Day One, Sunday, July 17th 2016
When I got in my car to head on my 8+ hour drive to New Hampshire, I had a 9 hour playlist and (of course) a cup of coffee. The weather was perfect. Sunny, with enough clouds to invite a smile and a delighted appreciation. I had a plan–at least as much as a girl who is so bad with time management like I am could have. I would pick up fellow trip-goers Terri in Massachusetts as my first stop, and pick up Dulcie as stop number two in New Hampshire. Then we’d finish the last leg of the journey to Camp Dodge, AMC’s volunteer camp in Gilborn for our women-only spike trail maintenance vacation. We would be there for a week, including arrival and departure.
There is a odd sort of nervousness set aside for people who have waited later in life to chase after adventures. It’s not the same as those who adventure out when they are younger, which is just the regular nervousness of youth. Now early thirties, I felt a desire to prove I can catch up to all those years I could have been doing such trips. I expected more from myself as a 32 year old woman than someone say 23. Perhaps even more than others expect of me. So I project that expectation onto those who lead and join me in this adventure. Surely, they would be surprised in this being my first backpacking trip?
Yet, being older also means being wiser. I know the difference between my own insecurities, and the reality. The reality is, it doesn’t matter what age you begin. It doesn’t matter how good you are. Attempting something is half the battle. We all fail, because that is how you learn. It is ultimately never trying that is the true failure.
Welcome AMC Trails Volunteers
The three of us turned onto the dirt road that lead to Camp Dodge, which was tucked into a clearing surrounded by trees, small buildings, and tents. At the end of the road the largest building resided just before the edge of the property. I parked in the lot there and the three of us piled out of my Jeep.
We were welcomed with a vibrant, loud, slightly chaotic camp of what seemed like mostly teenagers and young twenty year olds. The large building at the top appeared to be the kitchen, lounge, and we learned (for all intensive purposes) the office, too.
A field in front of the Kitchen-Lounge-Sans-Office gave one an almost too perfect view of the mountains in the background. Whoever decided on this spot definitely knew what they were doing. I had never seen real mountains before arriving here in New Hampshire. In New Jersey, there are some beautiful places: Mt. Tammany near the Delaware Water Gap, and so many other places. Yet, those do not compare in size. Pictures, Instagram feeds, and blog posts have teased me of these places for so long now that it felt pretty surreal to finally be here.
Our arrival was a little before dinner time on Sunday, where we got to meet the rest of our women-only group of 10, including our two volunteer AMC leaders Kelly and Paula.
The few small buildings the camp housed were sleeping quarters with no electric and two rows of bunk beds. They were split between housing those 18 and older which were co-ed, and those younger which were not.
We moved our gear into our building, everyone deciding on a bunk bed for the night. I took the top bunk. I’d never been to a summer camp before as a child, and in truth I was enjoying the feel of the camp. It was like going back in time and getting to experience something you missed out on.
Staff seemed to hold semi-permanent residence in the form of large tents out-skirting the edge of the trees. A nonchalant, scruffy dog wearing a handkerchief was sprawled out near the opening to the closest tent by the kitchen. He panted and eyed people going by liked he hoped for some attention.
Dinner was an entire camp affair, with a loud tolling bell ringing throughout the grounds. We would later learn our chef was Abigail, a 38 year old woman who looked 28. She would join us during the first two days of our trip.
Picnic tables encompassed most of the furniture of the dining room, with a couch and some chairs a little off to the side for people to lounge in during non-eating hours. A line had already formed as our group made their way to dinner. I again couldn’t help but notice how much younger everyone else was to our own group. At 32, I was the youngest. Everyone else at the camp appeared to be at least 10 years younger than that.
During dinner we ate outside. The view of the mountains is too hard to resist. I tried to imagine having a view like that all the time, or even just an entire summer. It must be amazing. As we ate, conversation centered around normal things like getting to know one another, and talking about what lay ahead with our two trip leaders.
What To Pack, What Not To Pack?
That is the question that we asked over and over again. After dinner Paula and Kelly brought out all the food that had been ordered for our group, and as all of us were new to backpacking we didn’t really know what we were doing.
We circled around the table, collecting Ziploc bags and surveying the goods. Granola bars of all types, an army’s worth of Swedish fish and sour patch kids, an assortment of other candy, pop tarts, and dried fruit made up the bulk of our snack options. Various packs of tuna, chicken, and salmon along with crackers and wraps were our lunch choices. Then there were the random extras like peanut butter, a meat stick, hot chocolate, teas, and oatmeal for the morning we’d leave. We were to choose our own personal items to put in Ziplocs for lunch, trail snacks, and beverages.
Breakfast and dinner were to be larger meals cooked as a group, but this wouldn’t be the traditional backpacking fare I had imagined and read about so often. Unlike our lunches, our dinners and even our breakfast were to include premium items like fresh vegetables for stir-fry, mac and cheese, pancakes and more.
As such, we also had to share the weight of group food and dishware. We would be taking along full cooking pots, a full camp stove, and more. By the time we were done, we each took turns weighing our packs. My own pack came in around 39 pounds, prior to adding any tools we would acquire the morning we started out. I filled it to the top with as much group food as could fit, but I did not carry any pots or cookware. Others had packs heavier than mine between 40 or 50 pounds. Since I weigh 115 and was a first time backpacker, I felt the pack was a decent weight to manage without getting too heavy.
Before bedtime, Paula and Kelly went through the available tents we could choose from, and we all paired up and claimed ours. We set them up and made sure all the important parts were in tact and working. Later at Kinsman Pond, half of our group would not even use them.
When finally in my bunk at night, a headlamp or two scattered the other beds as people read before winding down; flooding the ceiling with a focused bright white light I would catch in the corner of my eye as I rolled from one side to the other. The ceiling itself was rough, with wooden frames holding up a tin roof, and skylights giving a glimpse of the outdoors that didn’t seem so outside in this limited structure.
We shared our building with others not going on our trip, and they came in periodically making an already hyped-up, electric anticipation in me all the more unable to be quieted. I couldn’t sleep very well, though it had nothing to do with the building itself, or the noises, or the cold night we had no insulation from. If anything, all those things made the night more exciting, highlighting the experiences to come, and feeling my head with thoughts and daydreams of this new adventure.