by Justice Greg Hobbs
Kelty Pack slouches in the basement corner. Shiftless, it avoids the burden of being fully stretched. There’s insolence here.
Motor vehicles reward their owners by carrying them from place to place, often over great distances. With a pack, it’s the opposite. The more you ask a pack to serve your weighty ambitions, the more it announces its penchant for backbiting. And there’s no putting a pack on cruise control, it rides you mercilessly every step of the way.
Loading up a pack is like talking to yourself. Good choices fit much easier over the long haul. Stinking ones you pay for again and again.
Food shopping, for instance. If left alone at King Soopers, I prefer at least two full weighty cans of Dinty Moore Beef Stew. But in the company of friends, macaroni and cheese is a rib sticker that tracks easier uphill. Dehydrated trail food is convenient, though expensive, and those behind may commence to joke crudely about ill winds ahead.
Generally, it’s better to hike with family. Knowing of your special disabilities, they are more prone to compensate: menu plan, carefully watch what you stuff in waterproof sacks and what you disregard, and watch whether you lace your boots and screw on your head.
Remember this. Don’t depend on fish. Brothers Will and Joe perfected this timely recollective at the Boundary Waters canoe trip in northeastern Minnesota. Conjuring shoulder-wrecking portages, they planned on rediscovering the frontier arts, frugality and living off the land. Weeks before the trip, they pitched themselves into lather for landing whopper trout. They threw in a few bags of granola for ballast, forgot the landing net. Really big fish they hit — but all slipped off — flopping against the side of their rocking boat. Two brothers wiser grew for each succeeding trip. First, bring food and then entertain the fish.
And dress appropriately. Trout don’t care what you wear, they’re cold-blooded. So wear yourself warm and comfortable. Long johns, socks of wool, cross-country gloves and a comfy hat with goofy ear flaps are smart at altitude. Especially when the silly fish won’t bite anything you’ve upended from your father’s inherited tackle box and the wind is whipping freezing rain off the lake.
A pocket knife. No friend more versatile or more valuable can you miss. I keep mine handy at belt-level in a quick-snap, leather sheath. For cutting kindling wood, tent tie guy line lengths, first aid strips and — hopefully — for cleaning fish.
At the sore hind end of the day, a dry sleeping bag and inflatable mat will cover your chill and buoy your sorry bones. Without them, while Mr. Kelty lounges peacefully at rest against a stately tree or stylish boulder as the rosy-fingered sunset fades, the very earth will rise against you. Every root and rock sticks into your left side, right side, fanny and chest. Toss and turn in torment will you, eyes glued open; every mousey sound seems like the clawing of a huge brown bear, with dawn a decade away. Yes, the landing net you can afford to regret. Not the inflatable mat and your night cover.
Or the water bottles. Woozy head and jelly knees, dehydration is the Achilles heel of the ill-prepared hiker. Take within your being the music of the flowing stream, body and spirit. Boil, filter, treat. Then climb impossible pinnacles.
Other bound-for-beyond necessities: the best available topo map, waterproof matches, Gore-Tex rain suit, bug repellent, lip balm, a deck of cards for hearts, good luck wine-soaked salami from Mom, flashlight, camera, pocket-sized notepad.
At my elbow on the book shelf, I have this prize-of-an-album trip remembrance son Dan helped me start assembling. During recurrent fill-up-the-backyard blizzard city episodes, I thumb on through.
Pictured here, the mighty string of fish brother Ed caught on the first Pine River Weminuche Wilderness trip. And the bigger-than-frying-pan cutbow trout Dad caught at Divide Lakes. Pack dogs, Suzy and Pepsi, capture yet another pass. Nephew Matt, brother-in-law Jeff and sister-in-law Jean ramble in the waterfall. Daughter-in-law Alison does the ice dip at Mary Alice Lake.
I see these loaded Kelty packs fit smooth and full. These homes upon our backs. As with daughter Emily’s Philmont Ranger shakedown cruise and brother Will’s unfailing stories. As with Bobbie and my High Sierra honeymoon hike 43 years ago, and the more contemporary Snowy Range entrada with grandson K.J. and son-in-law Mark.
Carries all we need, all we want too. Slouching there in a basement corner, Mr. Kelty waits for another wake-up trail song to begin.