Back on the Trail (2023 Edition)

After a year away from backpacking, I hit the trail again with a two-day hike in Wharton State Forest in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. Wharton’s become the go-to destination for introductory backpacking hikes in NeutronLad’s troop – it’s flat and well-screened by the ubiquitous pines. Throw in some cedar ponds, a meandering brook, and you’ve got a picturesque couple of days on the trail.

The only downsides are the sand, which really does get everywhere, and the ticks. The former is difficult to avoid, but the blood-sucking bugs can usually be defeated with long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and strategic application of Off or other insect repellants.

For me, it was good to get out in the woods again. This is our second campout of the year (we went cabin camping in Jonas, PA back in March), but our first backpacking trip. It reminded me how much I enjoy a good hike … and that I really need to get back into shape if we’re going to be doing more backpacking this year (and we are).

I’m in decent shape, but I’m definitely not in Philmont’s shape. Two days in the Pine Barrens with a 40 lb. to 60 lb. backpack demonstrated that my core muscles (especially my lower back) have lost tone since that epic trip west. I need to get back to my strength-building (or at least, strength-maintaining) core exercise, get back to swimming, and do some stairs training while wearing a partially-loaded backpack.

And, of course, more walking. In the run-up to Philmont, I regularly walked 7 to 8 miles a day; these days I’m lucky if I walk 5 miles a day.

It’s been hard to stay motivated since Philmont, but I’ve got a new short-term backpacking goal in my targets: a week-long trek on the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey. There will be a lot of familiar mileage on that track (and hopefully some new miles as well) so I know how badly it will kick my butt if I don’t get my act together.

Beyond the physical exercise, there’s a mental reason to get back on the trail. I’ve been battling writer’s block for my RPG campaigns recently (heck, for just about everything recently). It’s a topic I posted about as part of the Lair Of Secrets account over on Turns out what I needed was to get out into the woods for a day or two. Unplugging from the digital world, while simultaneously walking past the fire-blackened trees of Wharton, as well as the new growth surrounding them, gave me a bunch of ideas for my Elemental Apocalypse campaign … and that knocked loss a few ideas for other areas. I can’t say that there’s an avalanche of writing on the way, but it feels like things are flowing again.

It feels good to be on the trail again. It’ll feel even better once my muscles stop hurting, my back stops complaining, and I’m actually ready to do some serious backpacking again.

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