Quick backpacking trips to Sipsey Wilderness – Part 1

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As a kid, I remember going camping most summers. It was just car camping for the most part. We drive up to the campground, pitch our tents, and go out on the boat or whatever activity we were doing. I have very fond memories of our trips, they were great.  I even look back on the parts I hated and smile.  Who doesn’t like waking up covered in sweat in a tent that feels more like an oven? Even as a kid I always felt like there was something missing. It was just too easy and convenient. I’ve been wanting to get into what I feel is more “real” camping for years now. Like anything new, I had apprehensions and a couple false starts. I didn’t really know where to go around me. You search got camping and you get car camping or RV lots. I finally figured out that I needed to use the term primitive camping when trying to find a place. Places start to show up if you look for them correctly. There are tons of places to go around me.

I started off just hiking. My pup has been out on the trails since he was a tiny puppy and loves every minute he’s out there. I’m not sure if it’s usual for Great Danes, but he’s a fantastic trail dog. He always can find the path, and he’ll find the easiest way guaranteed. Gradually, I started getting into running, so I began running the trails as well. He’s getting older now and can’t keep up, especially in the heat. I would usually take him hiking first, then go back and run. If he saw me putting on running clothes, there was no way he’d let me leave him. My son was the same way, been coming since he was stable, but he likes his toys a little too much. So I got pretty comfortable on trails and being outside eventually.

My gear had been accumulating and I finally made it a point to go spend some time in the wilderness. I had most of the things I needed, why not go finally? I picked a date and asked my brother Josh to come. We’d hiked the Walls of Jericho near the Alabama/Tennessee border a few weeks before. Great hike, but too recent. I choose one of the longer trails in the Sipsey Wilderness. Kind of on the way from Huntsville to Birmingham. I’d been through it to pick up some photographic equipment from a craigslist post, but that’s it. I do all my research and make arrangements, then I get the news that my brother has to work late and might not be able to go. I would go alone, but my imagination runs wild and I’d be creeped out without some experience. Luckily, my buddy David was free so he saved me from that experience.

We took a half day that Friday and headed out. We’d planned about an 18 mile hike, so I left Ulthrex home. He would love to come, but that’s a little much for him at his age. David’s Irish Setter pup had more than enough energy, so he came along. Turns out Josh was going to try to make it with his stepson after all. He planned on meeting us after he got off. There’s no cell coverage for a while down the road, so we couldn’t really hash out a plan, just meet us down the trail and we’d have the camp set up.  Of course that didn’t work out.  David and I arrived and headed down the trail.  We were going pretty fast at first, but then decided to just take it easy since they would have to catch us.  We let the urgency drift away and just took in the sights and sounds.  The wilderness was great!  The rock formations and cliffs are beautiful.  I didn’t expect there to be so much in that area. We lost the trail after a while and decided to walk through the river until we picked it up.  It was relatively warm, so the cool river water felt awesome.

We decided to wait for the others around mile 5-6.  David and I both had hammocks, so we were set up in less than 5 minutes.  Wood gathering duty was next on the agenda.  A few months ago, I probably wouldn’t have been able to start a fire out there.  I moved in to a new house in July that had a firepit built into the deck in the back yard.  It took me weeks to get a “one match” fire going, but I could do it pretty easily after I had some practice.  Out here, it was rough.  Most of the wood was damp and there was no dry tinder.  I didn’t bring my hatchet, because well, it sucked.  The bigger dead trees stayed intact.  The small branches on the ground would have to do.  David wanted to try his magnesium block and striker, so he tried that for a while.  No luck.  I used a petroleum jelly soaked paper towel and the stack went up.

Dinner time.  I’m definitely going to have to experiment and get better at cooking in the woods, but i did alright this time.  I ate some little kid food and it was awesome. Boxed macaroni and cheese, repackaged of course.  I brought a little coconut oil for the mac and cheese, but also my oats the next morning.  I put my boiler on the coals and waited.  While that was going, I boiled a smaller cup and made a coffee.  The Starbucks Via instant coffees are actually pretty good and are perfect for backpacking.  Just add to hot water and you’re set.  There’s nothing like a hot meal at campfire in the woods.  I just love it, and the hammock makes a great seat.  As it got dark, it was evident that Josh wouldn’t be coming through.  If we would have been able to talk to him, we could have told him we slowed way down.  We found out later that they turned around after a couple of miles, thinking we’d gone 9. Oh well, next time.

Going to sleep was a bit rough.  I don’t have a summer sleeping bag, but i didn’t want to buy a new one, so I used what I had.  Which is a 15 degree bag.  Whew was I hot in there.  Better to be hot than get attacked by mosquitos though, so I toughed it out.  I had a bit of a scare as I was drifting off.  Cooper thought it would be a great idea to dash over to me and nuzzle me, I guess to play.  It was actually pretty terrifying, but I came to my senses quickly.  It took me a bit to fall back asleep after that.  I probably got a good 5 hours of sleep, good enough.

Now my breakfast I spent a little more time on.  Rolled oats, chia seeds, sprouted sunflower seeds, pb2 (dried peanut butter), dried blueberries, dried cranberries, cinnamon, coconut oil, and a bit of brown sugar.  I don’t eat sugar in my oats at home, but they really need it out here.  This could have used a bunch more.  David had the good idea to add some yogurt trail mix to the oats.  Awesome idea.  The oats were delicious after that.  We packed up and headed out after a while.  A mile or two out, we started hearing thunder.  There was a 0 percent chance of rain Friday and only 5 percent on Saturday when I had checked, so it kind of caught me off guard.  I had a jacket, but we were close enough that it wouldn’t have mattered.

It began to rain pretty good when we were near the exit.  The canopy protected us for the most part.  Not 2 minutes after we got to the truck, it broke open.  Hard driving rainstorm.  I felt bad for the people we ran into that were staying another night in there.  We were good though.  On the way in, a greasy catfish place caught our eye. In my mind, those are always the  best places.  Definitely hitting that place up for lunch.  They had a fried green tomato special posted on a neon piece of paper.  Now, I try everything and usually like it, but i haven’t had fgt that I liked yet.  These were pretty good and changed my mind for sure.  I had to try everything.  I got an order of the tomatoes, a cheeseburger, a half catfish plate with slaw and tomato, and an order of hushpuppies.  I ate it all too.  Absolutely satisfying.  The cheeseburger was one of the sorriest burgers I’ve ever seen, but looks can be deceiving.  It was actually one of the better burgers I’ve had in a really long time.

It was a really cool trip, and I got some great pics with my gopros.  I was still trying to figure them out, so I didn’t get everything perfect, but I’m happy with the results.  I left my big camera at home to save on weight and bulk.  I might have to bring it next time though.  There’s just so much you can do with a little camera.

Next up – Damon, Threx, and I have an adventure for the ages in the same wilderness the next week.

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