It’s amazing what a little bit of pampering will do for you, especially when you’re deep in the backcountry and subsisting on crunchy, half cooked freeze-dried meals and muscle memory. I spent three days backpacking in Pisgah last weekend, a last-ditch attempt to engross myself in the fall color. Usually I spend all fall frantically trying to mountain bike as much as possible in an attempt to absorb the glory of fall foliage, but my arm is still broken and my doctor won’t let me get on the bike yet. I figured if I can’t ride right now, I’ll just walk all over the damn forest.
We took a route that skirted the edge of Shining Rock Wilderness, hitting a highlight reel of the Southern Appalachians that included high elevation balds, grassy meadows, tight rhodo tunnels and world-class fly fishing streams.
The miles were stunning, with steep, technical climbs and Instagram gold all over the place. But no matter how good the hiking is, you still have to spend half of your time in a campsite. Just hanging out. Sitting there. If you’re like me, you spend hours, maybe days cutting unnecessary items from your pack in order to get it as light as possible. Do I need this toilet paper when there are so many leaves in the forest? Why bring a cup when I can just scoop water with my hands?
It’s easy to appreciate this sort of minimalist approach when you’re slogging through steep climbs. But when you set up camp and things settle down, and you’re just…sitting there…you can start to question your weight-cutting approach. You have all of the necessities—shelter, warmth (by “warmth” I mean whiskey), food (by “food” I mean whiskey)—but there’s no joy. No comfort.
This last trip through Pisgah, I took a slightly different approach and stuffed a couple of completely unnecessary items in my pack—a chair and a couple of beers.
The chair was the new REI Flexlite Low Chair, which hovers 10 inches above the ground on aluminum feet. It weighs just over a pound, so it’s an easy thing to justify cutting from your pack. Honestly, I’ve never brought a chair backpacking before because there are so many rocks in the woods to sit on. But let me tell you what’s a hell of a lot more comfortable than a rock: this freaking chair. After two nights of sitting around a campfire with my butt resting comfortably in the Flexlite, I don’t see myself ever sitting on a rock again.
I sandwiched a couple of Asheville Brewing Shivas in my pack as well. They were warm by the time we reached camp, but I stuck them in the river for an hour while I set up my tent and started a fire, and by the time I was ready to relax in my fancy chair, I had a cold IPA to sip.
I cursed the extra weight during the hike, but having a comfortable place to sit and a cold beer after a long, hot day on the trail made my campsite feel like home. Next time I’m bringing my iPad and Netflix account.