Bugs & Bears

There’s an old saying, something about God willing and the creek not rising…

Well, folks, the creek is rising. Quite literally.

As I recently mentioned my boyfriend and I have been planning a backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail in Virginia. We decided we wanted to take a mini vacation to celebrate our upcoming shared birthday; the legendary Appalachian Trail seemed to be the ideal adventure, mostly because I’ve got a brother who lives not too far from it. That gave us a good jumping off point. The plan was to drive down, stay with him a night, and head to Shenandoah National Park in the morning for three days and two nights of hiking and backwoods camping. With that idea in mind I delved deep into the rabbit hole of planning for Appalachian Trail backpacking.

It’s a totally new world for me. I’ve hiked and I’ve camped but never have I carried everything I needed for camping, nor have I hiked from sun up to sun down. Heck, I’ve never even backwoods camped; the lovely and plentiful state parks of Michigan are my jam. You pretty much know what you’re getting at the state parks. They’re like the Holiday Inn Express of the camping set, nothing too fancy but they get the job done and you know they’ve got toilets. As I researched more about backpacking and wilderness camping a few major concerns caught my attention. Water. Bugs. And bears. (Oh my!) Specifically getting and carrying water, ticks, and bears. Frankly these are legitimate concerns especially in Virginia’s portion of the Appalachian Trail.

Water has been the easiest of the three to figure out. There are tons of efficient and light weight water purification systems out there and even more reviews or sites with people talking about each of them. We chose a reasonable priced, easily packed filter system and a back up Life Straw (I love that they give one to people in water challenged areas when you buy one). A couple bladders with straw tubes attached and another without for extra water and that was taken care of. Easy peasy as not too crazy expensive.

Ticks and bears on the other hand are a little more tricky.

We invested in “bear bag” systems for hanging food and smelly toiletries out of the reach of furry friends. (Apparently bears have an even stronger sense of smell than blood hounds.) I spent some time reading about bear interaction etiquette. A large part of the bear problem along the trail and in the more well used national parks is because of people being irresponsible. As soon as a bear learns to associate people with food they probably will not leave them alone. Eventually the problematic bear has to be relocated to a more remote area or put down. All that because of irresponsible backpackers. Not only did I not want to attract bears to our campsites but I definitely did not want to be the cause for bears having to be kicked out of their habitat.

Ticks are a fear inducing problem because they carry the infamous Lyme disease along with a host of other unpleasant illnesses. There’s a newer tiny tick species that looks like a spec of dirt but their bite causes a meat allergy. Yeah, a red meat allergic reaction that you may be stuck with for the rest of your life. I’m a meat-a-terian. That shit ain’t cool! Tick keys and permethrin along with tall, tick repellent socks were bought.

All the information and pre-planning has helped to ausage my fears a bit but with so much unknown and so little you can do about it (you never really know what bad things might happen) there has still been a lingering, lurking fear of food getting eaten by bears and us getting eaten (bit) by ticks. (I’ve talked so much about ticks and tick repulsion and such that my tick paranoia (or healthy sense of caution as I call it) has begun rubbing off on my boyfriend.) But the unknown is what makes this an adventure, that and stepping outside of the day to day comfort zone.

Which brings me back around to the aforementioned literal creek rising.

After seeing some blurb about hurricane Alberto, I realized I should probably check the weather for Virginia before we leave. Turns out a large part of Virginia, the part we wanted to traverse on foot, has been very wet this week with more rainfall in the forecast. The three days we had planned to be backpacking all had 80-100% chance of rain. Carrying close to 30lbs while walking over hilly terrain for three days sounds super fun. Doing that soaking wet definitely does not!

So, plans have changed. Instead of south we’re north bound. Instead of the Appalachian Trail we’ll be treading the lesser known but still very cool North Country Trail. The creek rising is part of the adventure, we’ll still have bugs and bears to contend with.

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