My new backpacking buddy Carryn and I decided to join the Louisiana Hiking Club in their annual trail maintenance project at Chico State Park this weekend. So I got up at 5 AM on a Saturday after a lovely Christmas celebration in downtown Baton Rouge with my friends Laura, Jo Ann and Robbie on Friday. We saw the downtown Christmas tree lighted, a fireworks show, a lovely art exhibit about the sun, a holiday laser light show and then took a trip to the sun. It was quite an eventful evening, but I had to get up early, so I headed home about 9 for a good night’s sleep. Carryn picked up me and my backpacking gear at around 6:30 AM.
We arrived at the conference center at Chico a little early and started chatting with our backpacking teacher Katherine. I was a little nervous about what kind of trail work might be involved, so I told Katherine I wanted to stay with her. Our fearless leader, Chuck, gave us our marching orders – or lopping orders as it were – and we were off like a herd of turtles. After some carefully laid out plans about transportation to and from the trailhead, we arrived and discovered that we had 4 more people than we thought and no vehicles to take us to the trailhead. I was a little confused but assured that once we got on the trail, they knew what they were doing.
We had a lovely hike picking up branches and lopping off limbs in an arms’ length arc above and beside the trail. But mostly our lovely naturalist Emma gave us a tour of the flora and fauna of Chico State Park. I ate a puffball, hugged a beech tree, drank water from a cut grapevine and learned about the history of the 300-year old forest we were enjoying. In fact, we talked so much that after about 2 hours we realized we’d only gone one mile. We needed to step it up in order to meet the party who was giving us a ride since we forgot to leave ourselves a car (a fact that we realized AFTER we were on the trail).
We finally arrived back to the conference center, and Carryn and I decided it was best to set up our tents before dark. Ladies, I’m here to tell you that we have been sold a bill of goods. All of my life I have worried about my weight, my hairstyle and a variety of other things that I thought would attract the male gender. All of that holds no candle to the draw of two women setting up a tent in a forest. We both threw out tents on the ground and started to set up the poles. I happened to look up, and here they came. It was as if some unseen force had mesmerized them and were drawing them to the very spot were standing on.
“Let me tell you what you need… ” one offered.
“That looks like an easy set-up,” another chimed in.
“How much does that tent weigh?” said still another.
We had the rapt attention of every male within earshot. Now, I’ll be honest. They were interested in the gear. But, any woman worth her salt should be able to shift that attention if she found one that interested her. I’m just sayin’. Just pull out your gear… and they will come.
I learned how to tie a special knot and set up my guideline in case of a storm. Carryn learned what kind of tent she needed to buy. The self-appointed gear guru whom I’ll call Jeremiah Johnson gave us all kinds of advice on what gear to buy. In fact, by the time I was finished setting up my tent in the midst of our ad-hoc backpacking lesson, I was convinced I was going to have to go buy all new equipment.
We had gumbo for dinner, sat around a cellphone playing a video of a fire and talked about what I’m learning everyone talks about …. gear. (Our gumbo chef pulled us aside in the kitchen and warned us that everybody will tell us what we need to buy, but different types of gear work for everybody. He urged us to try things and find out for ourselves what works for us.)
For a few hours, we talked about gear – what gear to buy, what gear not to buy, stories about gear malfunctions, what time of year to buy gear, where to buy gear and where not to buy gear. Oh yeah, and we talked about how to store gear, you! I had no idea there was so much to say about gear, but I guess I’ll be learning.
After the gear conversation died its eventual death, we went to bed and thankfully we both slept in our tents tucked away toasty in our great new gear. I awoke this morning amid a hail of gunfire and was sure the war had started. I think there were some ducks that had a worse morning than I did, but we were treated to yeast-risen waffles in the kitchen by a bunch of men. I was a little shocked at one point to look around and see all the men doing the cooking. This is my kind of group.
As we broke camp and were walking to our car, I waved good-bye to the last remaining hosts. To my surprise they all walked over to our car to chat with us before we left. By the time we left late morning, Carryn had advice on a new car, I had a list of trails to hike both locally and in nearby states, and I was assured that the hiking club was a great group of people with a few odd eggs. They thanked us for our enthusiasm, and we thanked them for being such a supportive, active and welcoming group. On the way home, we talked about how awesome it was to meet such nice people to help us in our new adventure. Gratefully, it is only a few days before our next visit with them and our next adventure backpacking.
See you on the trail!!