Backpacking in the Bull of the Woods

I’ve lived in Portland since 1996, and have always planned on backpacking. From the get go, I didn’t purchase the full-on, big ass car camping stove, but instead invested in a little lightweight stove. My sleeping bag and tent were made for backpacking even though I didn’t venture far from my car. My dog unnecessarily squeezed into the teeny 2-person tent. The lighter and smaller equipment came in handy when I was backpacking across Europe in 2005, but otherwise was pretty silly to own.  Virgin Atlantic Airlines tried to keep me from the European travel backpacking by losing my equipment, but I was persistent and replaced my lost gear in Dublin. Too bad the camping in Europe was disappointing. “Camping” in Corsica was a whole other story.

cows on beach

Camping in Europe is decidedly less private and fun than camping in Oregon with the exception of  camping on the lush lawn in Dabo, France, which was quite pleasant (athough not private, they provided beer in the little office and clean showers).

Camping in Dabo

Twelve years later, after hiking almost every weekend for the last 70 (my 2008 New Year’s resolution), I finally left my car 5.2 miles behind and carted 40 pounds worth of stuff to set up camp in the Bull of the Woods wilderness in Oregon.

Fording a creek

Backpacking was well worth the anticipation. Part of the beauty was the challenge of trying to pack 3 days worth of what I’d need into one bag. I’m not the worst packer as I’ve had experience packing for extended trips through Mexico, Central America, and Europe, but I’m also not the best at denying myself small luxuries, such as whiskey, good food, and nice lounging skirt (which is actually going to be a staple). I made my list and have since revised it to account for what I want to add and what I can forget about. Some day I’ll have the perfect checklist for my backpacking trips.

The challenge of hiking with all this stuff was exhausting.  It was only 5ish miles to hike in, but we had to climb over about 3 dozen down trees and ford like 7 streams and creeks. My toes blistered and the muscles in my legs lost their will to be strong. Stopping to set up camp felt so good.

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And my first drink was the most amazing whiskey I’ve ever had. Not being a huge fan of whiskey, me finding it delicious is saying a lot. I thought about carting a bottle of wine, but that would have been ridiculous.

Backpacking may not be for everyone just like hiking isn’t for everyone. If you’re especially drawn to off-season hikes, and find you sacrifice good hikes for hikes with fewer people, backpacking may be a good next step for you.

You might think the reasons I like hiking and backpacking are that I enjoy solitude and the sound of nothing but cicadas, or your occasional Western Screech owl or Sora Crake. But, there’s something else that is so amazing about the accomplishment of a hike or backpacking trip. It’s the activity itself that clears my head of those thoughts that bog down my every day cycle of thoughts. When I’m forced to refocus for several hours, my day-to-day worries dim, and my right-now thoughts prevail. Things pop into my head like what I really want to be doing with my 40 hours every week, Mike and I discuss how gazpacho in a tall glass would be perfect for our wedding party dinner, I realize that I want to learn (and write) about how to make spore prints to help with the mushroom identification, and I flesh out Ysabel and Ezra’s final scene filled with love and resentment.

I’m definitely out there hiking because of things like Huckleberries, Oregon Lilies, and sounds of creeks, but the way hiking, and now backpacking, help me disconnect from my world is what drives me to do it almost every weekend.