I will never forget my first backpacking trip with my friends. We were freshmen in high school, and the weekend could not arrive fast enough. I had been preparing all week for the trip. We decided we were going to spend all weekend backpacking along the side of the Hiwassee river. Between the three of us, we had accumulated all that we thought we would need. On the contrary, we had nowhere near enough. Instead of a water filter, we attempted to carry water... along the Hiwassee river. I know, not our best idea.
Food was definitely a shortage that we did not plan accordingly, but we didn’t care. We were three young, teenage boys, who were just ready to be in the woods. The number one thing we forgot was rain gear, and the reason why: we didn’t check the weather.
It was finally Friday and school was out! The three of us split up to gather our stuff and decided we would meet up somewhere in Cleveland, to carpool to Polk County. I can still remember the beautiful day as we compiled (carelessly) our backpacks into the back of an old Toyota Tacoma. We were off on our journey to the wilderness. Windows down, bluegrass music blaring, and not one single care in the world could be found between the three of us.
Before arriving to the trailhead, we decided to stop at a local gas station to stock up on Powerades and snacks for the trip. (Again, we were newbies.) When we finally arrived, we practically raced out of the car. Our feet couldn’t touch the trail fast enough. With our packs strapped on, and hiking poles in our hands, we were finally in our element.
I remember my pack specifically had a pocket designated for a water bottle on each side that was being occupied by two large blue Powerades. It was a narrow singlepath trail that was being occupied by the Hiwassee river from the beginning. Mark, (the leader of the group), shouted out, “Okay boys! Make sure them boots are tied!” As I bent over to tie my brand new low top Merrells that my dad bought me, my Blue Powerade toppled out of my water bottle pocket, and into the ice cold Hiwassee river. “Well there goes half of my fuel,'' I thought to myself.
The first night was wonderful. We camped right on the Hiwassee River. We swam, even though it was freezing! We told stories by the fire at night, as our swimming clothes were drying over the fire. It was the start of what seemed to be a perfect weekend.
The next morning, as we were gathering our belongings for another day on the trail, we noticed the sky began to grow awfully dark. We remembered we passed a cave about a mile back on the trail the day before. So, we decided to backtrack a mile or so, and play it safe.
The cave was set up on a hill, which was convenient considering the trail was literally bordered by the Hiwassee river. Therefore, a heavy rain would wash out the trail, and create hazardous situations for hikers. And by the looks of the almost black cloud cultivating above us, it was definitely a heavy rain moving in our direction.
We arrived to the cave just in time to escape the horrible storm that had been developing during our hike back. We decided it would be best to camp there for the night, considering even if the rain stopped, the trail would be flooded till at least the following day. However, the rain did not stop.
Now, imagine three teenage boys trapped in a cave for literally twenty four hours. The first thing we did? Eat all of our food, and drink all of our water. By dinner time, we were starving. And as a result of our boredom, we had eaten all of the remainder of our food supply. We decided we would go to bed early, so we could wake up and get the heck out of there. We needed food.
Photo: Our Cave Campsite
We survived through the night, and morning came. We had at least seven miles until we were back at the truck. Those were the longest seven miles of my life. The rain had stopped sometime during the night, but the water did not have enough time to fully go back down, off of the trail, yet. Therefore, we had to hike back seven miles in water over our boots.
The lack of food made the journey harder, considering we were deficient on our calorie intake. However, the lack of water was undoubtedly the worst of all, especially being surrounded by it. Many could argue a case that one could drink the Hiwassee River’s water supply, but we weren’t going to take the chance.
After seven miles of walking, our feet were beyond blistered due to our socks being soaked. The rain cultivated a humidity that made the fall weather feel like dead summer, which, of course, did not help our water situation.
As we were nearing the end of the trail, all of us feeling light headed as you could imagine, I hear Mark scream, “Blake you will never guess what is up here waiting on us!” “Huh?”, I responded. I had not yet seen what Mark had; therefore, a simple one word rebuttal was all I could afford to muster up, attempting to reserve my energy.
“Your Blue Powerade! It’s up here in the water! Still not open!” Somehow, my brand new Blue Powerade got stuck on a fallen tree in the river, and never left from the beginning of the trail head. We all three ran as fast as we could to where the trail supposedly met the river. (Again, at this point, there is no trail. It is all water.) I reached over, grabbed the Blue Powerade and raised it up to my friends. We divided it up evenly for the three of us, and the Hiwassee river was kind enough to keep it cold for us.
Moral of the story: bring a water filter.