Backpacking – Novice-Style

I can’t leave it sitting in the living room!

I really want to get comfortable backpacking. So, when the weather didn’t look too bad this weekend, I let Carryn know that I was thinking of backpacking in Mississippi and then hiking on the Tuxachanie Trail near Saucier MS.

I wanted to go out and visit my sister-in-law and brother before Thanksgiving, so I was headed to Mississippi anyway. I’ve hiked the Tuxachanie Trail before, but it was in August. It was so hot I thought I’d die – literally. I wanted to see it when I was more comfortable. I was going to camp at a campground until my sister-in-law mentioned the island across Rotten Bayou from their house. Did that sound awesome? It would be real primitive camping but close enough to my brother’s house that we could retreat if necessary. It sounded perfect!

On an island adventure….

I got to my brother’s house earlier than Carryn because I wanted to visit. My niece and one of her friends and I canoed over to the island and set up my tent. It had rained earlier, but the weather forecast looked clear but cold for the night. No need to worry. We were outfitted with cold weather gear rated to 30 degrees. We are backpackers! We are prepared with awesome gear. We met Carryn back at the house and loaded up her gear in the canoe just after dark. Mariya wanted to camp with us, so the three of us pushed back and started canoeing to the island only about 50 yards down the bayou.


“We only have one paddle,” Mariya declared just after we left.

“What happened to the other one,” I asked.

She didn’t know, and it was getting dark and starting to sprinkle. I thought surely I could paddle us one with one paddle since it was such a short trip. About midway, I couldn’t control the boat. No matter how hard I paddled or where, the boat lurched aimlessly in all directions. Inside, I was irritated with myself for not going back, but now it would be just as far to go back as go forward. The boat made a 180, and I realized with the little girl in the front instead of 6 foot Carryn, I could control the boat. Whew… problem averted. Note to self: On canoe trips, put the heavier weight in the back of the canoe.

Mariya, the fire-starting queen

It was really starting to rain, and we needed to build a fire. Ashok took off on an island adventure. I knew she wasn’t going anywhere since it was an island, and I got distracted with the fire-building, camp throwing and dinner preparations. Mariya wanted to start the fire, and she began fire-staring with some kindling, paper and waterproof matches. Carryn was working to put up her tent in the rain in the dark. I had to go dig through all my gear to find my headlamp.

I realized in all of the scuffle that I had forgotten to change into my backpacking clothes which meant I had on blue jeans and a cotton sweatshirt. The more it rained, the wetter I got. Our teacher Katherine’s words rang in my ears,”cotton kills.” I laughed as I told Carryn that Katherine would not be happy with me in my jeans. Meanwhile, the little firestarter yelled at me that we would have to cook with my stove. The fire would not take off. I went over to encourage her and give her more matches. It wasn’t long until the fire was blazing in the rain, and I was quite proud of my little niece.

Carryn brought a Subway sandwich, but I made a dehydrated meal the night before. So, I started to light my JetBoil which has worked like a champ every time. This time, however, the starter would not kick on. I tried it about 5 times. I turned it to its side and tried it again. This time the starter kicked on, and the flames shot out of the side in a foot tall flame. I screamed and dropped the cookstove which fell in the sand and continued to leap with flames. I managed to turn it back over straight up, and the problem resolved with the exception of my heart beating wildly. Thank goodness I was on sand, or I would’ve started a forest fire. Again, I thought Katherine would be very disappointed in me. But she doesn’t need to know.

We finally got dinner cooked and everyone was eating. Mariya had brought some canned soup, and she didn’t like it. It was raining. It was going to turn cold. This probably wasn’t as fun as she thought it would be. So, right after dinner she asked if I would take her back. I got back in the canoe with one paddle and paddled her home. I was able to get the second paddle and some more firewood for the trip back, so it was worth the trip.

It stopped raining for awhile, and Carryn and I sat by the fire for a few. I offered to fix some hot chocolate but now my stove wouldn’t work. I didn’t know if I was out of fuel or the stove was broken, but this meant no hot chocolate, no morning coffee or breakfast. Darn. What’s the point of camping with no breakfast and coffee?

We decided we’d better hang the food to keep the predators out of our tents the way Katherine taught us. So, we started looking for a tree that was suitable. Every tree was either a short brushy bush or an extremely tall pine tree with no limbs low enough to hang food bags. Neither one of us wanted to walk deep into the woods to find a tree, so we did what all good backpackers do – we texted Katherine.

Of course we were posting some of our drama on Facebook, so Katherine was already aware that I had on wet jeans and the stove wouldn’t work.

Me: We can’t find a tree to hang the food.

Katherine: Seriously, I can drive there and bring you what you and Ashok need. I want you to enjoy the rest of your weekend. Are there any trees nearby?

I thanked her for that sweet offer but assured her we were coping. I told her about the situation with the trees. And asked what we should do.

Silence. WTF?

I went on to tell her that I had changed out of my jeans, and it was starting to rain again. I asked again what we should do with the food.


