’d only have about 12 left for the day and that won’t take very long.”

When we first started hiking, we had so many people tell us this would happen. “Trust me, you’re hurting now going 20 miles but up in Oregon, you’ll easily finish 30-40 miles a day”, they would say. We’d just shake our heads in disbelief and reply with a “yeah, we’ll see!”

Maybe there’s something to walking all day, everyday, that makes you much more adept at “crushing” large mileage quickly. Whatever it is, I feel like a backpacker’s opinion of mileage quickly begins to sound delusional to the rest of the world.

“I’ll just have the hot chocolate for breakfast.”

Oh, how my diet has changed since becoming a backpacker.

With a constant desire for caloric intake, we’ve found ourselves eating a variety of foods that we never would have considered buying before the trail. Pop tarts, Carnation Instant Breakfast, any and all candy bars, a sweet drink a day and a tortilla piled high with whatever savory food I can find. Knorr Pasta Sides cooked with a side of Kraft Mac and instant rice, or processed veggie meat slapped onto a bagel with cream cheese and cheese that (fingers crossed) haven’t pasted their expiration date just yet.

Tuna! A hiker’s favorite. Thanks Laura J for sending us some!

With our early mornings, we’ve recently taken to liquid breakfasts. For Bighorn, this means a Smart Water bottle filled with one packet of Starbucks Via, one packet of hot chocolate, and one packet of Carnation Instant Breakfast. 300 something calories total, a ton of sugar, and just the right flavor combination to motivate you to get up and greet the early morning world.

On other occasions, we’ve found ourselves eating dessert for breakfast. Chocolate doesn’t last long in the desert, so why not enjoy those Tagalongs sent to us in a care package the minute we wake up?

I have hope that reality will help adjust my taste buds back. Otherwise we run the risk of developing some severely bad eating habits that quickly put back on all the weight we’ve already lost and more the minute we get off trail.

In other news

As I said earlier, we’ve made it to Mile 702 this week and are preparing to enter the Sierras.
There’s a lot of talk this year about the Sierras due entirely to their above average snow year. There’s still a lot of snow on the ground right now, and as it melts the river crossings are becoming larger as slightly more impassable.

We’ve decided to take the strength in numbers approach, and are planning on entering into the Sierras this Saturday with our group of 8. We’ll be moving much slower each day, needing to wake up at 2 or 3 a.m to finish 10-12 miles before noon, when it becomes too warm and the daily snow melt begins.

We’re excited about this section, in part because it isn’t the desert but also because of the tactile strategizing necessary for accomplishing this next section. We’ll try to give updates as best we can over the next couple of weeks, but service will likely be spotty and we won’t have a lot of opportunities to get off trail.

In the meantime, we’re enjoying our time in Kennedy Meadows, catching up with familiar faces throughout the last seven weeks and letting the natural swelling in our feet go down.

Until next time, happy adventures!

Happy in KM to make it through the desert

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Comments 1

  • Patti : Jun 15th

    Too warm to hike? ?


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