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A Love Affair with Rain Pants: Lessons Learned From a Week in the Woods

By Emerson Wells

On December 10, 2020, I set out on a five day backpacking trip in the Great Smoky Mountains with two of my closest friends. As a group, we were notorious for planning adventures that never happened. Because of this, our trip was a lofty goal; we were planning to head into the backcountry of the Smokies during the coldest season. Though I grew up hiking frequently along the Blue Ridge Parkway, my backpacking experience was minimal. I was nervous, but excited.

With essentials in tow (and masks!) and forty pounds on our backs, we began our journey in Cosby, Tennessee. Over the next five days, we completed over thirty miles and gained over 6,000 feet in elevation. It was one of the greatest and hardest things I have accomplished.

Here is what I learned:

Rain pants are the best thing since sliced bread.

On our last day in the Smokies, it snowed. Like, really snowed. Wearing all of our layers and with hoods up, we packed up our campsite with wet gloves and numb fingers. What saved me this last day? Rain pants. Before the start of the trip, I bought $10 rain gear from the fishing section of Walmart “just in case.” Without this gear, I would have likely been soaked to the bone. In a situation where staying warm and dry was a must, I found myself incredibly grateful.

Women are strong as heck.

Though we encountered other backpackers during our time in the woods, we were the youngest individuals and only women we saw on our trip. I found this interesting, and empowering. I felt as though we were on our way to reclaim the woods, conquering something that had not seen the likes of us before.

Embrace the unexpected.

While planning this trip, we were expecting to experience the cold. After looking at the weather report, we were not expecting snow. We found that because it had snowed the week before, most of our trails and campsites still had snow, especially at higher elevations. Though unexpected, it ended up being one of my favorite parts of the trip. We were able to see the tracks of animals that were taking the same path (including bear tracks!) and individuals that came before us. We frequently walked alongside creeks, where the visual of snow spotted with bright green moss was stunning. I was consistently reminded by the persistence of the living.

Show your body gratitude.

I often don’t think of my body, other than critiques I may have of it. I found myself grateful for being able-bodied, my legs able to carry me up mountains and my shoulders carrying what I need. Showing my body more love is something I’ve been trying to prioritize since the end of the trip.

Appreciate the little things.

I found myself expressing gratitude for the little things- slow mornings, the warmth of a bad cup of instant coffee, sunshine, conversation with strangers, being able to see the stars, the calming sound of running water, unexpected shelters at campsites, dry wood for campfires, and more. Find solitude and the joy that comes with sharing it.

Recognize your growth and be proud of yourself.

On the trip, my friends and I were reflecting on how far we had come since the time we had met as juniors in high school. Celebrate where you are today, recognize the journey you have taken to get here, and love yourself for it.

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