# Backpacking Trip With Carlos
Henry died on Tuesday, May 18th.
He was a good boy and lived a happy little life. He was in his fifth instar (opens new window) when I bought him and molted once when I had him, so he lived a long and healthy life. I buried him next to a tree in front of my apartment.
Friday was the last day of work before I went on vacation. As soon as I got off work, I put on my hiking boots and went outside. I had planned a backpacking trip with my brother for which I had taken the week before Memorial day off for. In order to prepare for the hike, I began walking around the lake near my place in my new hiking boots to break them in. It was roughly 4 miles.
Towards the end of the walk, there is a bridge that crosses a part of the lake. This time, I stopped at the bridge and sat on one of the benches that was built into it. I admired the beauty of the sunset.
When I finished my walk and got home, I hopped in the shower, missing my brothers call. Afterwards, I called him back to finalize some of the details about our backpacking trip. We wanted to do a 3-day backpacking trip in the mountains somewhere nearby and settled on Fires Creek Rim Trail (opens new window) since it was close and was about the length we wanted for a 3-day trip.
We were both very excited about it. I told him I planned on driving over to his place in South Carolina on Saturday. There's an REI in Columbia that we planned to get most of our gear from before heading out the next day. I was skeptical about getting all of our shopping done on Saturday, packing and then driving up to start hiking Sunday, but I told him we'll work out the details when I get to his place on Saturday; that was the first step.
Before we ended the call, I told him about Henry. He was sorry and pointed out that he was my first real pet and I realized he was right. Henry was special to me because he was truly my first pet.
We ended the call and I went to the couch to watch TV. I had been thinking about the Space Pirates game a lot, especially how I wanted to incorporate different dimensions into it. Somehow I stumbled on Kurzgesagt's (opens new window) video called The Egg (opens new window). It really resonated with me.
I started going down a rabbit hole of YouTube videos which included learning about the largest star in the Universe (opens new window), incredibly optimum movement mechanics in Apex Legends (opens new window) and a weirdly awkward interview (opens new window), all of which (at the time) seemed to somehow feed into my idea that we may, in fact, be living in a simulation (opens new window).
I won't try to explain my thought process here.
Regardless, I didn't end up getting any sleep that night. By 9, I pulled out my backpack from the closet and started packing it with clothes and supplies for the trip.
It took me about 3 hours to drive to Columbia and when I got there, my mom was at Carlos' place and he had just woken up. We then drove to REI to do some shopping. On the way, we talked about maybe doing a different trail since the elevation on the one we had decided on before seemed kinda steep. Either way, we also agreed we should rest Sunday and drive up early Monday morning.
When we got to the store, I had a few things on my shopping list with a budget of about $300.
Hammock tarp Dehydrated food Bear sack Backpacking stove Bladder Water Filter Backpacking chair Carabiner Trekking poles
It came out to around $600. Carlos also bought a new backpack among other supplies, so we were both over budget.
Naturally, we decided to play poker that night.
We went to a local cash game and I bought in for $100. I had some pretty bad luck throughout the night, but my bad play was mostly attributed to the fact that I was running on fumes at that point. Since I hadn't slept the night before and it was my first time playing with this group, I couldn't get a good read on anyone and ended down by the end of the night. I still had fun, tho.
When we got home, I passed out.
The next day we went to Academy to get some clothes and socks mostly for the trip. We planned to carbo-load that night with some pasta from Olive Garden, but Carlos got invited to another cash game (they had a spot open up) so he decided to go play instead.
I went with mom to dine in at Olive Garden and ordered a takeout meal for Carlos. We talked about a lot of things including her relationship with her mother and I asked her about her dad, something I had often wondered about. I knew he died when my mom was 16 and I once heard my grandma tell me that I reminder her a lot of him.
Apparently, my grandfather was a workaholic, having been raised on a farm, so my mom never actually got to spend a lot of time with him. He was also very artistic and kept a sketchbook of faces and hands, if I recall correctly. I do remember my grandma telling me that he was always attracted to art and in that regard I can relate to him.
We went home and I continued watching some more YouTube videos to feed my growing obsession with understanding the universe. Carlos came home while we finished up watching an explanation of the 10 dimensions (opens new window) (according to string theory).
I fell asleep that night dreaming of how I could create dimensional mechanics in my Space Pirates game.
# The Trip
Finally, Monday morning came. We decided the day before that we would end up doing the Kimsey Creek to Long Branch Loop (opens new window) in the Nantahala National Forest.
The elevation was easier and it was long enough it would take us about 3 days to complete. We parked the car and began hiking.
# Day 1
We were surrounded by a beautiful green forest most of the time. Right away I realized this was going to be better than I realized, but also harder than I realized. Most of the elevation we were to climb was going to be on the first day and I'm glad we ended up going for this trail because I was not prepared for how hard hiking up hill with a 48 lb backpack would be.
