4 Dec

Dedicated to all the sweat stained packs.


My Pack and I on a trout hunt in New Zealand

It’s been to Mexico four times, Portugal twice, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, New Zealand, Canada, Nepal and China. In China, I stuffed it into a plaid plastic bag, the kind of bag locals used for laundry or to keep their groceries dry on a rainy day. Hiding it was a futile attempt to blend in with the local population. Maybe it was the way I peddled my bike, maybe it was my smile, or maybe it was the Jack Johnson blaring out the basket on the handlebars. Whatever the reason, hiding my backpack in the zippered bag had done little to mask my “not from here” status. Real Chinese people strained their necks wondering, “What’s that guys story?”

The families on the motorbikes were the best: Dad at the wheel, followed by two small children, Mom to help sandwich them, and a final kid(usually an older kid) taking up the rear. That’s five, yes five on a motorcycle who’d turn their heads as I rode by–all in unison. The pack traveled many miles on that trip, a pre-wedding honeymoon with Lori, my friend and now wife. We trekked for three weeks through Nepal, and lounged in Thailand before heading our separate ways. Lori headed home and I to China. The China Mission had to be a solo one. I was to locate and recover Grandma’s old table, sleep in Grandpa’s old house, make dinner over his old wood fired stove, locate and retrieve hidden treasure and do it all by riding a bike around. The mission was only partially accomplished so the pack and I will go back someday for another try.

Video was originally edited on the fly in China as a video post card.  One of the reasons for trying to camouflage my pack was the fact it contained a 3CCD video camera and my 12″ Mac G4.  Although a new bike would have cost less than 30 American dollars, I figured riding around a piece of shit would be more fun.  The China Mission is my next multimedia memoir.

I first donned the pack during the week before my sophomore year spring break. I’d managed to keep myself in the higher establishments of education for a year and a half. In honor of this feat, my Dad took me to buy a backpack. I had signed up through the college recreation center for a one week trip to the Guadelope Mountains in Texas. A Midwestern boy, I hadn’t spent much time in the mountains. Sensing a passion, Dad drove me to Recreational Equipment Incorporated(REI). I explained to the sales dude about the trip I was going on. His eyes lit up and he exploded, spewing NASA-like jargon. I watched him fill a pack with some sandbags and stepped forward to put it on.

“How’s it feel?” he asked.

“Cool…” I replied having no idea if it was just as long he’d shut up.

And so that was the beginning of a long friendship. Like many relationships, however, it took awhile to jive. One shouldn’t expect to buy a pack, fill it with a few kitchen sinks and hike for many miles without some conflict along the way. I’d learn later it was made for taller folks(this could’ve been avoided had I not bought the first one I tried on), which explained the bruised hips and sore shoulders. A strategically placed strap solved the problem and gave it the right geometry for me. Whether it’s steep hikes to trout filled glacial lakes, day trips to surf spots, foreign travels, picnics, or carrying groceries, whatever the mission, it’s ready to serve at anytime.

One somber spring day six years ago, I loaded it with a bag of concrete, beach sand, a walnut grave marker and the ashes of Toughy, my first dog. My legs burned under the weight as I stumbled into our favorite Sierra Nevada Mountain valley. The seasonal waterfalls were down to a trickle and tender sage filled the air with each step. I laid his ashes, spread the beach sand over him and cemented the marker in place; tears streamed. I rose from my knees and remember feeling like the mountains had their hands on my shoulder. Picking up the empty pack, I found a smile; Toughy had left so I could go. It was the first summer without him in six years but soon I emerged into a new summer in a new land. Two months later I watched the pack part the curtains at the airport in Auckland, New Zealand. That mission was a complete success: Lived and taught in a small Maori village and caught some trout and waves along the way.

Toughy, the pack and I had zigzagged through the Sierra Nevada Mountains and coastal ranges. On our first trip I’d postponed his initiation to a pack–he had just been fixed. I blamed my overstuffed pack on him even though his food had little to do with the 6000 cubic inches on my back. The pack has an extension increasing its capacity from about 4400 to 6500 cubic inches. The load was so heavy I had to be careful leaning too far one way or another. During the hike, the pack leaned against blooming lupin and brushed tick infested poison oak. That night I bed down in a meadow–no tent. Toughy lay on one side, the pack on the other. Afraid Toughy might wander away during the night, I awoke with each stirring of the old growth forest. One time, I poked my head out of my sleeping bag; the moon was low and green, ready to dip below a distant ridge. Three shadows stretched onto the illuminated grass, a man, a dog and a pack.

I’m calling upon its dirty self once again. Two years has passed since Nepal and China–two years since a real trip. Yesterday, I plopped a Ziploc with medical supplies and the voltage adapter kit next to it. If it had a tail, it would’ve wagged. For the first time it’ll be going to South America, Peru to be exact. My hands will meet it on the conveyer in Lima. It’ll be heavy so the first heave will be to the knees, then to the shoulders and back. I’ll reach to adjust the straps but there’ll be no need–a lot of bonding can happen in fifteen years. Lori will need help with her pack for they’re still getting to know one another. One would think my loads are cut in half with someone to share the essentials with. The reverse is true: Lori’s pack is full of cute outfits and mine stuffed with things such as first aid supplies, a water filter, cameras, extra warm clothes(cute outfits aren’t always warm), two sleeping bags and a change of underwear. About the time I grasp colorful currency with faces of past queens and kings, the pack will settle onto my tailbone and it’ll hit me.

I’m on the road again.


2 Responses to “Packin’”

  1. Fran soltys November 14, 2009 at 10:45 pm #

    Oh my god Ryan that was just the best yet. I love to read what you write I can picture the whole adventure. Keep the pen going .


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    […] 8, 2010 in Fishing Related? Since I was already using my nineteen year old backpack to pack for our hospital visit, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to bring […]

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