Tuesday, February 10, 2004

How to See the Wilderness for $200

Fantasy took the first jarring steps toward reality tonight.

Mike and I have been planning a backpacking expedition to Olympic National Park for some time. It is now three months away, and I've been gathering up gear and assorted stuff I'll need to survive my time in the woods.

Last night, we discussed the trip briefly, determining that it would just be the two of us. Diana will be too far along in her pregnancy to join us. So it'll be some fun brotherly bonding. And you know what? I'm still looking forward to the trip.

But back to the present -- well four hours ago.

I walked into REI and was nearly knocked over by three boys chasing each other around the store, white shirt tails streaming behind them as their shoes slipped all over the floor. "Sweet Jesus," I thought over the noise, "Not climbing night."

Yep. Climbing night - where parents take turn their youngsters into future K-12 climbers. Listening to them made me wish they would try it right now. I used to work with children, and I always dreaded the oldest kids - they just weren't fun, and these were no exception.

But anyway, back to the important part - me. I was trying on backpacks.

If you've never tried out backpacking, one of the joys is going to a store and trying on a backpack. Sure you could go to a sporting goods store and pick one out, but then you miss the joy of having Mr. Backwoods Sales Dude (I was very irritated that Miss Backwoods Sales Lady had to babysit the boys, leaving me with Mr. Backwood Sales Dude) measure your back, cinch up the pack just right and fill it with nearly 40 pounds of weights. And then you get to walk around the store while wearing it.

Suddenly, I turned from fresh-from-work Brian to straight-outta-the-backwoods Brian. Only straight-outta-the-backwoods Brian was dressed suspiciously like fresh-from-work Brian.

But if you've ever tried shoping with 40 pounds on your back, give it a try. If nothing else, the looks your fellow shoppers give you when you're walking around makes it worth it. However, shopping when you're losing all feeling in your left arm isn't so much fun.

One of the packs I was trying was slowly cutting the circulation to my arm off. At least, I hoped that was it. Otherwise I was having a heart attack, and that would pretty much suck. But no, Mr. Backwoods sales dude fixed it all up. So now, I have a backpack. My little home away from home. Soon, I'll be on the trail.

And it scares the hell out of me.

For the past year, I've been dreaming of taking a trip like this, and now that it's three months away, I'm getting nervous. I'm pretty good at camping - I like the outdoors, but I've never tried anything of this magnitude. In fact, this rut I've been in has grown nice and familiar - very comfortable.

I envisioned myself on a trail with 40-plus pounds dragging me down, sweating and half-dead, just trying to stagger up the next hill. Finally, I collapse, and I become buzzard chow. Or bear food. Or coyote chow. You get the idea.

But I'm still going. And it's going to be one hell of a trip.

So long as I don't feed the bears.

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