Backpacking Trip… Cross It Off the Bucket List!

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Backpacking Trip... Cross It Off the Bucket List!

I’m no Mrs. ONL when it comes to the outdoors, but I do enjoy some outdoor time when I can find it.  And there’s been one adventure that’s been on my bucket list for quite some time now.

I love camping and enjoy the idea of some of the disaster preparation and survival shows.  So why not combine the two with a backpacking trip for a couple of nights?

This trip has been in the making for a few years.  Every year though, it seemed to fall apart for one reason or another… until this year.

I went with a buddy of mine.  I thought about calling him by his first name in this post, but then I decided that might not be a good idea.  I then thought about making up a name for him to protect the innocent, but then I decided that’s stupid.

So… I decided that I’m just going to call him “my buddy” throughout and if you don’t like it, too bad!  Feel free to make up your own name and insert it in your mind as you read this.

Anyway, my buddy and I decided on Morrison Hiking Trail in the Allegheny National Forest in Bradford, PA.  The trails would be the Morrison Trail Loop, Rimrock Trail Loop, and a trip over to Rimrock Overlook.

Backpacking Trip... Cross It Off the Bucket List! - Morrison Hiking Trail Map

We planned on the whole trek being about 15-18 miles.  For a normal hike, this would be a good one-day adventure.  However, when you throw in that we’re novices and that we’re lugging around giant backpacks, breaking it up sounded like a good plan.


Backpacking Trip... Cross It Off the Bucket List! - Training
Damn, I’ve got some real chicken legs!!

I started exercising at the beginning of this year – not for this trip, but because I just needed to get off my butt.  I hate it, but I’ve been doing it consistently for probably the first time ever in my life.  The key for me has been to keep it simple.

That’s been all fine and dandy, but I realized that with this trip looming, I needed to do some training.  Basically, I didn’t want to get half a mile in and then have a heart attack… that would be a day-ruiner.

So, this past spring, I added my empty backpack to my routine on the treadmill.  It was only a few pounds, but it was a start.  I also started wearing it when I mowed the lawn each week.  I didn’t want all my neighbors staring and pointing though so I only wore it when mowing the backyard.

Every week thereafter, I added a few supplies that I’d be taking on the trip.  Slowly but surely, I got the backpack up to the full weight that I would be carrying… 40 pounds.  Ouch!

Some backpackers carry more and some carry less, but either way, I’m not a big guy and this was a ton of weight for me!  I could have invested in ultralight equipment, but that would have cost hundreds and maybe even thousands of dollars.

Since this is mostly a personal finance blog, that’s not the way to do it!  And what if I did this bucket list trip and decided this would be a one-time thing?

Somehow though I did my 1.5 miles on the treadmill at 4 mph a few times a week and carried it on my back while mowing.  I’m sure I could have (or should have) done more, but at least it helped me get a little more in shape.

Day 1

Backpacking Trip... Cross It Off the Bucket List! - Day 1
Of course, I wore my favorite “old man” hat for the trip!

The first day of our trip started a little late.  My buddy had to work in the morning, so after our 3½-hour drive, we got to the trail a little after 4pm.

That only gave us a couple of hours to get rolling before we had to stop and set up shop since we would lose daylight shortly thereafter.

So we hiked a few miles going clockwise around the Morrison Trail Loop and then started looking for a spot.  That actually turned out to be a good thing.

Even though we were only a few miles in, we ended up finding a fantastic place to set up camp right along the creek.  It was completely empty of people all around, we had a water source right beside us, and plenty of places to gather firewood all around.

We established camp relatively quickly and efficiently (setting up the tents, gathering firewood, starting the fire, etc.).

So far, so good!

Backpacking Trip... Cross It Off the Bucket List! - Day 1
How awesome is this?!

Bears… my biggest fear!

When Mrs. R2R, my daughter, and I go camping, we’re usually in a state park without any bears to worry about.

Bears scare me.  A lot.  Like a real lot.

I spent weeks leading up to this trip learning everything I could about black bears to try to be as informed as possible.  I wasn’t going to let them scare me from checking off a bucket list item!

