About 12:30 PM of the first day of 2016, the Badass Backpacker Babes completed the Wild Azalea Trail in Kisatchie National Forest. The first thing we did is avail ourselves of the toilet at the end of the trail. The second thing we did was take a celebratory selfie to mark the end of our great adventure. The next thing we did was eat a Mexican lunch like a bunch of feral hogs tearing up the ground in the forest. It was an amazing New Years Day, and one I won’t quickly forget.
I’ll have to post pics at my Sunday Night Check-In as I’m on a borrowed iPad, but I’ll try to give a brief overview of our four day/four night adventure in North Louisiana.
Our little adventure started Monday at Valentine Lake in Kisatchie National Forest. We camped there and figured out what we left. We left my car with the campground host/Community Coffee man, went to Walmart for essentials and parked our other car at the other end of the Wild Azalea Trail at the Woodworth Town Hall. We had to walk almost two miles down the highway to access the trailhead which was a pain in the butt, and I know I was thinking I might not make the full 26 mile hike. (In the end, it turned out to be 28 miles because there was another two mile junket at the trail’s end to Valentine Lake).
The first day we hiked 8 miles at a super-fast pace to camp by Loving Creek, a beautiful little leaf-covered spot in a hardwood forest. We were exhausted after carrying the extra weight that none of us were used to wearing. We got to the campsite at about 4:30. I gathered water from the stream for cooking, Carryn found a place to hang the food to keep it away from the critters and JoAnn began building a fire. This became the way we threw camp every night on the trail, and it worked very efficiently.
It is a custom in trail hiking for people to get trail names, and, since this was our maiden voyage thru-hike, we hoped to give each other trail names on this trip. You can’t come up with your own. You have to be dubbed by someone else on the trail. That first night, we dubbed Carryn “Legs” because of her swift hiking speed that set the pace and almost killed JoAnn and me. We had a little talk that night about slowing down to smell the roses the next day. That night, as with every other challenge during the week, we found out that we made a great team and wanted everyone to enjoy the experience.
Keep in mind that I am 54 years old, JoAnn is a 55-year-old Cajun grandmother and Carryn is a 50-year-old mother of three lovely daughters. Ashok is essentially 55 in dog years. None of us had ever done this before. We were excited but all nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof about whether or not we could handle this. All we had was our education from our backpacking class, some great gear and the encouraging words of our teacher Katherine assuring us that we were “fierce” and could do this.
That first night I felt so accomplished that we got there, chose our spot, set up camp and followed all of the Leave No Trace rules that we were taught. We got up the next morning, cooked breakfast, built another fire, had coffee and lazily got up to start our planned 6-mile hike that day. What we thought would be a lighter hiking day turned out to be just as challenging as the day before. The terrain was hilly and crossed through cypress swamps, pine forests and over several creek crossings. This day we ran into four male hikers, one of which had done several long-distance thru-hikes. We chatted with them, and he gave us some tips on where to camp that night and trail water sources.
The second night we camped at a place I’ll call the stinky Spiderland Campsite in order to be close to a water source for cooking. Our first panic happened the next morning early. Legs got up to get the food, and she yelled at us that the food was not there. I asked if everything was gone or were the bags laying on the ground opened. I couldn’t imagine a bunch of raccoons untying our food, grabbing the bags and carrying them away from the area. And what would they do with our mugs and cooking equipment. I could imagine a bunch of cartoon raccoons sitting at the other end of the stream cooking hot chocolate and oatmeal for breakfast. I got up because I could tell Legs was distressed, and I saw her looking in one direction and our food bags hanging directly behind her head in the other direction. We laughed the entire trip about that hilarious panic attack.
That third day we needed to hike 8 miles in order to keep our final leg mileage below 4 miles. We are on our our way to Houston for an REI garage sale, and we didn’t want to be exhausted from our hiking the last day. We got up early, skipped the campfire and set off. This day we saw lots of mountain bikers and trail runners. The trail turned steeper and began to resemble the Mississippi hike we did around Christmas on the pine tree farm. It was beautiful and very different from the first leg. Our map indicated this was going to be a very “dry” day, and we anticipated camping without any water. That was not to be as there were plenty of water sources not marked on the maps.
We found a campsite last night on a hillside with a firepit, and we had a blazing fire to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Every night, JoAnn built a beautiful fire, and we dubbed her Firefly. We also decided that Ashok’s trail name was Sandy as she loved the sandy beaches and had the sand-eating episode about a month ago. As with every night on this trip, we went to bed around 7 because we were so exhausted that we didn’t have a lot to talk about around the campfire. It turned really cold and started raining during the night, and I awoke to Legs’ doomsday weather forecast.
Legs: What are we going to do today? There’s a 100% chance of rain.
Me: Oh yuk. Well, we will just have to get wet. At least we don’t have to sleep outside tonight. We can just go to the car.
Legs: Oh, wait a minute. This says 10% chance.
Me: Hahahahahaha… well, that’s a horse of a different color.
Legs: I guess I added an extra zero to it.
We laughed about the daily panic about stolen food, lack of water and false weather forecasts. In fact, we laughed a lot on this trip. It will be one of my most enduring memories.
We packed up, hiked our little four miles in record speed, reached the end of the trail and realized we had to hike another trail to get back to our car. It turned out to be about a 2-mile jaunt around Valentine Lake, but we were so ready to get back it went by in a heartbeat. We stopped once at a picnic table to take off our packs, eat some trail mix and put on our jackets. It was getting colder quickly, and we were freezing. I said I was sad that I was the only one who didn’t get a trail name, and both ladies agreed that it should be something about how motivating I was. They both felt they never would have done this if it hadn’t been for my motivational and inspiring personality, and we decided I would be forevermore called Muse on the trail. We also agreed that all of our packs have the same name. We had taken to calling them our “bitch” whenever we had to pack them up and pick them up once again.
So Legs, Firefly, Sandy and Muse walked the rest of the way back to Pursy with our bitchpacks with hearts full of pride and smiles on our faces. It was the end of our first journey into the woods under our own steam, but it is only the beginning of a new life on the other side where we know that we can do this on our own. I feel like I did after running my first marathon. I did that. If I did that, what else can I do? It was really, really hard. It was scary at times. I was grumpy and tired and was as happy as I’ve ever been. But, it’s only one woods. My heart is pounding thinking of all of the forests and all of the mountains and all of the streams I have left to cross.
Today is the first day of 2016. May it be the beginning of a new heart-pounding challenge for you, for me, for Legs, Sandy, Firefly and the Bitches, too. Happy New Year!