top of page
  • Ayla Snyder

Heading Into My Unknown

Updated: Feb 7


Person hiking on trail with large backpack
Person hiking on trail with backpack


It’s early Friday morning, and the sun is shining over the treetops. My two sisters and I are on our way to the Tecumseh Theater for the guided backpacking workshop being hosted by the Blue Blaze Festival celebrating the Buckeye Trail. Morning sleep clings in our eyes as we travel the winding roads in my old 2002 Honda Civic.


We arrive in the town of Shawnee and park just outside the Theater. We step out of the car. This is our first time backpacking, so we have no idea about what we should have packed. We do, however, have a few rolls of clothes, a small bag of essentials, and a ton of bandages. The trip is organized so those needing certain supplies could sign up for them, so my sisters and I each get a backpack, a sleeping bag, a bed roll, and two tents to share. We head inside, and Madison greets us, as well as another participant, a woman who had recently returned from backpacking through Europe.


We set some of our things down and get settled in, and my sisters want to go back out and double check the car to make sure we have everything we need. On the way back to my car, we can see some of Shawnee’s wild chickens standing in the small commemorative garden next to the theater. My sister Dawn gasps as she tries to sneak up behind them. She has barely even stepped in their direction when they scatter, sending them in different directions to avoid her reaching hands. Groaning, my sister walks back over to us before we return to the meeting place. 


Main Street of Shawnee Ohio
Main Street of Shawnee Ohio

Madison had directed us to lay our stuff out on the floor, telling us that once everyone had arrived, we would hold a shake down. We show each other everything we have packed to try and see if there was anything we had not packed or not thought about bringing. As our unpacking commences, a few other participants begin trickling in, one of whom being me and my sisters’ mutual friend. She has always wanted to try backpacking and when we told her of this event, she immediately signed up. We all group together, unpacking and arranging our things so it would be easy for the group to see our stuff.


We eventually start, still waiting for some of the group participants to arrive, and we begin basic introductions. We go around the group and introduce ourselves to each other, explaining why we are there and what experience we each have. I have the least amount of experience out of my sisters and I. I have never camped, let alone gone backpacking, so I am nervous but excited about what is coming. Our group is a fair size, having 12 people sign up in total. All of our experience with this type of thing is vastly different from our experienced backpackers to an older gentleman who has barely even been in the woods.


We are all met with open arms despite a lot of us not knowing what we are getting ourselves into. We slowly begin packing up our stuff, learning how to split up our tent poles, footprints, and covers as well as our shared things.


We head off once our bellies are full and we are ready. I feel nervousness fall over me as we continue on. I have asthma, so walking on long uphill hikes causes my lungs to basically stop working. I head into this prepared to turn around at some point. I am too embarrassed to ask the others to slow down, so I fall back to the end of the group, which is me, Madison, a couple from Dayton, and the experienced backpacker. As we walk along, I can feel my body starting to panic at the lack of oxygen. In between one of my long breaths, Wadsworth, a wonderful woman who had signed up for a refresher on all things backpacking, known online as The Hiking Texan, lays her hand on my shoulder. She had previously been backpacking through Europe and had just come back from Iceland. She thought this trip would be fun, as she has never backpacked through Ohio before. Wadsworth starts telling me about one of her trips where she had been backpacking with a group of indigenous people from somewhere out in the Middle East. She talks about the vast mountains they climb daily and how the terrain was wild. She would sometimes have to crawl up the face of the mountain not being able to stand on it safely. She says the way the group would keep up their endurance on these long traveling days is that they would move slowly. They would drag their feet behind making it easy for them to keep their breath while walking all day.


I listen to her, feeling myself slow down as she finishes her story. At the end of speaking, she ends her story with advice. She says that “if we walk through life trying to catch our breath, we would miss everything around us.” I drag my feet on the steeper inclines, taking in the beautiful fall surroundings and listening to the stories that our small group passes around. I start looking around, finding different mushrooms, small wildlife, and surveying the beautiful scenery along the way .I don't think I would have enjoyed the rest of the day as much as I had if Wadsworth had not said what she had about going too fast.


Slowly, over the rest of the day, our group heads to the place Jon, who works with the Buckeye Trail, and Madison had scouted earlier that week. I am relieved once we head to the clearing where we were going to make our camp. My body is close to being done for the day, feeling my legs shaking as I head down the small hill to the campsite. My face holds a triumphant smile as I am proud to have made it.


We all sit our stuff down and pick where our tents will be. Half of the group takes off on another small hike while a few others and I stay behind to set up the areas for the tents. I pick the spot my sister and I would be and start to clear out our spot. We brush the sticks and leaves out of the way and make a basic wide square for us. I then settle in for a short time, sitting with my back to a small fallen tree in the clearing. I feel my feet throbbing and my legs sighing at being able to rest. The group eventually comes back, and we begin finishing camp set up. We prepare the cooking area and designate a place for all the water and supplies.


Multiple tents set up in forest
Multiple tents set up in forest


We eventually start on dinner. The food on tonight’s menu is back-country tacos, with chicken of the woods, found just down the path from the very campsite we had set up. The mushrooms' beautiful bright orange hue added a pop of color to our dinner tacos. The group had found it on their way back from the hike.







