How to join our group?
I am trying to keep our membership list short - just to reflect those people whom one is likely to meet on the trail when he or she is joining our group. The purpose of our group is not to grow to 1000-1500 members like some others, but to bring together enough people so that when some of us want to get into the woods they can always count on other members' company.
Thus, I don't automatically enlist anyone who wants to join our group. If you are interested in joining us, please pick up a trip from our calendar that you'd like to get on and let me know. I can put you on our members list after you show up on one of our trips. Meanwhile, please bookmark our site and keep checking our events until you see something that works for you.
To join the group one should pay $10.00 fee. This money will be used to pay the meetup.com fee of $144.00 a year. If we run into a significant surplus, we'll see what we can do with the excess. I will The major purpose of this entry fee is to screen out those who "kind of" want to go backpacking and never make it after joining us online, from serious applicants who really mean to become active members of our group. If you are serious about joining our group, then ten bucks should not stop you, but if you are just browsing meetup.com looking for stuff you might want to do, then it's a different story.
What this group is about?
As one can tell from the name of our group, this group is about backpacking. I always thought it was quite an obvious thing - almost impossible to confuse with anything else, but this is probably because I grew up in a family that used to do this kind of activity quite a lot.
While writing this piece, I decided to check out Wikipedia and to my shame realized that in fact there is another type of backpacking I never thought about - "a form of low-cost, independent international travel." What a surprise - to me the backpack has been always associated with the woods, the smoke of campfire, the rustle of leaves, the sound of streams... Taking my backpack to a crowded city? What an idea! (I would say, what a perversion, but I don't want to offend anybody :) No, this group is about wilderness backpacking - off we go to leave the noise of cities behind us and get closer to Mother Nature.
We also need to distinguish ourselves from day hikers and car campers. In short, our group is not for day hikers and not for car campers. These people also get into the woods, but day hikers don't stay there as long, and car campers don't rely on their legs as much as we do. We don't do car camping at all, and even though we have occasional day hikes on our schedule, these are mostly to stay in shape and in touch during the winter months when overnighters are more difficult to do. If you are interested in day hikes only, please look for some other groups - there are plenty of those on meetup.com!
How long do we stay in the woods?
The great majority of our trips are weekend overnighters, even though sometimes we stay in the woods for two nights of more. Occasionally, we take day hikes, but this is rather an exception than a rule. And we usually tend to take day hikes in winter when days are shorter, and backpacking becomes more demanding, as one needs to carry heavier load of winter equipment.
How far do we go?
4-5 miles is the minimum distance for our trips, 6-9 miles could be considered average, and 10-12 miles are long trips from our perspective. Occasionally, we plan trips that are shorter than that (2 miles or so), but again this is rather an exception than a rule.
The distance itself would not tell you everything, because a 10 or even 12 mile trip on a relatively flat and smooth trail could easily require less time and energy than a 6-mile trip on a rugged trail with multiple and steep ups and downs. We usually take it into consideration, and don't plan long miles on strenuous terrain.
Where do we go?
We mostly go to the mountains of North Georgia, but sometimes wander into Tennessee, Alabama, and both Carolinas. The Smokies is one of our favorite destinations, even though it is a longer drive from where most of us live. We are cherishing dreams of going farther than that sometime. Our nearest dream is to go to Cumberland Island this fall.
Carpooling really helps for long distances. It saves you money, helps the environment, and just more fun! If you drive a gas-guzzling truck or SUV, consider joining someone whose car is more fuel-efficient. Trip leaders usually set the meeting places for everyone in places where it is easier to carpool from.
What do we take with us?
If you are planning to join us, you at least will need the following items: a backpack, a tent, a sleeping bag, and a sleeping pad. Hiking boots are recommended, but some people get away with running shoes. Obviously, you will need some food also, and it's a good idea to have a small first aid kit.
Post your questions on our message board for more information. People will rush in to tell you more about gear!
Our group is very decentralized and laid back. Everyone can come up with a trip idea and ask Organizer or one of Assistant Organizers to post the trip on our calendar. As organizer of the group I collect the entry fee, let new members in, and pay meetup.com the semiannual fee ($72 every 6 months). It also seems like I organize most of our trips, but if our members become more active or I get more busy with other stuff it can always change.
We go in the woods as a team. We are always aware of everyone's whereabouts. If someone slows down and gets out of sight, we stop and wait until that person catches up with the group, unless that person made it clear that he or she has a reason to fall behind.
Luckily we had never been in any extreme situations so far, but the expectation is that we would leave no one behind, and will do our best to help those who happen to be in trouble.
Sharing used to be an unavoidable part of wilderness backpacking. Most of the equipment was so much heavier that without sharing it was almost impossible to backpack. Now technological progress made our life much more comfortable when we go backpacking. 3-pound single person tents, pocket rocket stoves, and other things allow everyone have more privacy and independence these days.
But the benefits and the joy of sharing are still there. We enjoy sharing our cars when we are carpooling, we enjoy sharing our knowledge of the trails where each of us have been, we enjoy sharing our food and our drinks, and of course our stories, at the campfire.
There are bans on dogs in some areas (i.e. in the Smokies). Please contact the trip leader to find out if dogs are allowed in the area or not, and definitely always let the trip leader know if you are bringing a dog. Driving all the way to the trail-head just to find out that your dog is not allowed there will be very frustrating.
We understand that dog owners are very fond of their pets, and for them leaving their dogs at home could be very painful. But while enjoying the company of your pet, please also think about other people. As well as fascinating the group, your dog might be a source of trouble for other participants. Barking could be a problem (dogs' barking, as well as owners barking at their dogs when these get out of control ), some dogs are really skillful in stealing people's food, pooping on the trail is not much fun for others, and a playful dog can turn someone's stove over leaving that person without a dinner and hurting itself. Just keep these things in mind when bringing your dog!
Photos and Videos
A lot of people enjoy taking pictures and making videos when they go outdoors. I am very enthusiastic about this stuff, which means that if you are on a trip with me you might find yourself feeling like a model or as an actor. I am trying to be considerate with those people who are camera shy or discrete, but I know that most people enjoy watching photos and videos later on as a memory of our wonderful trips. Besides it's a way to tell those people who are interested in joining our group who we are and what we are doing in the woods!
And after you have read it all, you could lay back and enjoy some of our videos:
Our trip to Cohutta (Parts 1 and 2) in August, 2009:
Our trip on Tennessee River
Atlanta Wilderness Backpackers