By: Joshua Tenenbaum
My backpacking trip to Raccoon State Park was a remarkable experience that I won’t soon forget. Going to the outfitter to select backpacking and camping gear and having the opportunity to use it on the trail was very gratifying. I had a ton of fun packing my bag, trying to distribute weight evenly in my pack, and organizing all my gear and food in the pack (although, it took me multiple tries to get everything to fit).
Early in the morning, we dusted off our gear and headed out to experience the beauty of Raccoon Creek State Park. We reviewed some backpacking basics (safety, gear checklist, and leave-no-trace ethics) and Trip Leader Orville Steinenger led us on a loop hike and tent camping overnight. We covered seven miles the first day over moderate terrain with stops at historic landmarks within the park including the Doak’s family farm. We learned that Robert Doak was born in Ireland in the mid 18th century. He immigrated to Pennsylvania with his three brothers in 1767 and enlisted in the military. Robert served as a soldier and fought in the battles of Germantown and Brandywine among many others. He was one of the soldiers camped at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777 and suffered from cold and lack of proper food and clothing. Soon after, Robert married Sarah McKribben and together they had 10 children. They built a log cabin home and established a farm located on the very land that we were standing on. Just being there gave me a great sense of historic relevance and admiration for the beautiful area. The farm sat on a wide, gorgeous meadow with a stream and rock quarry not two miles from the farmland.
Afterwards, when we returned from our journey back to camp, we built a campfire, ate dinner, relaxed, and then told stories. When we got to the campsite I set up my new tent,
unfolded my sleeping pad, and unrolled my fleece sleeping bag. I knew I would be in for a night of comfort, a home away from home. Afterwards, I set up my camping stove and helped build a bonfire so that we could cook our dinners before heading off on a short evening hike. There was a guy in our group who had trouble cooking his food, so I helped him by showing him how to use my camping skillet and arranging the logs and coals so that the food would cook efficiently and evenly over the campfire. He was very grateful for the lesson and ended up sharing his food with me. On the second day, we backpacked 13 miles to the park office, stopping for lunch along the way and completing the loop in the evening ending at Frankfort Springs.
This trip has truly helped me enhance skills in program leadership, responsibility on the trail, being group sweep, and improving my outdoor backpacking skills. Trip Leader Orville Steinenger shared his knowledge of edible weeds and flowers along the way. During the second day of the backpacking trip, I walked through what I believed to be a patch of poison ivy; Orville had mentioned that jewelweed was a wonderful remedy for poison ivy. I chewed up a fistful of jewelweed leaves and applied them to my calf. Within a half hour the poison ivy’s effects were gone and a cooling sensation remained where my skin had felt raised and itchy. Later in the same day I walked through a patch of stinging nettle, but much like the jewelweed remedy, Orville had told us that applying chewed plantain leaves relieved insect stings. I followed his advice and used the leaves where the stinging nettle had touched my leg; shortly thereafter the stinging sensation was gone. I couldn’t believe it.
I was also placed as the group sweep for the entire trip. Initially disappointed with these orders (due to my quick hiking pace), I was to remain at the back of the group ensuring safety for any stragglers. This was a difficult but rewarding lesson in trail responsibility, motivating the group, and patience. I ended up spending much of the time with an older woman who was
lagging a bit behind the main group. My pace had to be her pace and that was a lesson in patience in and of itself.