Get Outdoors

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I like adventure. I’m not a particularly brave person; I’m scared of heights, I don’t ride psycho horses (anymore), and I don’t take unnecessary risks with my life. But I do enjoy being in the wilderness, especially alone, and I like to learn new skills and then test them out.

When I was a kid, I went camping with my family exactly zero times. We lived on Hatteras Island, NC and, when you live in Paradise, you typically don’t do a ton of vacationing. I grew up surrounded by sand dunes, coastal pine forest, salt marsh, and the mighty Atlantic. Camping in the forest next to a rocky river seemed like a far off destination to me back then.

In my twenties, after moving to north Georgia, I started buying camping gear little by little and learning how to camp. If I was going to live next to all these mountains, I may as well get to know them.

One of my first camping trips. I can’t even remember where this was!

I started out at state parks on concrete pads next to mammoth RV’s, because it was safe and there were plenty of people around if I couldn’t get the tent up or the fire started. I quickly became proficient at car camping and moved on to primitive camping in wilderness areas where you have to haul in your own drinking water and, if you’re lucky, there might be a pit toilet nearby. From there I moved to backpacking, getting lighter gear and trimming down my kit to what I could carry while I hike.

My first family tent, the REI Kingdom 4. This tent has been with me for 12 years and is still in good shape!

Then I decided I wanted to learn how to camp with my horses. I looked online and found packing lists (most of which brought way too much stuff) and YouTube videos about horse camping. The best source of information was a Facebook page called Horse Trails and Camping Across America, where people post pictures of trail rides and camping trips all over the country. I especially like the photos of the West, because I’m an East Coast girl and the western landscape seems exotic to me.

Camping with horses is quite a bit more involved than camping or backpacking. There are so many considerations due to the sheer size of the horses. Is the parking area big enough for my trailer? Can I get enough water for my horses or do I have to haul it in? How will I contain the horses? What if my horse gets seriously injured way out on a trail in the middle of nowhere?

Getting proficient at horse camping meant finding answers for all of those questions and learning “best practices” for my equines. I’m still learning with every trip, but I have a good handle on what I need to bring, what can stay at home, what and how much my horses need to eat and drink, and how best to contain them.

That’s not to say that things don’t go wrong. They do. On my first trip, one of the horses got a leg over the high line and got a nasty rope burn. I learned not to leave so much slack in the line, and I’ll never make that mistake again. I hate that an animal suffered because of my ignorance.

Now I’m thinking my next step is a solo pack trip with my mule. Like a backpacker, my mule would carry me and everything we need on her back. I have to trim down my gear to the absolute necessities and forego some things for myself so that she has what she needs and isn’t loaded down with excessive weight. I like that kind of a challenge, sort of like, “How low can you go?” as far as weight.

My beautiful mule, Ellie

There are a few things I want to learn and a solo pack trip will be an excellent reason to do it.

  • How to use and carry a gun safely. The extremely morbid reason that I need a gun is not for self-protection, although that is a factor, but because of the possibility that my mule gets seriously injured and has to be put down out in the backcountry. If you don’t have any experience with this kind of thing, I’m sure that sounds excessively harsh, but the fact is every mule and horse packer out west carries a gun for just that reason. Horses are notoriously fragile, and if they break a leg miles from anywhere, you need to be able to put them down.
  • How to use a topo map and compass. If someone gave me a compass and a map with a series of waypoints and dropped me in the forest, I’m not sure I could use a compass well enough to find my way out. Everyone has a GPS these days, but I want to be able to do it the old fashioned way. Technology often disappoints us by malfunctioning at the worst possible time. I just ordered topo maps of one of the wilderness areas in north Georgia, and I want to learn how to use them.
  • How to be alone in the dark. I’ve never slept by myself in the woods. I’ve gone backpacking with just my daughter and myself and, I’m not gonna lie, it was unnerving. Being completely alone in a tent in the pitch black wilderness is freaky, but I feel like I need to do it to prove to myself that I can.

So my progression of increasingly difficult outdoor experiences continues to grow. Of course, I have people saying I shouldn’t go, that it’s not safe, that women especially should never go alone. My philosophy is that if I never did anything unsafe, I would never do anything. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

I’ll keep you updated on planning, and hopefully before too long I’ll be able to share pictures of my first solo pack trip into the mountains!

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