BadAss Backpackers: Lessons with Chuck at Clark Creek

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Our day hike in the middle of our backpacking class got rained out. We were really disappointed, but Katherine offered us an additional activity that was a lot of fun. Fun as it was – and informative – we still wanted to go on our day hike together. Since we all can’t seem to get enough of each other – and hiking – we rescheduled it for yesterday.

Carryn’s panorama of the trail… 

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Everything was all planned. We were all going, and Katherine and Curt would be leading us. On Thursday we got an email from Katherine that she forgot which week she was going to visit her family for Christmas. It was actually this week, so she had asked Chuck Cantrell if he would lead us. She assured us he was very knowledgeable, and we would love him. Still, I knew we’d miss Katherine. We were already bonded to her, and, honestly, she knew our skill levels and quirks. Who knew if he’d get irritated with our lack of experience? Like I always say, though, whoever is supposed to show up will show up. It will always be what it is supposed to be.

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On a side note, I have to add that Katherine and Curt are off to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail with their kids and grandkids. Now, THAT is a Christmas vacation!! 

The day did not start out well. I arrived at the appointed carpool spot, and Ratih called to tell me that she and Kevin couldn’t make it due to some problems with one of their dogs. We tried to make something work, but we couldn’t, and they didn’t get to come. 😦 Everybody that showed up had to go do something before we left. Luckily, we had plenty of time, and I just sat in my car jamming to Jason Aldean and my theme song “Gonna Know We Were Here.”

Carryn had invited a new friend named Rinal for the hike, and she walked up to shake my hand. I saw her Camelback and realized that I had forgotten my water. It’s only the most important thing, and I had gone over a mental list several times… totally never thought about water.

Lesson 1: Create a written checklist for backpacking.

Lesson 2: Do not pack the morning of the hike.

Luckily I brought some water for the road, and I had a bottle of water for Ashok that she probably wouldn’t use. I also wanted to try out my new water filter, so this would be a perfect opportunity. We left 25 minutes after the appointed time but still had plenty of time to get there. We started talking excitedly about the day, boys and yoga. There were four of us in my car – me, Carryn, JoAnn and Rinal. Mike was following behind. I knew that when I talk I can’t think, so I appointed JoAnn to be the navigator. She was fired about 20 minutes into the ride when Mike called and pointed out that we had driven about 15 minutes in the wrong direction.

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Lesson 3: Head in the direction that you are going before engaging in a lively conversation OR have a guy behind you to let you know you are off track.

We finally arrive at the Clark Creek trailhead just about right on time, but I’m sure Chuck meant that we would start hiking at 9:30 AM. We still had to put on boots, unload gear and go to the restroom. We started to unload gear, and I felt water all over the back of Percy. “I think somebody’s water leaked all over the car,” I said. It was Carryn’s bladder, and all of the water had completed leaked out. Her bladder was flat as a pancake.

Lesson 4: Make sure the valve is shut on your hydration bladder before packing it.

I realized that I had forgotten Ashok’s leash along with my water. So, JoAnn gave me some rope to tie into a makeshift leash but I knew that was going to make things difficult with her.

Lesson 5: Go back to lessons 1 and 2.

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After we got ready to go, Chuck gave a little talk about the geological history of the area. It was fascinating, and I can’t for the life of me remember what he said. But I do know that it was some kind of freak of nature that produced this amazing mountain-like setting one hour from Baton Rouge, and I think it involved the Mississippi River. Needless to say, I walked away feeling totally lucky and blessed that this happened the way it did and where it did. Otherwise, we’d only have swamp to hike in.

Several of us brought our backpacks even though this was a day hike because we wanted to:meashok

  1. Find out how we would do walking on inclines with a loaded backpack.
  2. Get in better shape for backpacking.
  3. Practice our skills and use our gear for the first time.

 

I’ll start by saying that Chuck has led many, many hikes at Clark Creek, and he knew that place like the back of his hand. He decided to take us through the boulder field instead of the primitive trail. I do remember that he told us that all of these “boulders” that are out here are not rock. They are all clay. He said the only rocks out there are the size of gravel. I knew in the past the rocks looked dirtier than in the mountains. I guess that’s why. They are made of dirt.

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We got to the first magnificent waterfall, and he told us we were going into the boulder field. We went down some very steep stairs to go down, down, down into the clay boulders and creek bed. We spent most of the day scaling large boulders, squeezing ourselves through spaces in between boulders and wading in water. Now that I knew these things were clay, it made so much more sense. As water hit the clay, it was slippery and muddy. I had about a 20 pound pack on my back and was trying to guide a 40-lb dog. It was really challenging at first, but after awhile, my pack became a part of me, and I got used to how it would react when I bent down, climbed up or squeezed in a small space. I feel very accomplished that I handled that.

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The day was amazing. Blake had an AllTrails app where he tracked our path. I had to laugh at our time when I saw it. In almost 5 hours we traveled only 3.5 miles. But it was a killer 3.5 miles. My arms were as tired as my legs when we were done. Thank heavens for the strong core I’ve built in yoga. Yesterday tested it.

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We had to be lifted over a ledge at one point.

Lesson 6: Don’t skip workouts or your core work!

We ended the day with a meal at Magnolia Cafe where they let Ashok come in on the outside heated patio. I had a bowl of chili, and I wanted another one as soon as I was done. Our little hike was a workout. Ashok stayed under the table, and I think she got several tidbits from my fellow travelers who adopted her and loved on her all day. She was definitely in dog heaven except when she’d misjudge a spot between boulders and her backpack would lodge her in there. Several times, we had to pick her up and over a clay boulder. But she had a blast.

We all asked Chuck how much he would charge if we hired him as a guide for future hikes, and we now have a second option as a guide if Katherine is not available. When you get out there in the wilderness, it’s so much more interesting if you have somebody that can tell you things that you don’t know. Chuck knew about the trees, the secret waterfalls, th
e geology and shared story after story about near misses with snakes and accidents. I learned that I was a snakebite waiting to happen when I stepped right over a log. He showed me right where a snake would be likely to lay, and I’d step right into it. Now I know to step on the log and way beyond it.

Ashok knew who the leader was and who was most likely to survive!

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Lesson 7: Watch where you put your feet and think ahead!

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At the end of the trip, we were strategizing ways to stay in touch and communicate about future hikes. It made my heart happy because we were  all interested in continuing these adventures into the future. This is what I’ve been wanting. And what I’m finding out as I get to know my little band of travelers is that we are all in similar circumstances in life. We are looking for new paths in the most fundamental way. What better way to find it than on new trails filled with adventure and challenge? We’re smart enough to bond together and listen to experienced guides. How cool is that? There is a tradition in trail hiking of giving people trail names. I don’t have one yet, but I think I’m branding our little group the Badass Backpackers. Maybe we’re not great backpackers yet, but we are definitely badass in every sense of the word. The backpacking part is sure to fall into place.

Lesson 8: 

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