It is an early morning at Gregory Gym, and I have just zipped my backpack to the brim. I pull out my list. “Sunscreen? Check. Sleeping bag? Check. Bear Spray…”
With all my might, I hoist the 30-pound pack over my shoulders and follow a group of eager hikers outside where two white SUV’s are waiting. We pile in, turn up the music and pull onto Speedway. Peering out the window, I watch the cityscape turn into rolling hills and farmland. The next two hours pass quickly as my fellow passengers tell stories and get to know each other. Soon enough, our car comes to a stop in front of a sign: “Colorado Bend State Park”. I send one last text and stuff my phone deep into my pack. The adventure begins.
Last April, I signed up for a backpacking Adventure Trip with UT RecSports. While I went in not knowing what to expect, I left eager to go again. The trip spanned from Saturday morning to Sunday evening and involved hiking and camping overnight at the Colorado Bend State Park. Our group consisted of a dozen hikers led by four guides from UT RecSports. On the first day, we hiked roughly six miles through a variety of terrain. The trails weaved through open rocky hill country and grassy tree-covered riverbanks. As a beginner, I found the hike to be mildly challenging but reasonably paced with plenty of breaks to refuel and rest. At one point, we stopped to marvel at Gorman Falls, a natural spring-fed waterfall, while several hikers dipped their toes in the chilly Colorado River. By the end of the day, our crew arrived at our final destination: The Windmill Backcountry Camping Area.
Camping offered its own experiences. The campsite was simply an open field spotted with oak trees and cedar scrub. As the sun sank behind the hills, we got to work unpacking supplies and setting up tents as the guides prepared a hardy batch of vegetable soup over a small gas stove. It was actually quite delicious – sweet potatoes, garbanzo beans, sautéed onions, and wild-caught salmon. With full bellies, I prepared for a good night’s rest. My sleeping setup was simple yet sufficient – a roll-out foam pad and a light thermal sleeping bag. I claimed a grassy spot, snuggled down, and drifted off gazing at billions of stars scattered across a thick black sky.
The next day, I woke naturally with the sun and chirping birds. In my opinion, this was the coolest part of the trip – falling fully in sync with nature’s biological clock. After a quick breakfast, our group tore down camp, loaded our now, much lighter backpacks, and began our return trip to the trail head. The cool morning air, lighter weight, and fresh energy from the night’s rest made the hike whizz by. By late morning, we arrived back at the SUV’s where we shared a light lunch, recapped our experiences, and bid our farewell to Colorado Bend.
Here’s a few tips I learned from the trip:
How To Wear Your Pack
Backpacking requires a lot of stuff: food, water, cooking equipment, first aid supplies, toiletries, tents and sleeping bags. While this may seem like a lot, you’d be surprised to find just how much you can carry if you wear the pack the right way. According to our guides, a backpack’s weight should be split 30% on the shoulders and 70% on the hips. This ratio can be achieved by utilizing the waist buckle and shoulder straps on the packs.
Dress For Success
As you might guess, the type of clothing you need depends on your environment. Is it hot? Cold? Will you be braving briar patches and poison ivy? If you’re trekking through a park like Colorado Bend with clear trails and springtime temperatures, athletic shorts and a t-shirt will do just fine. Another tip – if you’re going for just a weekend, you may not need to change your clothes. I packed three shirts, two pants and one sweater when I could have gotten by with the clothes I had on plus a light sweater in the evening. Lastly, remember to wear a comfortable pair of broken-in tennis shoes that you’re ready to put miles on.
I packed oranges, avocados, and bananas for the hike. As delicious as they were, I found that these water-rich snacks increased my load. If you want to save on weight, consider dehydrated fruit, bread, crackers, beef jerky and other dry goods.
Locate the Amenities
When we first arrived at the Colorado Bend park headquarters, our group had access to compost toilets, rise-off showers, and drinkable tap water. On the trails however, we came across only one compost toilet with no running water stationed a mile from our camping area. Before you go backpacking, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the park’s amenities, plan your restroom stops, and pack toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
Leave No Trace
Leave No Trace is a framework of seven principles designed to encourage minimal human impact on the natural environment while we experience it. Some of these principles include disposing waste, leaving what is found, and respecting wildlife. During our trip, our group practiced Leave No Trace by collecting and storing all trash in bags until we could properly dispose of it.
My overall experience was positive. The hike was well planned with a thorough group briefing before we left. The guides were competent, prepared and fun, each with prior experience leading trips. The other backpackers were friendly and enthusiastic – many were foreign exchange students eager to experience Texas nature. The price was affordable and included all transportation, food, and rental equipment expenses. Lastly, the park itself was beautiful. Rolling hills, budding flowers, wooded trails, sparkling rivers, even native armadillos – all in the prime weeks of spring.
For future adventure trips, I would be interested to see educational or recreational activities incorporated into the schedule. These could be team building games or mini survival skills workshops that would serve to break up the trip and allow participants to connect with one another in fun ways.
How To Go On An Adventure Trip
UT RecSports provides a wide variety of adventures throughout the school year. In addition to backpacking, they offer canoeing, rock climbing, paddle boarding and sea kayaking. These trips range in price and length. Some are cheaper and only last an afternoon, while others are more expensive and might stretch the whole spring break. Schedules are typically posted to the RecSports website and social media accounts at the beginning of each semester. Spots fill fast, but if you don’t snag one right away, you can always hop on the waitlist where you will be notified of any openings.
Live Your Adventure
All together, the trip was great. It allowed me to temporarily pause the head spinning endless flow of “to-do’s” and tune into the peaceful happy rhythm of nature. By the end of the trip, I felt recharged and ready to push through the final stretch of my semester. I hope this review inspires you to sign up for a UT RecSports Adventure Trip (or plan your own). Remember, life is one big adventure waiting for you to live.
Amber Williams is The Texas Horn’s Content Editor and a journalism student at the University of Texas. She has a passion for telling stories that inspire others to appreciate the world around them in a deeper way. In her free time, Amber can be found biking, gardening, and jamming on the ukulele.