Zaleski State Forest

I have been chomping at the bit for over a year to go on my first backpacking trip. I’ve even had the gear to do so for a year. But plans  kept falling apart for various reasons. Well, last week I finally did it! Mountain Chicks Ohio put together a mini backpacking trip through Zaleski State Forest and I can now say I have gone backpacking and it was awesome!

To prepare physically for it, I loaded up all of my gear into my backpack (which was quickly dubbed Wreck-it-Ralph because it multiplies my normal amount of clumsiness) and walked my neighborhood with it on for the three weeks leading up to the trip. The amount of open-mouth stares I received was humorous. I’m glad I did what little prepping I did because the “relatively flat” trail (according to the trip leader) was anything but flat. It was almost entirely hills. Big ones. Very big ones, when you have 25 pounds strapped to your back.

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There were 8 of us on this backpacking trip ranging from a girl a few years younger than me who had also never backpacked before to a woman I’m guessing was in her early 60s who had section hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Colorado Trail. It was great getting to know the other women! They were very friendly and loved to share tips and pointers when asked for advice.

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There are three loops making up the Zaleski Backpacking Trail, which is 28.8 miles in length all together. We met at the Hope Schoolhouse trail-head and did the South Loop, hiking 13.7 miles over two days. *Note: there is no cell reception at Hope Schoolhouse and the GPS will tell you “You have arrived” before you have actually arrived* We kept a decent pace hiking the 7.2 miles to Point I (Backpacking Camp 2) in about 4.5 hours including a 45 minute break halfway. We rolled into camp about 2:30PM, set up camp, and sat around talking.

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We were disgusted by the amount of trash that people had left at the campsite. There were empty Mountain House meals, cans, and a lot of broken glass. Who chooses to hike with cans of food and glass bottles?? Not only is it not environmentally friendly, it is also freekin heavy! Why would you choose to carry extra weight for no reason? PLEASE LEAVE NO TRACE! I carried about 2 pounds of trash out, just from our campsite!! That didn’t even include all the trash at the other two campsites at Camp 2. There is drinking water and pit toilets available at both Backpacking Camp 1 and 2. Camp 2’s outhouse was full of trash, again LEAVE NO TRACE. Okay, I’ll step down off my soapbox now, odds are people who do not know Leave No Trace Principles, also do not read hiking blogs.

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It rained a bit while we were eating dinner, but with us being sweaty and gross, it was actually nice to get rained on. The rain also cut down on the mosquitos a little bit, though as soon as it stopped we got swarmed again. I currently look like I have chicken pox. I somehow managed to get in my tent without letting any of those little suckers in. I sat in my tent laughing at them because they kept buzzing around trying to get into my tent. I slept decently through the night even though it was hot.

I liked how well marked and maintained the South Loop is. I never felt like I didn’t know where I was. There were a few places where trees were down and we had to climb over them, which is entertaining when you’re weighted down by your backpack.  The trip leader said the North Loop is nothing like the South Loop. When she did the North Loop it was overgrown to the point of bushwhacking.

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We woke up early, had breakfast, and broke down camp. There is one section of the trail near Waypoint K, where the area reminded me of Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois with its cliffs. At one point we stopped because the front half of the group got away from the back half of the group. I wanted to give my feet a break while keeping my backpack on so I squatted down to rest on the balls of my feet, forgetting to counteract the weight of my backpack. I fell backwards and laid there looking like a turtle stuck on its back! It was priceless! After what felt like five minutes and a great deal of rocking rocking I was finally upright and we continued on our way. We were back at our cars by 11:30AM.

I very much enjoyed my first backpacking experience! I’m looking forward to doing more backpacking, but unlike hiking I don’t think I’ll be going solo for a while. That may change as I get more experience.