Although we’ve managed to get in a handful of day hikes this year, I’ve been itching to get out on another backpacking trip ever since my winter hike of the Potawatomi Trail back in early March.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and everything changed.
As things in our state began to slowly open up at the end of June, I decided to head out with Naga to a local trail for her first ever backpacking trip (and a chance for me to get away for a weekend).
Taking a backpacking trip during a pandemic is NOT the same as it is normally.
In normal situations, many of the trailheads and rustic campgrounds in Michigan have amenities like pit toilets, hand pumps for water, and even sometimes trash cans. Normally, even if you aren’t camping in a place with potable water, it’s pretty easy to find a water source to filter from because you’re usually near one of the Great Lakes. During a pandemic however, a lot of the amenities are closed.
Even a lot of my usual “troubleshooting” ideas weren’t quite the same as usual.
For example, ordinarily I always carry my water filter with me on a backpacking trip, even if I’m not expecting to need it, just in case. In this situation however, my nearest alternative water source was a lake where people were swimming, boating, etc. If one of the campers who was swimming happened to be infected, would my water filter remove viruses? (Tip: Many actually don’t! Most “filters” are designed to remove protozoa and bacteria, but you need a special kind of filter to remove a virus.) After thinking it through, it became apparent that my choices were either A) take my chances, B) boil or chemically treat my water, or C) carry in the amount of water I would need for the trip.
Long story short, I didn’t want to risk either of us getting sick. Since we were just doing an overnight, I decided to bite the bullet and carry in all our water.
Now, I 100% know that a lot of other backpackers would judge me hardcore for making that decision, especially in this day and age of ultralight backpacking. After all, water weighs about 2.2 lbs per liter, and we would need about 8 liters to make it through our trip. That’s almost 18 lbs of water to carry!
That said, it would take about 3 hours for us to complete our 7 mile hike into camp, which is about the same amount of time it would have taken me to go to the store and buy water treatment drops or extra fuel (I was already low). It just seemed easier and less stressful to me to carry the water.
After all, HIKE YOUR OWN HIKE.
Getting Naga ready for her first backpacking trip was also a bit unusual in light of this year’s circumstances. We were only able to get her out on actual trails a handful of times this year, so most of her practice wearing a backpack was around the neighborhood, and her only experience with a tent was in our own backyard.
This being a pandemic year also meant that unfortunately, Naga hasn’t had as much practice with listening and following commands in a distracting environment as I would have liked. She does okay for the most part, but remember, Pyrs are NOTORIOUSLY STUBBORN. If you’re thinking she tries to get away with ignoring me as much as she possibly can, you are correct. (Tip: Out-stubborning a Pyr puppy while maintaining the patience of a saint is key.)
Needless to say, things were going to be interesting!
Naga and I pulled into the parking lot for the trailhead around 11:00 A.M.
It was already starting to get hot, so I made quick work of getting my pack on and heading out for the trail. Since temperatures in the 80s were a little higher than I would have liked, I decided to let Naga hike without her pack and carry her stuff for her.
The first mile of our hike was…less than ideal.
The first item on our agenda was to find a good place for a bathroom break in the woods because the bathrooms at the trailhead were closed.
After that was taken care of, I hoisted my twice-as-heavy-as-usual pack back upon my back and we were ready to get back on the trail.
If you know anything about me, you’ll know that it’s not a backpacking trip if I don’t trip and fall at least once.
Well, you guessed it. About half a mile in, I lost my footing on a root and fell.
Luckily, I ALWAYS carry a first aid kit, so I was able to clean it up a bit as soon as we made it to a good place to stop.
After sitting in the shade and drinking some water, the two of us made our way through the woods and over a series of little wooden footbridges.
By about Mile 2.5 I was starting to feel a bit hot and sweaty, however Naga remained just as chipper and spry as ever. She pranced along the trail with fervor and smiled at anyone who so much as glanced at her.
After climbing over a series of fallen trees, we stopped for another water break when we reached our halfway point along a rocky, dirt road at around Mile 3.5. Together we watched as people paddle boarded and kayaked down the river that ran along the road behind the trees.
The next section of trail was weirdly busy, with hikers and mountain bikers approaching from the opposite direction. The trail was also very narrow in this section, and lined with swamps, mud, and poison ivy, which made it very annoying when you’re trying to maintain a distance from other people. Thankfully, people were polite though.
Finally we made it to our next post and decided to stop for one last water break in the shade before reaching camp. It felt nice to sit for a few moments, watching the hawks circling overhead.
We continued on through another swampy area and eventually a lake that seemed to be quite busy with kayakers and people out on their boats. Naga wanted to swim and play in the lake, but not only was the shoreline super muddy, I was hot and ready to get to camp and relax.
Together we made our way back into the woods and up a steep hill, eventually coming to a hot, mosquito-y field.
