First Fall Backpack into Moshannon State Forest
With a few cooler nights expected over the holiday weekend, my husband and I made plans to go on our first backpack trip of late summer/early fall. We went round and round about where to go. To swim at Hyner Pool on its last open weekend of summer and camp up somewhere on Hyner Mountain? To head to the back-country in Quehanna and listen for the first bugles of the elk?
But in the end, we decided to stay local. And so on Saturday, we called in a pair of Italian hoagies to Jim's in Bellefonte, grabbed them along the way, and headed for Moshannon State Forest, up above Black Moshannon State Park.
We ate our hoagies in the parking lot and packed up our gear, and then headed up the hill to our campsite. Let me be the first to point this out: my husband is the navigator, and I am the follower. I could not take you to half the places we go if he weren't there showing the way.
And so it was that we walked along a green, shady pathway out into the woods, and from there, we caught a deer trail, which linked us to another deer trail, which took us to an old woods road that wasn't really too difficult for walking on. And we ended up in a back-country site about two miles from our car.
We started looking around for flat spots, which in the Pennsylvania woods, is not always as easy as it sounds. Nearly every spot big enough to pitch a tent on is loaded with tree roots and rocks. So we maneuvered things around a bit until we both found/made relatively flat spots for our tents.
I got into my backpack and pulled out my little cooler, only to find, to my dismay, that one of my drinks had spilled. The lid was not on quite tight enough, and about two ounces of sticky liquid had come out. It was all over my cooler, and had spilled out into the lower compartment of my backpack, and all over the water bottles and plastic bags I keep there. What a mess!
And so I dumped it all out, and did my best to wipe it all off. But it was sort of a losing proposition. The cooler was sticky, and all of my bottles and bags were sticky. I put some liquid soap on a paper towel and washed that part of my backpack out, and left it sitting to dry out in the sun.
Well, some of you can guess exactly what happened next: the yellow jacket brigade arrived on scene, very happy to help clean up my spill. Maybe a dozen yellow jackets began buzzing all around my stuff, and me, as I sat nearby.
"MOVE OR YOU WILL GET STUNG," my husband said, commandingly. Well, I stood my ground for a little while, armed with a fly swatter, which I mostly used to deter, not to kill, for after all, they ARE pollinators, and we try to leave the pollinators be. But then I gave up, and moved my backpack and all of my gear to a spot 20 feet away.
Meanwhile, my husband began putting up his tent about 75+ feet away. Yes, we sleep in separate tents, and for couples who camp out together, this is a thing I recommend: girls, you will be SO MUCH HAPPIER in your very own tent! And in fact, my tent is much nicer, bigger, and airier, than his. It has huge stargazer panels, and when I sit in it, I feel like the queen of my very own castle!
So we put our tents up, and although a few yellow jackets did make their way over to my new space, once I got into my tent and started setting up my gear inside, there was no way they could get me! Ha ha ha ha!
While we were sitting there, my husband spotted something shiny in between two trees. He called me over to take a gander. It LOOKED like an audio CD, it was so silvery and shiny. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be a carefully crafted spider web, which you may see in the extras.
Our friends Tiny Tiger, Alex the Alligator, and Little Bear hung out on top of my tent and enjoyed the afternoon. I turned around to discover them wearing acorn hats as berets. They thought the jaunty hats made them look very French and sophisticated. "Bongiorno, boys!" I said.
We'd had our Jim's hoagies for lunch, and they were very fine indeed. But by later in the evening, we needed something more. So my husband pulled out the backpacker's friend: a Lunchables snack with crackers, pepperoni, and mozzarella cheese. Thank goodness, they gave us everything in quantities divisible by two, or war may have broken out!
As dusk fell, I hung a strand of blue Christmas lights on my tent. And we listened to music and tried to see how long we could stay up. I made it until after 10, and when I was falling asleep in my chair, I finally went inside.
As I entered my tent, I heard my husband saying something about checking for spiders. And so I got my flashlight and my headlamp out, and indeed there WERE spiders inside! How they got there, I have no idea, as I had kept my tent closed as much as possible.
