White puffy clouds dotted the sea-blue sky over the trees ahead of me. In the distance, the voice of an animal mixed with the sound of tree leaves rustling in the afternoon breeze. The tips of my Leki hiking staffs clicked rhythmically on the surface below my feet.
It felt great to shoulder my pack, gather my stride, and head out for another backpacking adventurethis time out, well, my driveway. For I am Jene Galvin, urban backpacker.
OK. It sounds like a stupid idea: hiking, camping, eating, even pumping water on a trail made of sidewalks that run through a major midwestern city.
I mean, I'm a wilderness guy like the rest of you. I've sat along a braid of Alaska's Sanctuary River watching a huge brown bear run a frightened moose calf through my backcountry eating area. I've camped in the shadows of snowy spires along Montana's Highline Trail. And I've walked among building-size boulders that appeared to be dropped by God on the dry floor of Joshua Tree National Park in California.
But look. We can't all jet away every weekend just to sleep outside, or to test that new triple-layer rain parka, or to get a healthy, full-load workout?
So I hatched the idea of urban backpacking, with a couple of obvious rules: Go inside only to use the bathroom, and leave city streets as clean as you find them. Every other activity mimics wilderness backpacking, including the gear you take.
So I got a map of Cincinnati, Ohio, a wonderfully hilly place, and scoped out a topographically diverse "trail," one with natural water along the way that I could pump through my filter, campsites about 810 miles apart, and a circular path that would carry me back to my door as the Sunday sun set.
My first venture, a Thursday-evening-through-Sunday trip, took me through a mix of suburban and urban neighborhoods. I camped along the Little Miami River, with special permission from the local park board; next to a suburban police station; and 20 feet from a busy intersection in an urban neighborhood.
When a fight spilled out of a nearby bar at 2 a.m., I stuck my head out of my alpine tent, determined that none of the commotion had anything to do with me, and drifted back to sleep, remembering a similar nocturnal interruption when wolves howled in a northern Minnesota wilderness.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication