The First of Many
“I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” — Mark Twain
The weekend of June 27, 2020 was a special one. COVID-19 restrictions were loosening in Maryland and Pennsylvania and I was back backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail. Specifically, I was hiking from Pen Mar Park, MD to Chimney Rocks, PA and back over a weekend. This is not a particularly long hike at 10.6 miles out and another 10.6 miles back, but for a weekend trip it was absolutely perfect. Slightly toasty to say the least, the weather was 90°F high and 72°F low with barely a cloud in the sky. The heat didn’t really matter though; for this section of trail there was plenty of drinking water available and, with the trail mostly covered with the shade of the green tunnel, the temperature wasn’t overly oppressive. This trip was unlike any other backpacking trip for me though; I was backpacking with a date!
Abby Shepard was joining me as a first time backpacker. We had gone on a few dates previously doing outdoor activities like sunset hiking in Susquehanna State Park, MD and seeing horseshoe crabs at Kitts Hummock, DE. This was our first multi-day excursion together though and I have to admit, I was a little nervous. I had never introduced anyone, let alone a date, to my favorite hobby and I really wanted this hike to go off without a hitch. Knowing from previous dates that Abby tended to hike quick and could handle all things outdoors, I was confident in her ability to traverse the terrain of southern PA since it’s basically MD plus a few boulders. It was on me to plan a route that would provide some killer views and be manageable as an intro to backpacking. That said, this was not the most planned date in history; I asked her a week before we actually hit the trail, on a whim, if she’d like to give backpacking a shot and, with no hesitation, she said yes! It was at this point I knew Abby had a rare adventurous spirit and I started to have a feeling we’d have some incredible trips together…
One of the best feelings you can have as an experienced backpacker is helping someone you’re introducing to it enjoy the heck out of it! Abby, who is by no means a rookie outdoors-woman (she’s the Marketing Director for Delaware State Parks), was no exception! She took a huge interest in the seemingly simple act of filtering drinking water and, when it came time to set up the tent in the evening, she was intent on learning how my tent worked so she could use the knowledge in the future. She was so focused in fact, that I was confident she could deftly handle it by herself on any upcoming trip! Consider me impressed!
After we got the tent pitched and our sleeping bags situated, we slack packed (carrying a significantly reduced amount of equipment) to the top of Chimney Rocks to catch the sunset and feast on dehydrated chicken fried rice. At the top of the formation we were treated to one of the best sunsets I’ve seen on trail and Abby directed an impromptu photo shoot with me modeling for some of it (I would have never guessed that’d be a sentence I’d type). We scrambled all over the rocks until it started to get dark. At that point, the most challenging part of our day began. It turns out that going down a mountain to an unmarked campsite, in the dark, with only one headlamp for the two of you is an incredibly challenging activity! Abby didn’t know it at the time, but I was extremely nervous that we’d be searching the mountainside well into the night for our campsite. Boy was I was relieved when we spotted the tent hiding in the trees about a half mile below the peak! Lesson learned, if you’re night hiking after setting up camp – mark the trail somehow so you don’t walk on by!
To end that already incredible day we settled into our sleeping bags for the night and were gifted with the sound of a Whippoorwill singing through most of the night. This was my first time hearing a nightjar and I’m going to take it as a sign for many many more good things to come with Abby.
Since that amazing first backpacking trip, Abby and I have gone on a number of trips together. From day hiking in the Adirondacks and swimming in Lake Champlain to photographing a couple of engagement sessions (she’s the pro, I just dabble) at Cape Henlopen, DE we have had nothing but memorable travels and dates together. Now, on August 8th, we’ll be departing the DelMarVa region once again for a trip the likes of which neither of us has ever experienced… WE’RE GOING ON A MONTH LONG, CROSS COUNTRY, ROAD TRIP!!!!!!!
Check back soon for the first blog post of the trip, it’s already in the works!