Ah, our first wilderness section! To introduce us to wilderness living we spent two weeks backpacking the mountains of North Carolina. On these two weeks we learned the basic skills of camp set up and tear down, backcountry cooking, packing our pack, avoiding our food (and ourselves) being eaten by bears, water filtration, and how to do almost nothing but walk everyday (this one isn’t always a basic backcountry skill, but we still learned it).
For our first day we got dropped off on the side of the Blue Ridge Parkway in a foggy drizzle. After praying and lugging our huge packs onto our backs we took off for our first half mile hike.
I admit I was nervous in the beginning; it was rainy and my pack was heavy and I felt that I could have been a little more in shape than I was, but nevertheless that first little hike set off one of the grandest adventures of my life.
I’ll spare you all the tiny and tedious details and just hit some of the highlights:
We played this game called Lowest Card and on that very first day while sitting in megatent to hide from the rain I drew the lowest card and ended up having to be the Leader of the Day (LOD) on the first day the students were in charge. Being LOD meant that you set the pace (I walked so much faster than I thought I could), were in charge of making sure everyone was ok, and decided when to take breaks. Though it was daunting to go first, I did better than I thought I would.
On the fourth morning the girls and guys split, beginning a time of great bonding and the opportunity to swim in the creeks at our campsites (praise God).
On day five we had lunch at a place called Devil’s Courthouse. The view was unreal. Here we encountered a good number of people, basically all of whom wanted to know why our backpacks were so large. One guy even offered to bring us a pizza, thought he unfortunately didn’t come through on it.
My second favorite campsite was a place called Shining Rock. It was this huge granite rock that we sat on to watch the sunset. No one else was with us so we felt like we had the whole world to ourselves as the sun dipped behind the mountains.
Our next campsite was my absolute favorite. It was a little ways off the trail and to get to it you had to walk down a pathway that was almost like a tunnel because of how the trees grew up over it. We also had a creek to rinse off in and plenty of rocks to sunbathe on. It was so secluded and felt like paradise. On day eight, still at this campsite, we had a zero day (meaning we didn’t hike at all.) We got to sleep in, make muffins for breakfast, and didn’t have to pack up camp. Unfortunately, while one of our instructors was washing our dishes with camp soap and boiling water she spilled the water on her foot and suffered 2-3rd degree burns. We had to go into full on WFR mood and treat her.
It was wild day between helping Maurie and her foot, getting our supplies restocked, having so much free time, and needing two new instructors (the one who hurt her foot had to be evaced and the other one was only going to be with us for a week from the start.)
A part of hiking culture is this thing called a trail name. A trail name is a nickname you get out in the wilderness. Generally it corresponds to a quirk or habit you have, an incident you’re involved in, or something notable of that sort. Coming up with trail names for all the girls was one of my favorite parts of backpacking. We drew mostly on personality quirks and habits, but mine ended up coming from multiple incidents. After much debate I was dubbed Sting Ray, due to the large number of bees that singled me out as a target. Later it ended up becoming Mama Rae, but we can talk about that later.
The following day, day nine, was insane. It was our longest day; I was LOD again, we hiked straight uphill for the first portion, and then were poured on until the end. The trail was very dense and confusing because everything looked like it could have been a trail, but also looked like it was just straight forest. We got off track many times. The rain made us cold and got into our boots and I was positive my whole pack was soaked from the inside out (thankfully the trash bag I used to line it and my pack cover worked). We ended up having to hike four more miles than we originally intended to because our campsite was in the middle of a big open field-not exactly ideal when theres lightning around. We hiked through trails that were under water, and ended up having to climb into the trees on the side of the path and sit on our packs because of the lightning. Towards the end of the hike we were all cold and tired and slightly hypothermic. When we came upon our campsite I think all of us at least thought at crying; we were done walking, we could put on dry clothes, and this particular campsite had a bathroom and toilet paper (hallelujah.)
Day ten was glorious. We had another zero day so we slept in, sat in the sun, and shared our testimonies.
For the last four days we were back with the guys. It was a time of a large group meal, sharing our stories from when we were separated, playing cards, bartering for more Nutella, being back together around the campfire for teachings, and of course walking. (On the last night six of the seven girls slept in our four person tent, which was bottomless, and since I always slept on the end I ended up rolling/being rolled outside of the tent and woke up with the trees as my view; needless to say I experienced quite a bit of disorientation that night.)
On our last day we got a little lost coming out, but we finally made it! 14 days of straight wilderness living and approximately 60 miles of hiking. We got lots and lots of pizza as our reward. I took the best shower I’ve ever had the night we got back.
Backpacking was incredible because theres no other way to experience community like what we had for those two weeks (which set the foundation for the rest of the semester.) All we did was walk and hang out,; all we could do for entertainment was talk and play cards. We cooked together, walked together, set up and teared down camp together, and slept next to each other every night. We spent almost every evening under the stars around the campfire discussing Jesus. All we had was each other, and we needed each other because this type of thing isn’t easy. It was truly incredible to me how much we bonded in such a short span of time. And like I said earlier, this was just the beginning.
Our teachings on backpacking covered Ephesians 1:15-2:22. We discussed how Christ completes us and gives us all the knowledge we need (Eph 1:19-23.) In Him we lack nothing and can have everything, for He is fullness. Ephesians 2:1-10 was my favorite section of scripture we studied on backpacking. Some things I wrote in my journal were,
“We weren’t just dirty, we were dead and he brought us back to life (Eph 2:1-6).”
“The hero died for the villain (which is us),” and “We were spiritually dead so we couldn’t move towards Christ.”
The realization that not only did our sin make us unclean, but also dead was heavy. Christ didn’t just wash us- He raised us to life.