The Deep Questions

Why am I here? What’s the purpose?

If you’re talking about life in general, great questions! However, my psychology 201 professor said we need to guard against over-sharing, or else people might try to give us jackets without armholes. That would make blogging difficult, so I’ll hold off on answering those.

As to why I’m here, on WordPress, blogging under a URL that could either be seen as funny or pessimistic, or maybe just stupid, the answer has a few parts. And here they are!

  1. I need an outlet to share my mildly embarrassing stories from REI, and other backpacking adventures. Not only is it fun for me, I hope other people will relate to them and maybe even feel like they don’t need to look like a Jeep commercial in order to enjoy the wilderness.
  2. Everyone else is doing it. Who am I to resist a fad?
  3. Got to use the English major somewhere.

In all seriousness, I’m gearing up for a Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike in 2016. There are approximately a bajilion trail journals out there that cover that same topic, and they mostly say the same things. I can’t promise any new viewpoints, but the nice thing about the internet is no one has to read this except my mom and sister. I figure I might as well take advantage of a way to connect with fellow hikers, and give non-hikers a sense of the humiliation joy that preparing for such a trek brings!

Purpose statement: over and out.

Beaten by the Bearvault

Question: Which bear is best?

Is that a ridiculous question? Are there basically two schools of thought? If that’s your answer:

  1. Let’s be friends. I always need people to finish my quotes from The Office, otherwise things get kind of awkward.
  2. False. The best bear, at least when backpacking, is the one that doesn’t come into your camp and eat your food, and/or you.

With this in mind, and in preparation for a future PCT thru-hike and a more imminent trip to Glacier, I set out last week to buy a bear canister.

A what?

  • Bear Canister. n. An often bulky container designed to keep bears out and your delicious snacks in.

Okay, I don’t work for Merriam-Webster. But you get the idea. 

Bear canisters are important for several reasons:

  1. No one wants to get two days into a four-day hike and have all their food disappear down Bongo’s gullet.
  2. Bears who get used to eating people-food can become so aggressive that the parks service has to kill them in order to keep people safe.
  3. They’re required in Glacier National Park and several areas on the Pacific Crest Trail. 

As Linus said in A Charlie Brown Christmas, “Those are good reasons.”

Because I am mildly indecisive and never make a gear decision without consulting a trillion online sources, I compared four different models and eventually settled on one that looked coolest was lightweight and came highly recommended.

That is how I settled on the Bearvault.

Feel free to click that link. Look at that Bearvault. It’s beautiful. The clear blue plastic evokes visions of icicles and intergalactic travel at the same time. It has a black lid that practically screams, “Turn this for Nutella.” It has ridges that help the Bearvault stay secure on your pack. At least, that’s what the super helpful REI saleswoman from my previous blog entry said.

She also said I could take it out of the box and test it out. 

But really, what sort of person needs to test out a container for food? It’s not like it could be, say, mildly confusing to open! It’s not like anyone could be so weak that even when they figured out how to open it, they couldn’t push the tabs in far enough to actually accomplish the task!

Or maybe both those things could happen. 

Did happen. 

To me. 

To my surprise, I discovered the directions are really important on things like this. After five minutes of frustration at not being able to get that stupid black lid off that beautiful blue cylinder, I pulled out the instruction pamphlet that I had thrown across the room earlier. Turns out my fingers were about a centimeter above where they needed to be. Two seconds later, my two-year-old nephew, who had been trying to help but was now crying from frustration (or maybe because auntie kept taking this really cool looking thing away from him), started clapping as the lid spun off easily.

I felt so accomplished at being able to unscrew that lid, I tried it a few more times with nary a hitch. Two main takeaways from this experience:

  1. Since I did manage to open the container, I must not be a bear.
  2. If I see a bear with reading glasses on the trail, I must hide the Bearvault directions. The state of my snacking depends in it.

Embarrassment at REI

I’ve spent 4 years obsessing over backpacking gear and planning a future Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike.

I’ve been backpacking three times.

I’ve read dozens of trail blogs, gear lists, and books of backpacking wisdom.

So when I went to REI to jump on the bandwagon of the Osprey Aura AG 65, (the AG stands for Anti-Gravity! How cool is that!) I was hoping to not feel like a total dunce.

As if fate would be so kind.

It began when the extremely helpful saleswoman asked if I wanted to try the pack on.

Well, yes, I suppose I would.

She measured my torso, found me to be right between a medium and a large, then gave me a medium to start off with.

I swung it confidently over my shoulders.

“Crap!” I muttered as my arms became entangled in the straps. What is this, a backpack for ants?

“Maybe you should loosen the shoulder straps,” the saleswoman suggested.

Of course! This pack was still configured for shipment! All the straps were tight as could be!

I loosened the shoulder straps and slid my arms comfortably through. THIS was how a pack should feel! Built for an adult-sized human, not my two-year-old nephew!

“Looks good,” the saleswoman muttered. “Now, you want the belt to sit on your hips.”

“Yeah, I know,” I said, buckling it onto my hips like I’ve done on all my previous trips.

She paused. “It looks like it might be a little high,” she suggested.

I froze. I recognized that voice. That’s the voice I used when my roommate would try to wear leather boots with sweats on her walk to the cafeteria. It’s the voice that says, “If you think that’s a good idea, fine, but the rest of the world knows better.”

I refuse to be outsmarted by the rest of the world!

“Yeah,” I agreed, shifting the pack down an inch or so, “I’m just needing to adjust it a little. That’s better,” I said, looking up for affirmation.

I received none. “Still a little high. You want it to be on your hips,” she repeated.

At this point I was regretting bringing my sister on my shopping expedition. She wasn’t as adept at keeping a straight face as the saleswoman. I could practically hear her wondering how I would survive a five month trek if I couldn’t even make it to footwear. This, commingled with that particular joy that only comes from seeing your sister harmlessly embarrassed in a not-too-permanent fashion.

“Oh, right,” I mumbled, trying to save face and shifting the hip belt still further down.

“Do you know where your hips are?” the saleswoman asked gently.

“I thought I did,” I whimpered.

“Let me—do you mind?” I nodded. She moved forward to loosen the belt, then lowered it a full three inches and settled it where packs are apparently supposed to be.

It was at this point I discovered my error, though I was too embarrassed to state my case.

See, I had always thought that, “Your hip belt should be on your hips,” meant, “Your hip belt should be on top of your hips.” There is a crucial difference, however. If I had to write directions on how to wear a hip belt, I would say, “It should be around your hips.”

But no one asked me to write these instructions. Thus, I’ve been carrying my pack’s load on what most people would call my waist, or, not where it’s supposed to be at all.

In my defense, I’ve never seen a woman with a baby “on her hip” that carried it so low as REI and the rest of the backpacking world say a pack is supposed to be.

Embarrassment aside, the pack did feel incredible when worn properly. And the saleswoman was amazing and managed to not laugh throughout the entire episode, while giving me really useful advice. Unfortunately, I now have no idea if I actually need a new pack, or if my old one hurt my back simply because I was wearing this incredibly simple device entirely wrong. I’ve got two weeks to decide before my coupon arrives… And, should the upgrade be unavoidable, there are three other REIs I can go to to avoid having to meet that same salesperson’s eyes. Although with how helpful she was, I should probably go back and give her the sale anyways.