If you follow us on any of our social media accounts, you’ve more than likely seen “shakedown” make quite a few appearances over the past few weeks. Unless you’re strangely acquainted with backpacking lingo (which some of you definitely are), you might be wondering what the heck we’re talking about.
What is a ‘shakedown’?
At its core, a shakedown trip is simply a trial run for backpackers. It can be as long or as short as you want it to be. Shakedowns give you an idea of what you’re in for. For new backpackers, it’s a great way to see if they’re even going to enjoy backpacking at all. For more experienced backpackers, shakedowns are mostly utilized to see if their gear is going to be appropriate for the trek they’re preparing for. For anyone who does a shakedown, you typically get a really good idea if your pack is too heavy or if you’re missing anything crucial – so they are essential for any and all backpackers before heading out on the trail!
With this being said, we thought we’d give you guys an inside look at our shakedown trip from a few weeks ago to see exactly what we mean!
Our Shakedown Trip
The weekend before MLKJ’s birthday, we planned a shakedown trip to Blood Mountain and a little beyond. Our plan was to start at Blood Mountain, hike 8 miles in, set up camp on Saturday, and hike the 8 miles back to the car on Sunday. We decided on this specific site because it’s part of the Appalachian Trail and is well known for being one of the most difficult Georgia sections of the AT.
As a fun surprise, my parents decided to come with us! And not simply come with us – they wanted the whole experience! So on Friday night we all four packed up our backpacks with gear and food for the next two days and we set out early on Saturday morning.
After we had packed our packs, I was really impressed at how little we were taking and how light my pack seemed to be. But…guys. The hike up Blood Mountain was no joke. Lucky for me, Log and Pneuma were right on my tail the whole time keeping me moving forward, but there were several times I wanted to call it quits! This was the heaviest my pack had been since we started training and it was also the most difficult terrain we had trekked with our packs on as well. KICKED. MY. BUTT.
The hike to the top was a steep 2.8 miles and it was very difficult. I’ve hiked this hike many times in my life, but none compared to this one – not even the time I hiked it right after my foot surgery! But let me tell you, the view at the top is worth it no matter what.
Once we had summitted, we stopped and sat for a while – eating lunch and discussing the items in our packs to see what we could potentially leave behind to make them lighter. This is where the mental thing came in for me; I kept thinking “I’m already leaving so much stuff behind… I JUST WANT SOME STUFF OK,” but would go along with the conversation every time.
It sounds so simple to pick the bare essentials to carry with you for six months, but when you only have the bare essentials and still have to choose stuff to leave behind – it gets to you. I just kept thinking of all of my garden gnomes, sitting in a box in a storage unit and how I want to take just one with me…but, alas.
The rest of the day didn’t go quite as planned and I’m kind of grateful for that. We ended up stopping after about 5.5 miles instead of 8 miles because we didn’t want to push the sunlight and we weren’t sure how close the water was to camp. It ended up being a really good thing that we stopped when we did because the closest water source was dry. Log and daddy had to hike another 1.4 miles roundtrip to find running water. This gave us really good perspective on how careful we’re going to have to be when it comes to filtering water, but also knowing when to call it a day. Even though we have a rough outline of mileage for each day on the Trail, sometimes we will fall short and that is ok! Our health takes top priority!
We set up camp and discovered that we are pretty dang quick at it, so that was encouraging! Log and I have fallen into a great pattern with one another when it comes to camping – we each have our specific jobs to ensure we forget nothing and that is a huuuuuge help. For couples/partners who camp: make sure you find a rhthym for setting up and breaking down, make a mental checklist that you’re both constantly running through and ask each other questions.
Dinner was really fun that night. Log and I tried out cooking Ramen in Ziploc bags (IT WORKS!!!) so that we won’t have to clean our pot every night on the Trail. My parents each had Mountain House meals – macaroni and chicken/rice. We ended up passing the bags around and having somewhat of a ‘potluck’ while all four sitting on a log.
After dinner and several failed attempts on building a campfire, we didn’t have any source of light in the dark so we went to bed…at 6:30! Well let me clarify: Logan and I went to our tent and my parents went to their’s. And we each stayed in our tents until 6:00 AM the next morning (even though I was up and ready to go by 1:20 AM).
What We Learned
The biggest lesson we learned on this trip – we bought the wrong kind of tent. We purchased the MSR DragonTail which is a truly stellar tent, but it is a 4-season tent and a little overkill for the weather we will encounter on this trip. When our sleeping bags warmed us up, there wasn’t enough ventilation and the tent walls were coated with condensation. And when Pneuma crawled between/on us during the night, she knocked the condesation onto our down bags, putting the down in danger. Needless to say…we have since bought a new tent (MSR Hubba Hubba) for the AT to avoid having wet gear every night!
The next day was incredible. We woke up before the sun and were eating our oatmeal as the sun began its ascent through the mountain vista in front of us – it was breathtaking. We can’t wait to get to experience this every day for SIX MONTHS!
Quickly, we packed up camp and got a head start on the day. The whole time Log and I discussed what we still needed to purchase and what we wanted to nix from our packs moving forward. And let me tell ya: after your body feels the pain of carrying the weight the day before – this conversation is a lot easier to have! We landed on several things to leave behind so hopefully that will help our bodies move quicker and feel less pain moving forward.
Again we stopped at the summit and ate lunch, this time resting a little longer as the view was much clearer this day. After lunch we booked it on down Blood Mountain to make it to our favorite ice cream place before it closed (Mountain Fresh Creamery). We each treated ourselves to 2 scoops for our incredibly hard work 🙂
All-in-all, we’ve shed about 5 pounds (collectively) from our packs, got a brand new tent and feel much more confident in our abilities moving forward. I’d call that a shakedown success!