WE REMEMBER IT decades later as “the starvation hike,” a 55-mile slog through Olympic National Park that served as my introduction to backpacking. I was just a youngster when my brother and I joined our friend and his backpacking-savvy family for a hike that promised to be a trip of a lifetime.
Shortly into the hike, it was apparent there was a problem. The other family on the trip responsible for food planning had grossly underestimated the appetite of teenage boys. We devoured the tiny, freeze-dried dinners in a matter of minutes. Lunches consisted of two crackers and a slice of cheese. Each of us was given a “snack” — a Cadbury chocolate bar divided into squares — that was supposed to last all eight days. Ours was gone after Day 2. It was the only time in my life I considered eating a pine cone. It also rained nearly every day.
What seemed to be eight days of hiking hell at the time, however, actually whetted my appetite for the extraordinary places my feet could take me. Even though I was hungry and dripping wet, I had never before climbed a mountain peak, boulder-hopped a stream or walked through an alpine meadow. In short, I imagined what backpacking could be.
Launching a career and starting a family would consume much of my time in my young adult years. Except for the occasional day hike, it wasn’t until my late 40s that I found backpacking would become a shared passion with friends and a bonding experience with our three daughters.
The first was a three-day trip to spectacular Spray Park in Mount Rainier National Park when the girls were in elementary school and junior high, and culminated with August hikes with our youngest daughter that coincided with her training for the high-school cross-country season. The capper was a final hike with her the week I walked her down the aisle.
“The starvation hike” didn’t kill my appetite for backpacking, after all. Now in my mid-60s, I’m still hungry for many more trips in the mountains.