DC UL Backpacking is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2019. As part of the celebration, we’ll be featuring conversations with group members throughout July and August, starting with the man who started it all: Evan McCarthy
Tell us a little bit about how DC UL Backpacking was born. What made you want to create this group?
Way back in 2009, I was returning to DC after eighteen months in Iraq and jonesing for backpacking (overnight, mind you, I always loved being outside for the whole weekend, not just a day hike) and had a funny experience trying to identify the right Meetup group to join. So I created my own – originally named DC Backpacking Overnight Adventures. This way I could pick exactly which weekend to go out on, and which trail to do. The humble origin of the group was simply me hiking my own hike and having other people join if they wanted. It didn’t start out as a UL group at all – but I always had a strong desire to spend as much of the day actually hiking as possible, and structured the weekend trips around that concept. I love a good campfire and whiskey but usually after an early start and eight or more hours of moving and exploring. The UL came simply as a matter of facilitating this type of backpacking in comfort and mindfulness about what is really needed out there. As the miles picked up in planning and the ounces fell off, I rebranded us DC UL Backpacking as a way of trying to separate from the other regional groups – and to discourage folks not interested in challenging miles and conditions from trying to force a weekend trip that wasn’t for them. That hope never really manifested, however, and it wasn’t until Michael Martin took over the group (after Ryan Shauers kept it alive!) and created a system of ranks and means of proving yourself that the success of DC UL Backpacking became what it is today. And now thanks to Jen Adach taking it up another notch over the last couple years, I couldn’t be more proud of this community of UL backpackers. It’s a thrill to hike with them whenever I’m back around, reading about their continuing adventures, or meeting up with them around the world.
During your time as DC UL organizer, what are you most proud of?
I am most proud of DC UL Backpacking giving us DC-area professionals a chance at another life and world on weekends away from the hustle of Washington. I know I needed it. To plan, prepare, drive, adventure, survive, thrive, bond, and return from a weekend adventure meant so much to me personally, and I know it is the same for so many other folks too. For us, this is our means of finding inner resilience and an additional identity apart from how we make a living and exist as a community back in the city. On a very specific level, I’m also incredibly proud to take the 70ish mile Massanutten Trail and turn it into an annual rite of spring for the group. I love that trail and what it means for us.
What do you like best about DC UL?
I love that DC UL Backpacking has been able to accommodate so many different styles and adventures over the years, from low mileage explorations of favorite local swimming holes to epic multi-week hikes thousands of miles away. I love that the group has modeled for and molded new leaders along the way. I also selfishly love that I can leave for years at a time – sometimes meeting up here and there along the way (the Kungsleden trek in Sweden in 2013 being the absolute highlight for me while assigned to Latvia for three years) and get back together with the team to find things better than ever. I love that whether or not I meet an old hiking friend or a new backpacker, it is always with a sense of kindred spirits. This is an amazing hobby and almost everyone who shares it, shares something with me that touches my very core existence.
What are your hopes for the future of DC UL?
I hope it keeps on going, changing, being infused with new ideas, and evolving over the years to be what it needs to be for D.C. area folks who get uplifted by a secret life in the mountains. I certainly hope to be more active as a member when I’m in Montreal for my next assignment, meeting up in the Adirondacks or White Mountains, and also when I inevitably return to D.C. sometime in the future. A long-trail sized thank you to every one of you who committed time, money, exasperation, love, and blisters to DC UL Backpacking over the years. That is everything.