Two of them were rather large wolf spiders, whose removals I handle personally all the time at home, with my Mercy Jar. However, I had not brought that tool with me, and so there I sat in my tent, screeching like a little girl, doing my best to shoo the spiders out the door with whatever I had handy. One small black spider was the last to go. OUT, OUT!!! No spiders inside!
And then, finally, I settled into my tent to sleep. Although I must admit that I had a lingering thought about whether I had actually found ALL of the spiders that had made it inside. But I was so exhausted, I fell right to sleep.
I woke up in the middle of the night at least twice, as I was sliding around on Big Agnes. The spot I'd chosen, so it seems, was not completely flat. Big Agnes is the sleeping pad that I blow up with a little air pump that I take along with me. It took me almost a half-hour to blow that sucker up, which is a very long time, indeed. And then I spent the night sliding around on it.
In the morning, we spent a little time in our tents, and then suddenly I looked out, and my husband was out of his tent, and his tent was down. "Taking your tent down, I see," I said to him. "No, not yet," he lied, as he pulled the last pole out and hung the tent on a clothes line he'd strung between two trees.
And so we spent the morning hanging around our campsite and enjoying the day. We had decided that we wanted to leave before noon so that we could stop in the afternoon and swim at Black Moshannon before heading home. And so at a quarter till 12, there we were, packed up and ready to walk out.
My husband is our trail guide, and he decided that instead of backtracking, we'd bushwhack our way through the vegetation on top of the hill. And so it was that we spent the next half-hour making our way through rhododendron thickets, trees, and brush.
I couldn't see my feet. I worried about spiders. I cogitated about ticks. I hoped for the absence of poison ivy. And then there was this: "DON'T THINK ABOUT SNAKES, DON'T THINK ABOUT SNAKES, DON'T THINK ABOUT SNAKES," I chanted to myself.
But of course, everyone knows the chief snake months in Pennsylvania, for rattlers, at least, are July and August. And here we were in September, so there would be no rattlers on that hill, right? RIGHT! RIGHT?
It seemed to take forever to get through the brush, and I was a very unhappy camper at that point. I had leaves in my hair. I had scraped my arms and legs. I was sweaty and uncomfortable; my shirt clung to my back. But I was really grateful for the long pants I had on; yes, I only ever wear PANTS and decent hiking boots to backpack, and for obvious reasons, as you can see.
We finally broke free of the brush and were out in the open again. Hooray! From there, we did find the main path back out, and walked out through the woods along what used to be a stream bed. The ferns are still looking pretty healthy and tall there, but that whole stream bed is dry.
Years and years ago, there were some little evergreen trees we used to walk through, along the edge of the woods. We made snow angels among them in winter time. Those trees are huge now, and they are really impressive. We walked out beneath them, marveling at how tall they've grown; at how fast the past 30 years have flown right by since those trees were small.
Then it was back to the car, where we took off our packs (insert a long, happy sigh here - that moment the pack comes off, you feel like you can FLY!) and put all our gear in the car. Oh, what a happy time that is, when the backpack is over, and you know the next thing to happen is that you will get into the car and actually get to RIDE in style, instead of carrying all your gear on your back.
Just before we left, we sat in our chairs and ate a snack - yes, another Lunchables, this time ham and cheese and crackers - and the mosquitoes arrived. I was swatting them, but they bested me. I got two pretty nasty bites, one on my ankle and another on my toe. I pulled out the anti-itch creme and put some on, and we decided then that it was time to go.
That was the end of the backpacking portion of our adventure, so I will end this story here, for now. When we got home, I downloaded all of our pictures and we looked at them. I showed my husband the two pictures - the campsite and the web - and told him I was going to use them for this story.
He looked at the picture of my little campsite in the back-country, and my nice, airy tent, and my classic but boxy retro blue Kelty pack, and he nodded and said, "The Hotel California. You can get IN to the back-country but you can NEVER get out!!! Ha ha ha ha ha!!!
And so the soundtrack for this image and this rather long backpacking story is this one: the Eagles, with Hotel California. We saw the Eagles perform live at the BJC at Penn State in October 2010, and this is the song they opened the first set with. I can tell you, when I heard those first few licks of sound, I got CHILLS. (And they opened the second set with Seven Bridges Road, so it's awesome that that song is also included in this video.) Enjoy!