My Home Away from Home in the PA Wilds

It has been a great autumn for backpacking. I didn't get out at all this past spring, which was too bad. But in early September, my husband and I kicked off the fall backpacking season with a trip to the Quehanna Wild Area. And on this day, we started out on what was being billed as "the last backpack of the season," back to Quehanna, the place where it all began.

In the middle of all of that, we had some additional outdoor overnight adventures: an easy walk into the site in Sproul we call Pine Glen, a Quehanna trip that ended in one of the best frost shows I've ever seen, and a truly glorious and beautiful backpack into the Hammersley Wild Area, the most scenic but difficult backpack we know of.

We weren't in any big hurry to get going, so on Thursday, we spent a leisurely morning packing up and getting ready. Practice makes perfect, or so they say, and I'm at the point where I can have my gear bagged and ready in about 10 minutes, and my backpack packed in about another 20.

I've got it down to a science: I take pretty much the same amount of stuff, no matter where I go. I also have a backpacking list that I check at the end, to make sure I have all of the important stuff (including a string of blue battery-powered LED Christmas lights to decorate my tent at night).

We left our house before noon, and arrived at our campsite around 2:15, which is making pretty good time indeed: about an hour and 15 of that is driving, with another hour of it the actual hike in. I am always first to set up my campsite. It's the only real "work" left once you get there, and I like to get it out of the way so the rest of the time can be spent relaxing.

Above you may see a picture of my home away from home in the Pennsylvania wilds. There's my site, on a bed of soft pine needles, with my airy three-man Alps Mountaineering tent, my blue Kelty external frame women's pack (boxy, vintage, and retro, purchased for all of $48.50 from L.L. Bean back in 1987), my half ground sheet in front with some of my belongings on it, and our three stuffed animals to the right hanging out in a tree: Tiny Tiger, Alex the Alligator, and Little Bear.

The day was sunny and beautiful, with light breezes and blue skies. The high temperature for the day was 63 degrees F and the overnight low was 34, which are some pretty reasonable temperatures for backpacking. We had breakfast at home before we left, and after that, we lived on cheese sandwiches and other assorted snacks.

I don't usually talk about some of the perils of backpacking, which can include annoying insects. But I have to mention the deer keds, which were problematic on this day. Deer keds are small insects that crawl into the hair at the back of your head near the nape of your neck and bite. The welts or scabs they leave behind don't usually show up for several days, but then they itch and become uncomfortable. The bugs may also transmit diseases, including Lyme disease, not unlike ticks.

After the middle backpack into Quehanna, the trip with the amazing frost show, I came home and found a deer ked behind my left ear. The welts on the back of my head raised up several days later and made me miserable. I might have worried about what germs the bug had transmitted, except that I was placed on antibiotics at the time for a dental infection, which probably knocked out every bug in the zoo (as they say).

So my husband and I were cognizant of the keds, and we squashed several of them. I wore a turtleneck shirt, which helped protect my neck. We are also savvy enough to check each other's hair every now and again, near the back of the neck, to find and remove any offending keds. They are nasty little creatures and we hates them, my precious.

The biggest news of our Quehanna trek, though, was that the tamaracks have turned! There is a huge stand of them on the hill across the valley from our campsite and they looked glorious, especially in the late-day light. (See photo in the extras.)

It's always a shocker when they turn because they look like normal everyday evergreens, and then - BOOM! - comes the foliage change, followed by the needle drop. As the sun was setting, they almost seemed to glow. My husband said they looked like they were defying the darkness, and I think that accurately captures it!

You may read about day two's adventures in the next posting. For now, here's a song about the wilds: Cat Stevens, with Wild World.

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