Carryn, JoAnn and I hiked the Black Creek Trail near Wiggins MS this past weekend. We planned three days on the trail. We spent Friday night at Janice Landing, left a car at the Janice Landing trailhead and drove to Fairly Bridge landing to get started on our Badass Backpacking odyssey. This would be our second backpack since the backpacking class in the backcountry, and we were all trying to lighten our packs.
We froze to death on Friday night. None of us had sleeping bags rated for the below 30-degree weather. I ended up putting on every item of clothing that I brought and slid myself inside a construction-grade garbage bag with my sleeping bag. I was okay, but I never felt warm the entire night, and Ashok was shivering in her sleeping bag. I didn’t sleep much, and, by the time the sun came up, I was ready to get out of that tent. We knew it would be warmer Saturday night and even warmer Sunday night. It would never get toasty, but it would be tolerable.
We got on the Black Creek trail around 11 AM. For the first two miles, the trail wasn’t all that exciting. It was muddy and the scenery was very much like most of the hikes we’ve been on recently. After two miles, the trail became extremely hilly, challenging and much more interesting. It got so hilly that we didn’t make nearly the mileage we would have liked that first day. We wanted to do 7 miles and get just inside the Black Creek Wilderness area, but we did under 6 and camped almost in the middle of the trail by a water source. I chose a spot on an incline, and I found myself sliding to the bottom of the tent all night with the slick sleeping bag. I’d pull Ashok and her sleeping bag up by my shoulders, and the next time I’d wake up, she’d be right by my feet. It was irritating, but I slept better than the night before.
Almost immediately the second day we entered the Black Creek Wilderness. The trail started to follow the Black Creek, a designated Wild and Scenic River, and it was beautiful. I found the topography similar to what I’ve seen in the Appalachians although not as rocky, and, of course the vegetation was different. Rhododendrons in the Smokies were replaced by beautiful huge old Magnolia trees at Black Creek. Lovely vistas of the river came and went, and we spent the day oohing and ahhhing at beautiful spots all day long.
Not too far into the Wilderness area, we came upon a creek. The trail went right up to the creek edge which dropped off with a very steep bank. The other side of the creek was the same way, and we could see a log way down in the creekbed that we assumed at one time could have been used to cross the creek. We walked around and could find no bridge or easy way to scale the creek banks on either side to cross. My first thought was that we were stuck. Then, I remembered the many creek crossings in my Smoky Mountain hiking days where we had to climb rocks and scale banks to get across.
The Bridge is Out….
“What are we going to do?” Carryn asked.
“We’re going to cross this creek,” I said. “We’ll just have to figure it out.”
Since we’ve been hiking together, we’ve never really had any obstacles except mud here and there. Every creek crossing has had a bridge. We’ve not had to scale rocks or embankments. It’s all been pretty straightforward. One of our backpacking classmates had just done this hike 3 weeks ago, and he never mentioned this. I figured he just assumed this was a natural creek crossing for hiking, and we shouldn’t flinch at trying it ourselves.
I scouted out a spot that didn’t look too deep to cross and that led to a scaleable part of the creek bank. I figured I could tie some rope on a tree, and we could use it to pull ourselves up over the bank. I’d go first, and then we’d throw the packs up and then the rest could come over. It was easy to cross but the water was very cold. We had to put on our sandals so our boots and socks weren’t wet. But, once the initial shock of the cold water was over, it actually felt pretty good on my feet. I climbed up, tied some paracord to the tree and came back to get the packs from Carryn who stood midway in the creek.
The biggest problem was JoAnn’s pack. It weighed about 50 pounds. We asked her if she had a life raft in there that we could use to cross the creek. Carryn lifted the pack and handed it to me. We both threw it on the bank and tried to heave it up. It was so heavy that I thought it was going to pull me back down the bank, but with Carryn pushing and me pulling, we got it up. The rest was easy. Ashok bounded across the water and up the bank, and Carryn and JoAnn followed. It seemed sort of silly afterwards that we thought it was such a big deal, but it was our first challenging obstacle, and we did it!
We camped the second night at a beautiful spot in the middle of the woods next to Black Creek, and I spent a bit of time the next morning having my tea overlooking the river. We were all much warmer that night, and I didn’t even have to have my coat on while I slept. The Wilderness was 10.8 miles total, and we hiked about the last 5 on Monday. We got back to the car around noon and couldn’t wait to hit the nearest Mexican restaurant for some non-dehydrated food.
My tea spot Monday morning….
After the hike, we threw our packs down and laughed about how accomplished we felt. Everybody said that the best part of the hike was crossing that creek. Even though the whole challenge of backpacking is pretty empowering, facing our fears and crossing that creek made us all feel like true badasses. It also makes me wonder how tiny that creek crossing obstacle will seem years from now when we have faced many more challenging situations on the trail. We are only getting started. But we are learning so much.
Lessons on the Trail:
Lighten your load. If you are carrying extra baggage in this life, you have to take the time to unload it or at least pare it down to a manageable size. If not, when you get into a challenging situation, the extra weight will only make the journey harder for you. And, your friends will have to deal with it, too. Your baggage affects others!
Bridges will be out. There will be times in life when the bridge is out. An obstacle will present itself with no obvious way to get around it. At first you may decide to deny it’s there, or you may decide to backtrack to avoid it. But, at some point, you will need to decide that the only way out is through, and you are going to have to climb that creek and scale that wall. You will need your friends to help! Don’t try it on your own!
The toughest challenges are what make you stronger. When you look back in your life, you are going to be the most proud of yourself for those things that scared you but you did them anyway. It will be the things that you can’t believe you did that make you stronger and help you grow into the badass that you want to be in your heart.
Celebrate your successes. Talk with your friends about the amazing obstacles you overcame. Make a point of taking a break from life and celebrating when you’ve done something amazing. It will help all of you to learn from each other and share your joys. Life is meant to be shared – obstacles and successes.
Get the right gear. It’s really important to have the right tools to be successful. Ask others for information on how they’ve overcome obstacles. Create a toolkit with some variety. Not every problem is a nail, so a hammer isn’t the only tool you need. Sometimes you need a rope (a lifeline), a pair of sandals (a strong foundation) or even a dry bag (boundaries) to protect your valuables. You never know what you’ll need, but you can certainly plan ahead and anticipate what you’ll need in a crisis.
Every time I hike I learn some valuable skills that apply to my life in some way. It’s somewhat of a microcosm of life’s little problems which always manifest in fear, frustration or joy. So, I’m starting a new series about Lessons From the Trail. I hope you will enjoy… and learn a few things, too.