I expected to hate my first backpacking experience.
Not really. But yes, really. Because even though I’ve been hiking before and camping before, and I’ve generally relished the former experiences, everything I’d heard about backpacking made it seem really, really hard. And I haven’t done a workout more intensive than a 40 minute walk to the store in years. And it’s been a full seven years since the last time I even touched a barbell. And because I was already running on a sleep deficit before I began my journey that involved waking with the sun, walking all day, and sleeping on the ground.
And I’m not going to lie – there were parts of the hike that really, genuinely sucked. Despite my attempts to apply sunscreen frequently and judiciously, I still managed to get pretty well fried on my face and arms. I didn’t sleep well at all. Early in my first day I began fantasizing about showers, but didn’t get a chance to take a dip under my faucet until three days later.
But in spite of all that, I had a really great time. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I had a significantly lighter pack than our director, Samantha. I carried the lightweight designed-for-backpacking items like dehydrated food, a tent, and our cookwear while she carried the substantially-more-heavy filmmaking equipment like the camera, batteries, data cards, and sound set-up. So my hiking partner may have a different story to tell. But for me, the freedom of walking into the woods with only what I could carry outweighed the difficulty.
The weight of my gear was offset by the metaphorical weightlessness of leaving behind my laptop, my kindle, my car, and my purse for the day (I brought my phone in case of an emergency, but turned it off.) Abandoning the gadgets and making myself unreachable brought with it the joy of living in the “now.” I haven’t felt so free since I was a child.
My three day trip was divided into three chunks. I started near the end of the aqueduct, in Santa Clarita and Saugus. For those unfamiliar with the California landscape, those are two suburbs just north of Los Angeles. It didn’t feel like real backpacking when we passed gas stations, K-Marts, car washes, and grocery stores. However, towards the end of my first day, we cut through a field and soon crossed the border into the Angeles National Forest.
From there, I was more in my “territory” – and the second and third days fit my expectations of what backpacking is more closely. The outskirts of the Angeles National Forest seemed more like a field than a forest – tall yellow grass, scrubby bushes, and rolling fields that alternatively revealed and hid an endless expanse of yellow and brown marked my first evening and my first morning backpacking.
However, with one steep (and terror-inducing for this acrophobe) descent brought us from the grassy hills to what I recognized more clearly as a national forest – here were the green trees, the craggy cliffs, and the woodsy forest that I’d camped in before. Within the forest proper, we stopped at a firehouse where the resident fire fighters kindly shared their drinking water and gave us unexpected access to a real bathroom. Next we visited the sight of the St. Francis Dam disaster. We camped off a trail near a dry riverbed, and continued the next day to the LADWP power plant, which featured historical exhibits dating back to the early days of the aqueduct’s construction.
During my journey, I learned how much the world can change in a handful of miles. After growing up in the Midwest, where one 10 mile stretch of cornfields is as much line any other, I was shocked to pass through three distinctly different landscapes in only three days of hiking. This realization makes me a little disappointed at what I will miss upon returning to my day job while the hike continues. I’m excited to join again in the future, but also to share the opportunity and experience with our fantastic supporters.