Along the way, passed by a few other hikers. One of them was an elder man who seemed to be familiar with this trail. We asked him about how much water we should be carrying and he told us not to worry about it as there is plenty of water along the trail. He laughed when we told him we were carrying 7 liters of water. To be fair, we expected we'd have to carry most of our water along the hike. While he told us he wouldn't recommend dumping water, he assured us there were plenty of spots for water.
With that being said, we decided to dump some of our water further along the trail. I dumped my extra 2.5 liter bladder and Carlos dumped his extra bladder as well as his water bottles.
We stopped for lunch at a clearing and I got to use my mini stove (opens new window) to boil water for our dehydrated food. It worked great!
Eventually, we came onto the Appalachian Trail (opens new window). This trail was much more worn and maintained.
We came across our first shelter just before the peak of Albert Mountain. There was a big creek nearby with a sign that read WATER. We rested at the shelter and there were a few other hikers who were planning to spend the night there after having hiked 12 miles or so that day.
Carlos prompted me to continue up the mountain to get to the peak and I reluctantly agreed. We still had plenty of time left in the day to make it and we wanted to make that checkpoint in our journey in order to maintain the pace needed to finish on time.
We kept hiking up the mountain.
This was one of the hardest parts of the trip. The trek to the top of the mountain was steep and I kept having to stop to let my feet rest, catch my breath and drink some water. It was exhausting.
Thankfully, Carlos offered to carry my bag up the rest of the way since I was struggling to keep up the pace. He and Harley (his dog) went up the mountain as I followed with nothing but my trekking poles.
As I was resting near the top, Carlos and Harley came back, leaving the packs at the peak. I was nearly at the top already!
I was really impressed when I reached the top. There were a number of hikers already setting up camp near the base of the fire tower that was there. It overlooked a beautiful view of the mountain ranges. Someone at the top of the fire towered called down to the rest of us that the sun was setting and we should get a look at it.
Despite my tired feet, I climbed up the tower with everyone else to get an amazing view of the sun set. It was a bold red sun, giving the clouds a smoky grey color. It was beautiful.
We set up our hammocks between some trees nearby and I began cooking dinner for us. The dehydrated meals were actually very delicious and just what we needed to recover our energy after a hard climb to the top.
That night was very cold and since I sleep on my belly, it was hard for me to sleep in a hammock. I got hardly any sleep.
# Day 2
So it turned out, we were fresh out of water. We should have stopped to refill when we had the chance a the shelter before reaching Albert's peak, but for some reason, Carlos expected there to be some kind of spigot for water at the fire tower. I don't think he realized most of our water would be coming from natural water sources on the mountain.
Regardless, it was also my fault for not refilling earlier as well. I overheard some of the other hikers who were in our similar predicament mention that they'd stop for breakfast at the first water source they found and I thought that sounded like an excellent idea.
We headed down the south side of Albert Mountain and it was STEEP. It was here I was especially grateful for our trekking poles as it seemed like the only thing keeping me from rolling freely down the mountain.
The first water source we came by was thin streams of water dripping off of a mossy cliff face. Carlos passed it by, not even considering it as a water source, but I figured it was running and if we were patient enough we could filter our squeeze pouches with it.
Indeed, it was slow going, but we managed to fill up some of our water bottles with the pouches. Harley lapped up some of the muddy water beneath it, despite offering her her bowl with freshly filtered water.
The water we gathered was enough to get us to the next campsite which was next to a nice little river. We stopped there along with some of the other hikers we had met at the fire tower for breakfast. I took my shoes off and went barefoot, dipping my feet into the cold stream a little bit. I had already acquired blisters on my pinky toes.
Camped at the river was an elderly couple. The older gentleman said he had hiked this trail at least 12 times. They were camped there as chaperones for about 5 group of seniors who were hiking the same loop we were (only in the opposite direction). They were parked close by and offered to take our trash, which we gratefully accepted.
We then continued on to the next checkpoint. Judging by our (read: my) pace, we decided we could take an extra day to finish the trail. This would let us reach the second peak on Wednesday, camp there, and then quickly make our way all downhill Thursday. We took inventory and decided if we skipped lunch today (we had a late breakfast anyway), we could have enough meals for dinner and breakfast on the last day.
After a while of hiking, we came across an opening that gave a stunning view of the valley. I told Carlos I wanted to take a nap here so we decided to set up our hammocks for a bit. I passed out immediately.
When Carlos woke me up, 2 hours had passed. Apparently, he had been on the phone with mom and then nodded off. Feeling somewhat rested, we packed up and hurried along our way.
The next checkpoint we arrived at was another shelter with a water source close by. I gratefully (and exhaustedly) collapsed inside, my blistered feet throbbing.
Camped there were two girls, one of which had started a fire already. One of them had a little dog tied up to a tree by a very long rope.
After some small talk we introduced ourselves. Katie was the one with the dog and Amanda was the other one. Apparently, Amanda had some experience hiking the A.T. and had a book which marked many of the campsites that we didn't know about from the All Trails app Carlos was using.