We all have special tasks. Some of us cut up vegetables, some of us tear apart the summer sausage to be heated up, some work on re-hydrating the beans and others work on setting up an area to eat. Once all of it is set up and cooked, we hop in line, gathering food and sitting down to eat. I admit I was not expecting the food to taste as good as it did — it hit the spot in my empty stomach for the night and filled me up.


Chicken of the Woods mushrooms being cooked on a camp stove
Chicken of the Woods mushrooms being cooked on a camp stove


Multiple people preparing dinner in the forest
Multiple people preparing dinner in the forest

The night then starts to become dark with shadows filling our little clearing just before one of the other members creates a fire. The orange and yellow light flickers into a soft glow. Slowly, all of us full from the wonderful dinner, make our way over to sit around the fire. Laughing and communing as we sit, we enjoy each other's company after a long day's hike. After a bit of relaxation, Jon begins tying a rope to our food bag.


“We are going to show you all how to hang your food in a bear bag”, he says, pulling one of his shoes off. We all look at him as he begins swinging his shoe back and forth, getting a feel for the weight of it on the rope. He releases it, letting the shoe fly up for it to bounce off the tree, missing its mark. Jon proceeds to try a few more times before he passes his shoe and rope onto someone else, back and forth we cheer as someone winds up only for the shoe to miss its mark. All of us ooh and awe, laughing with each other. After multiple trials and failures, finally it was swung up and fit perfectly through the gap in the tree branches. All of us cheering and shouting in the small dark clearing, our voices must have been heard for miles.


The night carries on as we all share stories and huddle close to each other and the fire for warmth. We eventually decide to try and sleep, and my sister and I retreat to our tent, the day’s vastness finally catching up to the both of us. Though I try, I barely sleep as I am not used to sleeping on the cold hard ground. Tossing and turning only results in me getting a rough sleep on and off.


By morning, my body and mind are more than stiff, the day before and lack of sleep really catching up with me. Slowly, everyone else starts to stir as the gentle morning light pours over the top of the hill to light our campsite in soft yellows and pale grays. The world begins to wake with us.


We all gather around the designated cooking area as we delegate morning breakfast prep and talk about the day’s possibilities. After eating the campfire breakfast sandwiches we had made, we take a small hike farther into the woods of the Wayne National Forest. We head down to look at a pond just down the trail as well as the plaque and historical marker for the Millfield Mine disasters. We all stand around the board and the plaque, falling silent as we take it all in, letting the small clearing be our classroom as we learn of what happened not so long ago.



Large group of people standing in front of the Millfield Mine Disaster historical plaque
Large group of people standing in front of the Millfield Mine Disaster historical plaque


Once we all finish reading about the mine disasters, we hike back to our campsite clearing, ready to clean up the rest of the way and prepare to head back to the festival. Heading back up the steep trail is rough on my already tired body, but I am determined to make it all the way back. We eventually make it back to the site and begin the leave no trace portion of the trip, kicking the dirt and the leaves back over the hollows our tents had been, as well as cleaning up from ourselves and the fire.


Doing one last walk through the clearing, we say our goodbyes to the portion of the forest that had been our home for the night, trekking back up to the trail that led back to the Tecumseh Theater, and the current ongoing Blue Blaze Festival. This portion of the hike is the last stretch of our journey. I feel my muscles searing and my brain filled with fog, but I keep moving forward, slowly coming down from the foothills of the Buckeye Trail. We come out of the trees to be met with a familiar bridge that leads to Tecumseh Lake. We had done it, hiking all that way, set up camp, made dinner, saw the Wayne National Forest in all of its glory, and made it back all in one piece.



Two people sitting on the forest floor with backpacks
Two people sitting on the forest floor with backpacks

As we gather around each other in a circle next to Tecumseh Lake before walking back into town, I can feel the emotions of everything I had just accomplished flood over me. I had done it, something I never thought I would be able to do. We talk with each other about one thing we had learned/ appreciated, and  I speak up, feeling my throat catch slightly as I try not to cry. I share how hard this had been for me, but how I persevered with everyone’s patience and encouragement 


We eventually all turn to make our way back to the Theater, seeing the finish line just ahead of us all really solidifies for not just me that the long twenty-four hours were finally coming to an end. Unpacking our backpacks and re-organizing all of our camping gear once again, we all slowly say our bittersweet goodbyes. All of us have grown closer together in such a short amount of time, some of us living far away, others traveling for a living, we’re not sure when we will see each other again, if ever.



One person carrying multiple sleeping bags
One person carrying multiple sleeping bags

On the way home my sisters and I have the music blaring as we all fall quiet, thinking about everything that had happened. It was rough, I won’t lie, but I learned things about myself on that trip. I found out that my limits aren't actually my limits, that I don’t need to chase after everyone else ahead of me, but instead I can take my time and enjoy the beauty around me as I go, and that I don't like to sleep on the ground. When the hiking got rough, I didn’t give up and continued to push through. I can still remember the feeling of my legs shaking as we stood looking around the campsite we had all picked for the night. But at the end of it all it was a wonderful experience that we all shared together. My sisters and I still talk about how much fun it all was, my youngest sister even wanting to buy herself her own backpack when the trip was done. I think it’s all about inspiring different groups of individuals to go out and explore the magic of life themselves, and with each other.


82 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page