Instead of keeping the old Kelty backpack in the closet collecting dust and waiting for the day you promised yourself you’d hike entire the Appalachian Trail or limiting yourself to short, out-and-back jaunts, Parham recommends spending a night in the woods. Although day hiking is better than no hiking, there’s no equal to sleeping under the stars.
“It’s half the experience, part of it is the hike and the other part is going to sleep with the crickets chirping and the creek gurgling beside you,” Parham said. “You miss that on a day hike.”
Parham and his wife, Mary Ellen Hammond, who make their home outside Bryson City, have worked on outdoor-oriented guidebooks since they got their start in the early ‘90s. He wrote his first book while working at a rafting operation in the Nantahala Gorge. It was the era when mountain biking was just becoming popular and Parham realized the makeshift maps of little-known trails drawn on napkins and loose sheets of paper for visitors popping in for advice were not cutting it.
More than a dozen books later — on topics ranging from waterfall hikes to road biking routes — Backpacking Overnights is the first one he has done on backpacking. The book was published through Milestone Press, the publishing company the couple now runs out of their house.
Parham had noticed that the realm of adventure guides was replete with books geared toward short hikes, on one end of the spectrum, and long treks like taking on the AT, at the other end of the spectrum. In the middle there was a void. So he decided to work on a project dedicated to the overnighters and would-be overnighters to promote backpacking as an accessible activity.
“It doesn’t require huge amounts of time, gear and money to go backpacking,” Parham said. “It’s a simple activity that, with just little bit of knowledge, you can have lot of fun in the woods.”
Because not everyone can live the life Parham lives — traveling to New Zealand, Patagonia, Mount Olympus, Washington and Colorado to hike and backpack — the book includes trips ranging from three to 20 miles or more all within a half-day’s travel. None are more than a few hour’s drive from anywhere in Western North Carolina; and most are even closer.
Parham’s past books have included less about the “how” and more about the “where.” But he anticipated a less experienced readership for Backpacking Overnights and included an extended section on the ins-and-outs of preparing for a backpacking trip. It includes rudimentary advice on knot-tying 101, gear, choosing a campsite, hanging a hammock and more.
No expensive hiking boots? Go in your sneakers. No sleeping bag? Buy a light summer one for $30 on sale. No stove? Pack leftovers for the night. No idea where to go? Check out Parham’s book, which includes a map identifying the trail and other important features for each trip.
Although it took Parham a year-and-a-half to write the book, the knowledge in it was taken from many years of hiking in the Appalachian Mountains. The book even contains a photograph of his son when he was seven years old crossing a footbridge in the Smokies on his first backpacking trip ever. Parham used his son’s first trip as an example of how a first-time backpacker is bound to have a few hiccups, but it only gets better.
“He walked 10 feet and fell flat on his face and cried,” Parham said. Yet, the little trooper got back up on his feet and completed the 5-mile backpacking trip from Deep Creek in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. “He made it,” Parham said.
Parham hopes not just the novices will take advantage of the introductory book to backpacking. Vacationers who are planning a trip to WNC will have selection of overnights to mix into their trip itinerary; and dedicated backpackers visiting the region could opt for several short trips instead of one long one.
There’s one demographic though, that Parham hopes will take full advantage of the possibility of overnight backpacking, and perhaps use it to rekindle a dimming relationship with nature: the WNC resident. Many locals — who either moved to the mountains for the outdoor possibilities or natives who take for granted the green giants dominating the horizon — are in need of a reintroduction.
And the reintroduction, out in the crisp air with the birds and the wind howling through the trees at night, can be just what the doctor ordered.
“Time slows down,” Parham said. “You can let the world of work and all that stuff just melt in the background and just focus on being outside.”
A closer look
Author Jim Parham’s newest book Backpacking Overnights introduces readers to 50 different one night and weekend backpacking trips in Western North Carolina and upstate South Carolina. It also includes a section introducing readers to the basics of backpacking, maps of each hike, GPS coordinates and a mile-by-mile synopsis of landmarks and points of interest along each route. Parham is an outdoor expert in a number of fields from road biking to kayaking and this is his 13th book. The book, published by Milestone Press, is available in local stores such as City Lights Café in Sylva, Mast General Store and REI in Asheville. It can also be ordered directly from the publisher at 828.488.6601 or online at www.milestonepress.com.