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.
Will (Savage) has been with DC UL since 2013, and has attended over 100 events.
You’ve been with DC UL for a while. What brought you to DC UL? And what keeps you coming back?
I was introduced to DC UL by a friend and fellow backpacker, Peter Silverman (a man of many trail-names!). I was looking for people to get out and backpack with and had an appetite for high adventure. But, I was a little wary at first as he said the group was full of hardcore backpackers, who hiked 30 mile days!
What!? I could never possibly walk that far, I thought.
Obviously, to anyone in the group, trips like that are the extreme exception and not the rule, as we would both soon find out on our first excursion to Caledonia State Park in PA. This was an intro-to-the-group level trip, a low-mileage (LM) by DC UL standards. 24 miles for the weekend split equally over Saturday and Sunday. Up to that point, 12 miles was the longest I had ever walked in one day backpacking. That was of course wearing classic 20 pound hiking boots.
I thought I had a pretty small and light back, with a base weight around 25 pounds. But I was immediately impressed by the tiny packs and high-tech (and sometimes low-tech), ultralight gear of the veteran backpackers in the group.
On that first trip (and every trip that has followed), I met awesome people and made incredible friends. People like Michael Martin (known as U-Turn), the trip leader and at that time chief group organizer. He seemed to float over the trail while I lumbered along, using my long legs to try and keep up. And I did, just barely. When I got home I passed out, and nursed sore legs for days. But I was hooked.
Over the next year I went on close to a dozen trips. I replaced all my gear, dropping my base weight to just above 10 lbs (the “ultralight threshold”). Learned countless tips and tricks from my fellow DC ULers. Refined my backpacking skills, learned to take care of my feet, mastered winter backpacking, and ditched those cumbersome leather boots in favor of trail runners. I loved the feeling of pushing my physical and mental abilities.
I surprised myself by continuing to set new milestones, included knocking out a 20 mile day with Brian Horst (B~~~~) on the Allegheny Front Trail, and eventually even a 44 mile day for one of DC UL’s annual events, the Four State Challenge. I also started leading trips myself, becoming an assistant organizer (AO) and eventually a co-organizer, helping to manage and lead the group. This was something else I had never seen myself doing.
What’s been your favorite trip so far?
It’s hard to pick just one favorite trip. There have been many that had spectacular highlights or simply pushed my limits. Some trips were incredible simply because of the people on them. Nothing brings people together like shared adventure and suffering!
Classic Mid-Atlantic hikes that come to mind: Grayson Highlands, The Great Range Traverse in the Adirondacks (why did we go over Colden!?!) and yes even the grueling Massanuttens. Also the fantastic Loyalsock Trail, where I was branded with the trail-name “Savage” by John Callahan (Doc) for finishing the last dozen miles out of 70 barefoot. Apparently I was the very picture of a caveman when I walked out of the woods on that one.
Then there are the grandiose trip-of-a-lifetime level adventures like the Grand Canyon, Zion, the Grand Tetons, and the Four Pass Loop in Colorado. Thanks to DC UL, I packed a lifetime’s worth of adventure into a handful of years and made many life-long friends along the way.
What do you like best about DC UL?
I enjoyed backpacking solo, but also liked having other backpackers to share the trail with. In DC UL you could have both. You hike your own hike. You could walk solo all day, or group up with people matching your speed. Eventually (hopefully!) you all make it to camp to swap war stories and enjoy campfire camaraderie. You couldn’t find a better group of people to explore the outdoors with.
What advice do you have for newcomers to DC UL?
My advice for newcomers to the group is just to go for it. Listen and learn from your compatriots. There is an absolute wealth of outdoors knowledge embodied by DC UL veterans and they will gladly share it with you. I have no doubt you will be surprised by what you are capable of.
Where do you hope to go in the future with DC UL?
While I haven’t been able to keep up my previous pace of backpacking trips due to the necessities of life, I’m still scheming on future adventures. Right now I have my sights on thru-hiking the challenging Hayduke trail, as well as more weekend-friendly trips involving packrafting.
Unless otherwise noted, photos taken by Will. Feature photo: Kylie L.