After a long day of driving from Smethport I arrived home. But I couldn’t rest, because I had to prepare for my second backpacking trip. After I finally was ready I went to sleep, hoping that this backpacking experience turned out better than my first one.

Saturday morning was hot and sticky as I headed out to pick up Adam, my guide for the trip. While Ian and Baxter were the first to lead me backpacking, Adam was the first who volunteered. It was simply scheduling which reversed the two. And as I drove to meet Adam I wondered if I would have been in better shape for hiking with Ian if this hike had been first.

Our overnight backpacking trip was on the most famous footpath in the world – the Appalachian Trail. While I’ve been on the AT in spots in Pennsylvania and Maryland, I’d never backpacked on it. I’ve been fascinated by the AT ever since I’d read Bill Bryson’s A Walk In The Woods years ago, and part of me longed to stand atop Mount Katahdin. But at this point in my life hiking the whole trail was beyond my physical limits.

However, as I was about to learn, just as I could participate in the outdoors on my terms, so could I experience the AT.

We parked at the Route 309 trailhead. Or rather, across from it, at a bar restaurant. It was afternoon when we headed out, and brutally hot. Once we were under the tree canopy we felt cooler.

While the AT in Rocksylvania has a reputation as the place boots go to die, not all stretches of the trail are so brutal. The trail at Route 309 south is flat and on the whole rock-free. We passed through a sea of ferns as we headed towards our campsite, two miles from the trailhead.

My load was a bit lighter than my hike on the Loyalsock Link Trail. Since the tent I use for car camping and bike touring weighs six and a half pounds, Adam loaned me a lighter one. Since it was still heavy and bulky, he insisted on carrying it. Ditto the inflatable camp pad he loaned me.

We set up camp and began searching for firewood. Recent storms brought down a lot of limbs, and we had no difficulty finding fuel. Dinner was steak on the grill, along with a pasta dish and conversation.

And Adam welcomed me into the backpacking community with the gift of a Snowpeak LiteMax Titanium stove. For those people unfamiliar with a lightweight camp stove, it consists of a burner, three arms to support the pot or cup you are cooking in, and a lever to control the fuel you feed the burner. It screws into the top of a fuel canister, and weighs less than two ounces. We set it to work cooking the pasta, and soon enough we were eating.

We talked late into the night over the fire. The subject of trail names came up.

“Now that you are backpacking on the AT you need a trail name.”

“I was calling myself “Mark Sanford”, but I’m afraid that scandal is so old I have to explain the joke. Someone on Facebook said I should use “Dances With Bears.”

“It’s perfect! Use it.”

And so my trail name was born.

By ten PM we were saying goodnight and crawling into our tents. I watched the fire as I fell asleep.

I was up at six AM, but knowing Adam is a late sleeper and we had little ground to cover, I read for a couple of hours. Later that morning Adam woke up, and we had a breakfast of oatmeal and tea. Packing up was quick, and we were back to my car later that morning.

While there was little to report about the trip, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t important to me. My confidence and optimism took a big hit during my vacation, and in particular during my first backpacking trip ten days before. Having completed this one restored my good mood. And I think it shows in this photo.

Afterward I dropped Adam off at Wind Gap so he could continue his hike north on the AT, and I headed for the last stop on my vacation. I had some unfinished business with the Appalachian Trail, and an overlook called Bake Oven Knob.