Backpacking Trip... Cross It Off the Bucket List! - Bears... my biggest fear!
My first bear bag hanging… success!!

Well, I was still afraid.  I carried and forced my buddy to carry bear spray.  I bought bear bags to put our food in.  These bags are supposed to help suppress the smell of the food to make you less of a candidate for curious bears.

I then hung our bear bags with the counterbalancing technique.  I thought this would be a pretty difficult project to do, but it actually went very smoothly and I knocked it out in no time.

This didn’t completely alleviate my fear of bears, but at least I knew we were keeping the food away from our tents and hopefully the bears as well.

We don’t need no stinking water!!

Ok, that’s not completely true.  We did bring water.  In fact, I brought about 2.5 liters of water and my buddy brought way too much water himself.

However, I also brought a Sawyer water filter.  I had never filtered water before while out in the wild, but this thing was easy and awesome!

Whenever we got to a water source, I took a few minutes and filtered.  Fresh (and cold!) water throughout the trip!

If we ever do this again, I’ll probably carry less water and plot it out to do a lot more filtering along the way.

Freeze-dried food… disgusting?

For dinner, I got to try freeze-dried food for the first time.  I went with Mountain House Chicken Teriyaki with Rice.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t really have high expectations, but you know what?  It was delicious!  I could eat these all the time!

My buddy went with Mountain House Chili Mac with Beef and said that was great as well.

Not too shabby of a meal for us!

So we had a nice filling dinner along with some beef jerky and other snacks… but I felt like we were still missing something.  Hmmm, what could that be?

How about a drink?

What’s a campfire without a good beer to drink?  The problem is that there’s no way I was going to lug around all that weight.  So instead, I brought a flask-size bottle of Jack Daniels.

Now, I’d like to think that I’m a cool guy who can sit around and sip Jack as a drink… but I’m not that cool.  In fact, I’m far from it.  So I needed something to mix it with.

I eventually stumbled across Pat’s Backcountry Beverages Terra Cola.  In my mind, I pictured it kind of like cola syrup or concentrate.  Except I had no expectations for it to taste like that because it’s not really cola.

With low expectations, I mixed one of these with some Jack and water and mixed it up.  It looked like @#$% and it smelled like @#$%.  But you know what – it wasn’t bad at all.  It tasted like a sweet tea or something along those lines.  I’ll call Jack and “fake” cola a success!

UPDATE 09/12/21: Unfortunately, it looks like Pat’s Backcountry Beverages closed up shop. It sounds like they’ve taken things in a different direction.

After dinner and a couple of weird beverages (my buddy mixed us up some Vodka and Gatorade which was also weird but good), we went back to our tents and called it a night.

The sound of the flowing creek was perfect for some white noise and the fire kept things lit for hours into the night.

Day 1 of this bucket list trip was definitely a success.

Day 2

Well, I learned pretty quickly that although Mountain House foods are delicious, they make you pretty gassy.  At least I think that was the cause.  Regardless, between you and I, I was happier when I was leading the trail than I was when I was following my buddy!

Anyway, as we made our way around that first loop, we decided to go a mile out of the way (a half-mile each way) to stop back at the parking lot.  My buddy brought way too much stuff and luckily realized it early enough.  So we went back to his truck and he dropped off what probably amounted to around 10 pounds.

After that, we went on our way clockwise around the Rimrock Trail Loop.

This got old in no time.  It was a real strain on our legs and traps.

We passed up the open campground in an effort to get as far along the route as we could.  That might have been a mistake.


By late afternoon, we were beat.  We were hot, sweaty, and completely drained.  We were at the point where we were both ready to call it… stupid bucket list adventure!

Then my buddy brought up how good a nice steak or a juicy burger and an ice-cold beer would be about now.

Damn, that sounded wonderful.

Even though we could barely move, we actually talked about pushing our way through, going back to the truck, and finding a local bar.  We could have our food and drinks and then head back and just sleep in the truck.

Boy, that’s sounded even better!

We decided to just stay on track and find a spot to set up camp though.  The only problem was that we were now on the side of a steep hill.  There was no place to set up our tents.

