50 years ago today, July 31st 1970, was my first backpacking trip, I was 13. I was enthralled with the idea of camping and going deeper and farther into the woods than car camping and day hikes allowed. We had been summer car camping with my family since before we could walk so sleeping outside, on the ground, was comfortable and normal for me but my parents, especially my father, were not carrying a pack anywhere. I had been in Scouts for a few years by 1970 where we camped out every month and used packs to carry our gear into our campsite but never very far. I spent days walking and exploring the woods and wild areas near our house, in all seasons and weather. My older brothers had been out west backpacking in the Canadian and US Rocky Mountains and I wanted to badly do the same. I read and studied everything I could get my hands on and finally convinced my parents that I was ready to go out on my own and I somehow convinced a friends parents too!
That first trip was supposed to be a week long walk on the AT in Vermont and I thought I had planned thoroughly but the first day we struggled with really heavy packs and got confused following the trail which had many woods roads intersections. That first night it rained and we got wet and decided to throw in the towel when we hit the first small town the next day and called our parents to come pick us up. That experience did not change my enthusiasm but only increased my research and refinement of my gear.
The rest of the 1970’s saw more and more trips, many of the early ones with siblings and friends all over the West to many great places. I also was immersed working in the backpacking industry which exposed me to the latest in equipment and people beginning to backpack in new and interesting places. By the time I got to college in Utah my experience and confidence had grown and I was ready to explore but was limited by work, school schedules and of course money but I still was able to scrape out an average of two trips a year.
The 1980’s and 1990’s proved to be a difficult time for anything other than work as we were building our farm and were really strapped for money. Not an unusual situation for a lot young folks whose lives get busy with jobs and kids and such, many times they never return to carrying a pack. When I finally went on my first backpacking trip after an eight year hiatus Betsy commented “you know you might not like it anymore” but I dusted off my old equipment and even though that first trip was also cut short due to really bad weather I was again bitten by the bug or the spark was reignited. It was still a struggle to find time and hiking partners but I did manage a few trips to the Western US to satiate my desert hunger and some early explorations of the North Carolina mountains. I didn’t take a trip at all from ’80-’87 or in ’93 and ’97 and managed less than two walks a year for the two decades once I started again.
By the late ‘90’s we had a little more time and money as our farm business was beginning to thrive and then came Bob. We did our first trip together in Dec. of 1999 and over the last two decades have done 48 trips, all in the Southern Appalachians, he never wants to travel out West but does want to go as often as possible here in the East and it is usually my schedule that prevents us from going more than we have.
For my Western trips Scott has become my regular partner and we have done 13 trips together with 10 being long trips to Texas, Utah, Arizona and Wyoming. All of this speaks to the importance of having good hiking partners to help enable and encourage ones exploits.
The 2000’s bloomed with every other year big trips out West and many new journeys in the Southern Appalachians averaging four walks a year. It was also a great decade of refinement of gear and technique where I replaced all of my old 1970’s gear with light and ultralight equipment and adopted ultralight thinking that makes it easier to do more ambitious trips.
The fifth decade, the 2010’s, settled into a pattern of at least once a year trips (sometimes more!) to the Western US and further exploration of the Southern Appalachians, usually obscure areas, with more than a few requiring some off trail sections to make the loops or trips work out. Again it worked out to be 4 walks a year.
The 2020’s hold much promise. Now that we are essentially retired from farming the schedule is wide open. Covid-19 is currently the wildcard but I already have a half a dozen long trips drawn up for the desert Southwest and have been searching for untapped walks in the Southern Appalachians. While we have not done everything possible here in NC and VA we have walked most of the highlights, I foresee discovering a few new areas and going back to some of the outstanding places we have done before. By the end of the decade I will be 73 and Bob will be 79 and we may have to consider slowing down? I will continue to refine my equipment especially clothing systems to make it more comfortable for colder trips as the old circulation certainly needs some additional help.
It continues to be a wonderful addiction, let’s hope the knees and the rest of the body hold up!
P.S. The Banner title of the site will now be 50 Years of Walking but the internet address will remain 40yearsofwalking.wordpress.com so everywhere it might be linked to on the internet will still direct traffic here.