The pros and cons of backpacking, Part 1


Where the FUCK is my Swiss Army Knife? Normally I keep it in the small backpack I use for day hikes, but it’s not there… Maybe it’s in my full-size backpack, the one I’ll be using on tomorrow’s trip. No. Not there either.


“Nora, where’s my Swiss Army Knife?”

Nora looks to be on the verge of tears.

“Jim was waving around at me like this, and I told him to stop, and when he did I hid it so he wouldn’t do that anymore, but now I can’t find it.”

She does such a good job of looking pathetic, but clearly it’s partially her fault. She must have been the one who got it out in the first place. Now I’m going to have to buy a new one, and that means we’ll be late getting started …


Everything’s packed … except …

Where’s my damned raingear? I know I had it this summer, because I used it on the Glacier Peak hike. Could I have left it in Seattle?


This time she doesn’t even offer an excuse. She hasn’t seen it.

But Mauro is remarkably sanguine about the whole thing, and cheerily accompanies me to the local Gander Mountain. I’d rather go to the new REI, but that’s 30 miles out of our way, and we’ve already got a late start. Mauro locates a great deal on a much superior set of raingear, but damned if Gander Mountain stocks a Swiss Army model with a corkscrew. What’s the point of a sport utility knife without a corkscrew?

With only a 20-minute delay, we’re finally on the road. We reach the trailhead, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, by 3:30. We won’t have a problem making it to the first campsite before dark — it’s just two miles up the trail. A quarter mile in and we spot our first wildlife, a huge elk, with magnificent antlers. I get within 50 feet and snap this shot. The day is dark enough that I need to use a flash:

Elk have the most phenomenal redeye I’ve ever seen, and the redeye tool in iPhoto doesn’t eliminate it — I guess because their retinae have a different characteristic hue from humans. Another quarter-mile up the trail, an enthusiastic group of day hikers show us their digital photo of a black bear, a tiny black dot on a 2-inch screen. As we head up the trail, Mauro and I both think “hello? Don’t you have zoom?”

It’s not long before we arrive at the campsite, and I realize for the first time what I’ve forgotten to pack: eating utensils. Holy fuck, I’ve got 1.5 liters of wine in a bag and I don’t have a cup. I’ve got all the ingredients for homemade chili and I don’t have a bowl or spoon.

“Shit, Mauro, I forgot my spoon.”

All Mauro has is a combination fork and spoon he found at REI. He was planning on eating out of the cooking pot, so there’s no bowl either, and only one cup. We talk for a while to try to decide whether it’s worthwhile for me to jog back two miles to the car to see if I left it there. I don’t think I did. I think it’s back home in the pile of equipment sitting in my office. I figure out that I can use the Tupperware container I brought the tortilla chips in as a bowl, and Mauro offers to share his cup. Tonight we’re having sandwiches, so the spoon is no problem, but tomorrow it will be.

“Maybe you can carve yourself a spoon out of a stick,” Mauro jokes.

I laugh, but that’s actually not such a bad idea.

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