Sunday, June 17, 2012

AT Shakedown with The Girls

WARNING: This is technically not a bike related post but it is the reason I missed the Friday-Happy-Hour-and-Micro-Brew-Taste-Test ride and it does include a back woods rope swing so hoping nobody will be too offended...

The girls are amazing.

On this weekend we opened a new chapter in our long-running father-daughter adventure series.  We've done a decade of of car and cabin camping since they were five years old. We've sailed the Chesapeake in our own bareboat flotilla, and we even did a weekend canoe camping trip down the Delaware. But this would be a Father's Day version featuring backpacking, our most primitive adventure yet.  We chose the Appalachian Trail north of Reading for our trip. We were told this was some of the rockiest and difficult terrain on the entire 1,200 mile AT. How would the girls handle the hiking with 15-20 lbs of gear on their backs? Drinking water would have to be filtered from mountain springs. Digging their own latrines when they were kids would have been a novelty, how how would four teenage girls take to it?

Well in short they tore it up.  There should never have been any doubt, they have always risen to the challenge. And the challenge started before we had even strapped on the backpacks. We were at the trail head, cutting walking sticks and scoping out the trail entrance when the sole of Emily's hiking boot delaminated. Completely. A tube of 5 minute epoxy, a roll of duct take, and 30 minutes later we were on our way with fingers crossed.

At the first trail junction, we handed the girls a compass put them in charge. They never looked back and led the way, Dads sweeping, for the entire two days of hiking.

Sara showing how it is done. That
water is wicked cold (spring fed).
Dinner time
A few hours later we trundled into the Hertlein campsite. We settled on one of the two tent platforms (the other was already taken) and started setting up camp. The girls, to their credit, immediately got to figuring out the rules of engagement.  "Can we take off our boots?"  "Can we go to the stream?" "Can I sleep outside?" (as if sleeping in a tent isn't outside enough) "Can we put on our bathing suits go down that path to the swimming hole?"  And of course the answers to all those questions was YES but we did insist on the buddy system as they trucked off to the swimming hole and we finished setting up camp. Within minutes we could hear screams and laughter, confirming they had found the legendary spring fed (very very cold) swimming hole and rope swing. We (Sebastian, Jim, and I) eventually worked our way down there and discovered the shangri-la of camp sites. Picnic table, fire pit, plenty of room for the tents, next to the swimming hole and water fall,  After a quick glance (no words were necessary) we hurried back up to the original campsite, and hauled our gear down to the place we would call home for the next 16 hours.

PJs around the campfire, it doesn't
get any better than this!
We quickly fell into the familiar and comfortable rhythm of camp life. Dinner was a smorgasbord of freeze dried backpacker meals - lasagna, spaghetti with meat balls, chicken and potatoes, tacos, and freeze dried ice cream. Yum (seriously). We gathered wood and soon had a crackling campfire. Games ensued and the Dads used the rope swing to set up the bear bag, and we eventually settled in around the campfire for the traditional Dad-Daughter jocularity and ghost stories.

The Tribe before breaking camp
We turned in around 10:00pm and Sara, true to her word, found a small clearing for her sleeping bag (no tent) and crawled in for the night. Around 3:30am I checked in with her and she asked me if there were "any wolf packs in the area." I assured her there were not, but obviously her imagination was working on her and I was not surprised when 10 minutes later she showed up at the tent asking if she could curl up with me. That was a no brainer, and with her snuggled up next to me I was finally able to fall into a deep relaxed sleep.

Boulder field. About a mile of this
ankle busting terrain on day two...
...but yet they keep laughing, smiling,
and hiking. They are amazing.
We slept in until 7:30am (obviously very tired). Coffee got things going for me and I learned (the hard way) why setting a round roll of toilet paper on a hillside while you are "indisposed" is a very bad idea. We topped off our water supply, loaded our packs, groaned a little as we put them back on (funny how they push on all the wrong sore spots from yesterday), and broke camp, continuing west toward Rt 501 (this was a point-to-point hike). Today's hike would be about twice the distance of day one and would include traversing of a massive boulder field but would also include many more scenic overlooks than day one. The Angelina Jolie game, twenty-one questions, and hours of Seinfeld trivia questions made the 4.5 hour hike go by quickly. The sun was out, but temps were cool, and it was absolutely perfect hiking conditions.

Rt 501 and Success!
Sara working on her free
climbing skills
I can't say how proud I am of the girls. This was a physically demanding trip that asked a lot of the girls, but they were all about embracing the adventure every step of the way. When they had to suck it up and soldier on they did. And when they had a chance to relax, they provided and endless supply of giggles and smiles. Emily had even climbed aboard this adventure while nursing a nasty summer cold (in addition to her disintegrating boots).  It was the kind of weekend that brings tears (of joy) to a Dad's eyes and produces memories for a lifetime. Thank you girls!

The Luckiest Dad on the Planet,


  1. you forgot the part where you mentioned us hiking 6 miles in 4 1/2 hours.
    Just to add...
    We all had freeze-dried food on the trip. I remembering opening up my plastic bag, "chicken and mashed potatoes", to find a white powder and a piece of chicken that felt like styrofoam. Five minutes later, the powder had grown five times its size and the chicken actually felt like chicken. We were all really amazed by this transformation, and I remember sitting there thinking, "this just can't be possible..." as I shoved spoonfuls of potatoes into my mouth.

    1. They say ANYTHING tastes good after a workout like that, but i have to say that astronaut food was yummy...but i am still wondering if those grill marks on the chicken were real or if they were painted on...