Out of my comfort zone

Times Observer photo by Lorri Drumm Who knew everything you need to survive overnight could fit in one somewhat heavy pack and that even reporters can carry that pack up steep terrain.

According to trustworthy information found on the internet, the white matter in your brain is called myelin and it helps improve the performance of all sorts of tasks. The more you practice a new skill, the denser the myelin becomes. Learning a new skill helps you learn things faster over time.

I recently embraced this myelin-building theory by brushing up on a few nearly-forgotten skills and learning lots of new ones. The experience took me out of my comfort zone and straight into some downright uncomfortable circumstances, and yet, I would highly recommend it to anyone considering taking up backpacking.

I was part of a group of about 10 other people who took part in an “Intro to Backpacking” overnight program at Chapman State Park. Of all the skills needed to accomplish this feat, the only one I could claim was setting up a tent — and that was quite a few years ago.

Fortunately, the program was very thorough as we all learned what we would need and how to best pack it. Once we were perfectly fitted with our packs and all the essentials were inside, we hit the trail. We didn’t get far before we encountered our first overnight tradition — a ghost story.

Our guide and park educator stopped in front of a residence. She talked a bit about the residence and the farmhouse that park staff has tried to find evidence of. She talked about the legend of the family who lived in the farmhouse, drank tainted water and all died. Nobody asked, but at least one of us wondered if legend also claimed the family still inhabited the woods.

Times Observer photo by Lorri Drumm Yes, lights attract lots of moths. No, you should not swat them away from the insect examiner.

Ghosts aside, it was onward and upward as we headed to our part-way-up-the-mountain campsite. We were met there by a firefly enthusiast. His name is Jeff Calta, but I like to identify people in a way that helps me remember them.

He joined us in our overnight adventure and he shared his vast knowledge of the many varieties of fireflies. He also informed us that the coolest firefly (Synchronous) doesn’t appear until around 10:30 p.m.

The Synchronous Firefly is unique in that the males’ flash patterns are in synchrony with each other, so they appear to be like a string of Christmas lights hanging in the forest.

With lots of time before the magical beetles took flight, the first task at hand was the creation of a home — tent. As I unpacked mine, I glanced over to my neighbors who were way ahead of me. I found what seemed to be an adequate spot and started trying to recreate what theirs looked like.

But, firefly guy intervened with some valuable advice. “You want to lay your pad on the ground and try it out first,” he said. “You don’t want to find out in the middle of the night that you’ve got a rock under your back.”

Times Observer photo by Lorri Drumm Fern-lovers would be right at home in the forest.

Seemed like sound advice. So, I laid down on several spots until I found one that seemed suitable.

Once he helped me get started, he asked if I wanted the cover-thing — he knew the appropriate name — over top of the tent. I thought maybe the mesh screen would suffice so I could see what was outside my humble abode. “That’s nice until it rains in the middle of the night,” he said. Again, good point.

It may have been the mention of rain, or the water bottle I consumed once we got to our campsite, but it was about this time that nature called. I knew there were no facilities, but I hadn’t scoped out a secluded spot.

I saw an odd-looking tree stump and followed it to a place where I couldn’t see my fellow campers. It included a soft mossy tree and no signs of anything that resembled poison oak, ivy or sumac that we were shown during the pre-packing program. Although there wasn’t the solitude I am accustomed to, mission accomplished.

Once business was taken care of and everyone had their sleeping quarters arranged, it was dinner time. A pot of heated water on a single-burner stove was all we needed to make everything from chicken and biscuits to macaroni and cheese.

Times Observer photo by Lorri Drumm The view at the bottom of the hill on Sunday morning.

Some of the group even created a campfire for ambiance. It didn’t serve a cooking purpose since we didn’t have ingredients for smores, but it was a nice gathering spot for conversation.

As the sun set and maneuvering around the unfamiliar, lumpy terrain became more challenging, two sheets hung from trees started to attract all sorts of flying visitors.

In addition to learning about fireflies, we were also treated to a display of nighttime insects. Two sheets were hung from trees with ultraviolet lights strung over top. The display was the creation of Tim Tomon, a forest pest management specialist at the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

The darker it got, the more flying creatures hovered around the sheets. Tomon was right in the midst of all of them, never flinching as they buzzed his head.

I wanted to see the details he was pointing out but it took a lot of restraint not to swat whatever was buzzing around me. It was about this time that a really large something fluttered around.

“Have you ever seen ‘Silence of the Lambs?'” he asked the group. He said the large moth was related to the one used in the movie.

The death’s-head hawkmoth gets its name from the sinister-looking skull shape on its back. In many cultures, it is thought to be an omen of death.

Wonderful. It was very dark at that point and the variety of Firefly we all hoped to see had not appeared yet. I decided to take my leave and hope the zipper on my tent would protect me from anything that found me interesting.

Our food had all been hung from a tree and I was advised that anything with an odor stay outside the tent.

The night wasn’t exactly quiet and peaceful. Owls don’t care if you’re trying to sleep. At some point, just as I dozed off either an owl hooted loudly or someone yelled, “Woohoo!”

After I convinced myself that a snorting noise I heard coming from somewhere was instead snoring from a fellow camper, I got some rest. But, again, another feathered friend decided that I’d had enough a little after 7 a.m. Thanks a lot, woodpecker.

As the loud banging on the tree rousted everyone, breakfast was pulled back down from the tree. We made everything from oatmeal to an MRE.

Everyone packed their belongings back up. Before we headed back for civilization, I found some time to ponder my adventure at the creek downhill from the campsite.

I hoped for some wildlife to add to my photos, but it was just me. I thought about how lucky I felt to be where I was and to have learned so much in such a short time.

I’m just as fortunate to have a job that provides me the opportunity to tell the story of my adventures.“https://s3.amazonaws.com/ogden_images/www.timesobserver.com/images/2019/07/07234437/columncreekme-667×500.jpg” alt=”” width=”667″ height=”500″ class=”alignnone size-medium wp-image-691593″ />