Alright… we were on our own. It was starting to rain harder, so Carryn decided to hang it on a small pine. At least it would deter mice, but if a raccoon wanted it, it would have a feast. And thank heavens there were no bears. We’d be screwed.


She did an amazing job of tying those sacks of food to the tree at eye level. It’s supposed to be 20 feet up and several feet away from the tree trunk, but it was 6 feet high and 1/2 inch from the tree trunk. We did the best we could. At least it was away from the tents, so the animals wouldn’t come near us if they were feasting. Worst case we’d lose the food we couldn’t cook anyway.

We went to bed and bundled up for the night. I got a text from Katherine saying her phone had died. She reprimanded me for wearing cotton but was relieved that we were close to my brother’s house. She reminded me I could cook with a fire and didn’t need the stove. She was relieved that we were tucked in for the night.

It was about 60 degrees but the temps were supposed to drop to the low 40s by morning. The winds started almost as soon as we tucked ourselves in. We were situated in the bend of the bayou, and the wind was howling. My tent was shaking, and I worried about what would happen if the wind caught it and ripped it up from its stakes. Carryn’s had already taken a roll down the beach, but she was in it now. I lay awake listening to the wind and trying to relax enough to fall asleep. Ashok started belching and burping, and I was worried she was going to throw up. The thought of being thrown up on in a tent was not attractive. It made it hard to close my eyes.

About midnight, Carryn yelled that her tent had blown away with her in it. She got it under control, and the rest of the night was quiet except for the wind and the burping, gagging dog. I didn’t sleep much, but I didn’t blow away either. The temps dropped continuously as the wind howled, and my sleeping bag kept me toasty warm. It wasn’t too bad.


When we awoke in the morning, we packed up quickly because we were hungry and we were meeting a friend at the trailhead at 9.


“Sharon, there’s no water. It looks like it’s just land,” Carryn said.


Sure enough our bayou had retreated about 25 yards. We slopped through the mud with our 30 lb. backpacks first and then went back to get the canoe. There were a few puddles so Carryn – the brains of the operation – suggested we pull the canoe with the rope through the puddles to make it easier. I never knew a canoe could be so heavy. I lifted the back end enough so that it could float across the 3 inch deep puddles. It was exhausting and not what I wanted to do before having food or coffee. My shoulders and back hurt from carrying the canoe. My body hurt from the lack of sleep. It was going to be a long day.


We had a quick breakfast at my brother’s place, packed up and headed off for our hike. We met our friend Kirk at the trailhead and started to hike. Very quickly, Ashok threw up everything she ate the day before. This really worried me, but she seemed to feel a lot better after that. Maybe she had something in her stomach that made her sick. We ended up hiking with her, and she drank plenty of water. But, she kept throwing up a little water everytime she drank. I thought I’d better take her to the emergency vet when I got home.

Tuxachanie Recreation Trail … Carryn, Kirk, Ashok and Me

We had a beautiful hike, and right before we got back to the car, Ashok pooped. It was full of sand. Hmmmm …  Sure enough, when dogs play out on sandy beaches, they can ingest so much sand that they can get “sand impaction” in their guts. It can kill them if it gets too bad. I stopped at the Sherwood South Animal Hospital, and, sure enough, Ashok had sand in her stomach and her large intestines. The vet was shocked at how much sand she had eaten.

I ended up having to leave her at the vet overnight. They wanted to move the sand through her system with frequent small feedings, IV fluids and laxatives. She is almost out of the water at this point, but I still don’t have her home. I hate that her camping trip got ruined by that, but I know better now not to just let her run around. I take full responsibility for this one. I wasn’t paying attention. I’m probably lucky it was just sand.

All that white is sand…. (the little white dots are BBs from when she was a stray)


I have to say we learned a lot on this trip. Our plan was to try it on our own and improve. I learned to:

  • Keep my stove in an upright position.
  • Bring an extra canister of fuel or at least a secondary cooking system.
  • Look for the “food-hanging” location when it is daylight.
  • Leave the jeans and sweatshirt at home.
  • Check the tide table if I’m canoeing in a tide-driven bayou.
  • Watch my dog and keep her close by.
  • Build a fire even in the rain.
  • Get my headlamp out BEFORE it gets dark.

My sister-in-law Laura said it best right before we left for the island. She remembered a camping trip she and a girlfriend had taken a long time ago. “It was like, WE can do this,” she said. “It felt empowering.” I have to say that we managed to have a decent trip even with a lot of obstacles, and we survived. At one point in the middle of the night I wondered if we should go to my brother’s house. But, I decided that we were really safe and warm in our tents. There was no emergency. “We can do this,” I thought. “We are in no danger.”

I half-expected Carryn to take a rain check on the next backpacking excursion, but we are already planning the next one. The next one will feature mountain streams and waterfalls … sand not included.



5 Comments on “Backpacking – Novice-Style

  1. You girls had quite the trip!!! Glad ya’ll survived and that Ashok will be ok.

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Really enjoyed reading your blog. I was honored to be a part of it! Thanks!


    Sent from my iPhone


  3. Pingback: Putting’ on the Dog | Midlife Moments

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