So we just kept on pushing forward.

A couple of hours later, we finally found a very small spot to set up.  My buddy started to question the place as it barely had any room and a good portion of it was covered with weeds.  I interrupted and said, “I don’t even care right now.  I’ll set up my tent in the weeds.”

And that’s just what I did…

Backpacking Trip... Cross It Off the Bucket List! - Drained...
Ah, crap sweet home!

We then made a quick fire, cooked up dinner (more Mountain House), and then laid down in our tents… it was only 7:30pm, but it didn’t matter.

For day 2, we covered probably close to around 10 miles – we were toast.  We conked out for a few short hours, but then we both woke up aching and sore from our long day hiking.

The bigger problem…

If you remember, on the first night, we had some nice white noise from the flowing creek.  We also had the fire burning late into the night.

Um, we didn’t have either of those in this crappy little spot we were in.  The creek was not very close to us and the fire burned out within an hour or so.  We were also in a waning crescent moon phase.

In other words, it was completely quiet and pitch black outside.  Opening or closing your eyes made zero difference at all.  Moreover, all you heard was the rustling of small animals, branches breaking, and acorns landing.

Backpacking Trip... Cross It Off the Bucket List! - The problem...
One of several fresh bear tracks we saw on our hike…

Remember my fear of bears?

So yeah… I was freaked out.  I was driving myself crazy thinking that there were bears right outside my tent throughout the night.

However, the good news is that I wasn’t the only one sleeping that evening.

I also drove my buddy crazy throughout the whole night yelling out, “Did you hear that?  I think that’s right outside our tents!”

Yes, I’m truly a sissy when it comes to the thought of bears.

I did manage to pass out for a couple of short stints of sleep, but that was about it.

Day 2 was definitely a rough day.

Day 3

Nothing exciting on day 3.  We got up, downed a quick breakfast, and then headed out.

We knocked out the last few miles pretty easily.  The rough terrain was already out of the way so this was nothing compared to day 2.  We probably killed it in just over a couple hours.

Oh yeah, that Rimrock Overlook trail we planned on doing… that would have to wait for another trip because I was done with this hiking stuff for a while!

By the end of the trip, we hiked probably around 15 miles.  It was definitely a good, but exhausting trip.

Backpacking Trip... Cross It Off the Bucket List! - Our Trip

After our 3½-hour drive back, we both stepped out of the truck and realized that our legs no longer wanted to cooperate.  My knee was also shot for about a day and a half!

A Few Notes and Lessons Learned

So here are a few odds and ends from this backpacking trip:

  • I enjoyed this bucket list trip, but we hiked way too many miles on that second day.  If I do something like this again, I’ll be spreading out the miles across the whole weekend.  I’ll also be checking the topography a little better beforehand.
  • Wearing non-cotton clothes was a worthy investment.  I already had a good shirt to use, but I bought a 2-pack of Champion longer-leg boxer briefs that were mostly polyester and didn’t have a chafing problem at all.
  • I already had a pair of hiking boots that were already broken in.  However, I bought some “performance” socks from Walmart the week before the trip.  During my last week of training, I wore them with the boots while mowing.  The socks were a little thin and I could feel my feet slipping – not good.  I ended up wearing wool socks on the trip.  I didn’t get blisters (thank goodness!), but my feet were pretty hot throughout the trip.
  • I’m not in my twenties anymore and sleeping right on the ground wasn’t going to work for me.  If you remember from my guilt trip, I bought a TNH self-inflating sleeping pad a couple months ago.  It was only 1.5 inches thick, but it worked wonders – I was completely comfortable.
  • I even splurged and bought a Therm-A-Rest compressible pillow.  This might sound stupid as I could have slept on a pile of clothes instead, but I don’t regret it at all.  It was wonderful!
  • Hanging the food in bear bags away from camp made me feel much better about the idea of bears being around.  If you take a trip like this and hang your food (you should), make sure to bring sufficient paracord.  50′ was a good length for us.