Although I could tell she was FINALLY (maybe) starting to get tired, Naga was absolutely thrilled to be hiking and probably would have kept going for several more miles if I would have let her.
After about a three hour (in total) hike, we made it to camp!
As you can see, Naga was not the least bit unhappy.
Our site was on top of a hill with a (mostly obstructed) view of a small inland lake.
After pouring Naga a bowl of water, I got to work setting up our camp for the evening.
By the time I had everything set up and ready to go, it was still not even 4:00 P.M. yet. I decided to secure our tent vestibules open so we could get a nice cross breeze and watch the action out on the lake as we relaxed in the tent. After passing through the mosquito zone, it was nice to be able to be shielded from the bugs.
Once we had a chance to enjoy a bit of downtime, we decided to collect some firewood so we could enjoy a fire with our dinner.
After being able to recharge her batteries for a couple hours, Naga was downright enthralled to be going for a second walk. (Although they’re the same breed, in some ways she is VERY different from Patronus!)
Since being hot and sweaty on the hike led to me completely forgetting to eat anything all day, I decided to cook both the backpacking meals I had packed, allowing them to rehydrate as I built a fire to help keep the bugs at bay. (Tip: When I go backpacking or camping, I like to organize my food into bags of what I plan to eat for each day so even if my schedule and hunger cues get thrown off, I’ll know how much to eat. For a multi-day trip, I also throw in a couple of extra “just in case” items.)
Naga and I spent the evening together enjoying a nice crackling fire as we ate our dinner and watched the glow of the setting sun illuminate the lake through the trees.
As daylight faded, we decided to let the fire die out and go back into our tent for some nice, mosquito-free relaxation. We fell asleep to the sound of birds calling across the lake around 9:00 P.M.
I woke up just before midnight needing to use the bathroom…IMMEDIATELY.
Naga and I scrambled out of our tent and rushed to find a place to dig a hole. Thankfully it was quite dark and all of the other campers seemed to already be asleep, so the lack of access to the pit toilet didn’t put me in too much of an awkward situation. Sticking to Leave No Trace, while also trying to avoid things like poison ivy and ticks, while also trying to locate the perfect bush to hide behind is a bit much when things are urgent, you know? (Tip: Here’s how to poop in the woods when you don’t have access to a bathroom or pit toilet. For even more outdoor “bathroom stuff” tips, check out this article.)
Anyway, after drinking a little more water and crawling back in our tent, Naga went back to bed almost immediately.
I sat up reading for a few minutes to help get my eyes and mind tired again before drifting off peacefully back to sleep.
I awoke the next morning to Naga’s smiling face (two inches away from my face) letting me know that it was time for our “good morning” snuggle. She can be quite pushy about these things when she wants to be.
Camping is always very weird for me. In real life, I am quite nocturnal, a night owl through and through. While I’m not usually the first one asleep OR the first one awake on a camping trip, my body puts itself on a very different schedule.
After taking a few moments to rub Naga’s belly and wake up for a bit, I took down our bear bag and gave Naga her breakfast while I heated up the JetBoil and made myself a hot cup of tea.
I’m normally a bear canister kind of girl, and occasionally a “camp where there are food lockers” kind of girl, so this was actually my first time bear bagging for real. It was probably pretty comical for anyone who was camping in the area to watch, but there was no way I was going to carry a bear canister AND all that extra water. Again, hike your own hike.
Since this trip was really about getting away and relaxing in the woods for a little bit, I didn’t want to hurry up and get an early start to our day the way I normally might (completely out of necessity, never by desire) on a backpacking trip.
We spent the morning just hanging out in the tent, being lazy, taking in the sounds of nature, and enjoying the lake.
We actually spend so much time lolligagging that we were the last ones out of camp!
By the time we hit the trail again it was almost 11:00 A.M. and Naga was VERY excited to get moving.
The hike out was only around 4 miles, which was great because it was getting pretty hot and muggy.
This section of the trail was pretty hilly, but with the exception of one part that winds its way through an exposed marshy area, most of it was in the shade beneath a canopy of trees.
Probably my favorite part of the hike out was that Naga and I had the trail to ourselves.
Despite stopping for water a couple times along the way, we made it back to the trailhead in less than two hours.
After pouring the last of our water into Naga’s bowl and finishing off the rest myself, I rolled down the windows and blasted the air conditioning for her as I loaded up our vehicle and got everything situated. (Tip: I like to keep extra water and sometimes a snack waiting for us in the car so it’s there in case we need it.)
Naga slept for the entire car ride back home.
When the two of us arrived home, we were greeted at the door by a very happy Patronus. Naga forgot all about being tired and kept him entertained while I unloaded all of our hiking gear from the car.
All in all, Naga did really well for her first backpacking trip. She seemed to genuinely enjoy getting in the miles–probably even more so than I did–and she loved sleeping in the tent.
Hopefully there will be more adventures in the cards for us again soon!