We had a good time chatting around the fire and eating dinner. I quickly went to bed after it got dark and everyone else followed suit. I opted to sleep in the shelter so that I could sleep on my belly.
I slept like a rock.
# Day 3
In the morning we cleaned up, made breakfast and fetched some water by the stream. There was a privy nearby which I took advantage of, although to be honest, I still rather enjoyed squatting out in nature like a savage.
Carlos mentioned that Amanda was asking if we had an extra lighter. Luckily I did keep a spare lighter in my backpack, so I offered it to her. She was thrilled because she was worried about running out of lighter fuel along the way. I was happy to help and told her not to worry about it, since worse case I could use my flint and steel. She said she was also glad she would have something to remember us by now and it felt good to know we would be part of her memory of the trail.
We said our goodbyes and headed out.
I would say that this day was the hardest. It was more elevation and by the time we neared the peak, I was exhausted, dehydrated and out of water.
I had packed walkie-talkies for the trip (which Carlos had got me after he lost one I brought with us to Okeechobee) and Carlos decided we should turn them on so that we could stay in communication while he went at his own pace ahead of me. He told me to radio him whenever I took a break then continued up the mountain.
I radioed him the first time I took a break and he acknowledged me. The second time I paused, I didn't hear a reply. I looked down and realized my walkie-talkie was dead.
I made my way slowly up the mountain, not really sure how much further I had left to go. I kept taking breaks, but with no water, I wasn't resting so much as I was making it harder for myself. Still, I needed to give my feet a break.
Finally, I came across a sign at an intersection that said Standing Indian Mt. I turned on the radio and used the last bit of juice it had left in it to call Carlos and ask which way to go. Thankfully, he replied right away that I should turn left and go up the rest of the way to the mountain top. Then the radio died again.
I saw a campsite just beyond the sign so I decided to set up my hammock there. Carlos came down a few moments later and told me I needed to keep going up to make it to the top. I was satisfied with how far I had made it and was okay with skipping out on the view in favour of resting my feet in the hammock.
Carlos showed me some pictures of him and Harley at the top of the mountain, and it did look gorgeous. I was happy for him.
While I rested in the hammock, Carlos made me dinner using the last of the water I had left in my Nalgene. He had trouble getting a flame out of the lighter but finally managed to catch a spark on the propane stove. I savoured the hot meal, bundled in my hammock.
We didn't have any water left tho, but now that I was rested and filled, we decided to go find some. There was a blue trail which I thought someone along the way had mentioned there was water down, but after walking down the trail a bit, Carlos seemed unconvinced. He decided to take the filter and bottles (which I'd attached to the carabiners I bought) and check the other path, down the Appalachian Trail.
He disappeared going back up the mountain and I was left to realize how far down I had gone. I slowly made my way back up the mountain to our campsite.
When I got there, I finished setting up my hammock with the rainfly and started working on setting up a fire. It was a good thing I brought my flint and steel because the lighter we had been using was completely empty.
Carlos and Harley made it back with water and I was very happy they did. We almost immediately used all the water between cooking the rest of the food and drinking it, but we figured we could find some the next day.
I offered to set up Carlos's rainfly as thanks for finding water. His rainfly was awful, however, and an absolute pain in the ass.
We had a good rest of the night talking by the fire. There was supposed to be a blood moon in the early hours of the morning that night, but we were probably going to miss it.
We said our goodnights and went to bed.
# Day 4
Finally, today was the day we'd be going home.
We cooked breakfast and split an extra meal we had somehow not accounted for. We packed up camp, a bit slower than usual, and headed down the mountain.
Carlos said the blue trail was actually a shortcut back to the parking lot we had arrived at, so I was more than happy to opt for that route.
It was mostly smooth sailing downhill. We made good pace as we were covered in shade, surrounded by the beautiful green forest.
We started talking about religion and science which devolved into an argument about how science can't prove everything and how Carlos refused to believe in the Big Bang theory because he believed in Creation theory, despite me trying to explain how at some point a long the way between believe in the moon landing and the Big Bang theory, he must stop believing in science. It was a frustrating and circular argument that we eventually had to drop because I was getting frustrated by it.
Eventually, I ran out of steam and Carlos graciously offered to carry my pack for the rest of the way, reasoning that we'd be able to make it down faster that way. I agreed and we continued our brisk pace down the mountain.
The trail began to flatten out and we began to find ourselves back in civilization, passing by campsites and cars. We followed a paved road back to the parking lot and back to the comfort of the car.
Looking back, I still can't believe we (I) made it. It ended up being about 27 miles in total. It was one of the hardest things I've done in my life so far, but also one of the most rewarding experiences.
Since Carlos drove up and I owed him for so much on the trip, I drove on the way back.
We stopped by a small town nearby for gas and food. We got chicken sandwiches at Zaxby's. It was amazing.
We both agreed we would definitely be doing more backpacking trips from now on, especially now that we had one under our belt and plenty of gear and experience for next time.