A few worthwhile items that I bought for this bucket list adventure…


Bucket List

So that was my bucket list trip and I’m happy I did it.  As I mentioned, I have a big fear of bears, so this took a little bit of pushing to make myself do this, but it was definitely a rewarding undertaking.

I did realize though that what I enjoyed most about this trip was setting up the tents, gathering firewood and building the fire, chilling out and eating dinner around the fire, etc.  In other words, I like camping more than the hiking part (or at least the hiking all day long part).

However, I did like not having people all around like you have at a state campground.  The solution for my family might be to go to a place like this and just do a short hike into the woods to set up our site instead of going to a regular campground.

As far as the bucket list goes, I don’t have a ton of things on mine, but when I can cross an item off like this, it draws a nice feeling of accomplishment.

What’s on your bucket list?

Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

You know you wanna share this!!

10 thoughts on “Backpacking Trip… Cross It Off the Bucket List!”

  1. That’s great you own your fear of bears. In CA we have black bears. So really nothing to worry about, but I still fear running into one on the trail (at the campground they come through nightly, that doesn’t bother as much – dunno why). While I don’t have bear spray, I carry my emergency whistle. Supposed to be Super loud. The darn thing better work the 1st time I have to use it! Ha.

    I haven’t had MREs in years, but am sure they have become way better in taste. Doing day trips I bring nuts, dried fruit, PB sandwiches, oranges and beef jerky. Congrats on successfully doing a backpacking trip

    1. I’m such a wuss at the thought of being mauled! 🙂 I wore a loud whistle as well, carried the bear spray, and wore a knife (that would have been completely useless if a bear attacked).

      Ooh, oranges would have been a good idea – I didn’t even think of bringing any fruit. That would have been pretty refreshing!

      — Jim

  2. Loved the mowing picture! And we just got back from a big camping adventure and we were freaked out about bears too! (And moose and elk after we saw how darn BIG they are walking through the field near us!) A trip to Colorado to see Rocky Mountain National Park was on our bucket list – and we accomplished that too! I like camping and day hikes – not sure about 11 mile ones. We did a long 5+ miler one day (with a big climb in it) and that was plenty. Glad you pushed out of your comfort zone though! On to the next adventure!

    1. Ha – glad I’m not the only one freaked out about bears. Moose and elk are definitely crazy big – that would have been awesome and scary seeing them that close!

      Sounds like a really great trip, Vicki, with just the right amount of hiking!

      — Jim

  3. LOL @ your training picture. I haven’t had close encounter with bears, have seen their tracks in areas I have camped before. A close friend of mine was camping by himself once on the logging road between Squamish and Whistler. He was waken up in middle of the night by sound outside of his tent. When he looked out he saw a few cubs climbing a tree next to his tent and the mother bear was on the ground. He stayed put for like 1 hour before the bears left. He couldn’t run to his car because it was parked a few hundred feet from his tent. Crazy experience.

  4. That was a great post. Served to solidify my personal conviction that my idea of “roughing it” is a Holiday Inn with a hard pillow! Hubs and I have been recently taking day trips. We are fortunate in Idaho to have a tremendous amount of land accessible by US Forest Service roads. We pack a picnic, put the dog in the extended cab, and head out for a day of exploration. Lately, we’ve been considering adding a small Class B travel van to our Encore Voyage. Your stories of spending the night in pitch darkness, wondering what was about to attack you gave us even more to think about! Thanks

    1. Haha, I like the “roughing it” comment! Don’t let my story of scaring myself talk you out of it. I really did enjoy it, but the idea of bears probably made me a lot more nervous than “normal” people probably are. If we had a fire going and a little white noise like we did the first night, I would have been just fine… the dark and hearing every sound just got my mind going.

      — Jim

  5. Great post. That was a true adventure. I have black bears around me in the Poconos. They say they are not dangerous, but I don’t trust a 400 lb plus animal. Many people us RV’s for camping. You did it the old fashioned way. You really got back to nature. I am glad that your training helped.

    1. It’s hard to trust an animal twice your size! 🙂 I should have trained more, but I could only imagine if I had just went without any preparation at all… that would have been a disaster!

      — Jim

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