Worth the Weight
Out here weight is currency. Not a day goes by without pounds and ounces coming up in conversation. The weight on your back is either a thought in your mind or an ache in your knees. A hiker takes every opportunity to shed mere ounces. Three days into the trail I mailed home 2 pounds of stuff, mostly bags for things that don’t need bags, some clothes and other items I can’t recall —which is a good sign.
Right now my base weight [pack weight without water and food] is 20 pounds. I’m happy with my pack. I use every item in my bag each time I go into the woods. I’m not a super crazy ultralight hiker [I don’t cut the tags out of all my clothes. Though that would shed a few ounces. My friend Walkman thinks I’m crazy for not doing this.]
The other side of the ounce-counting existence of a backpacker is a class of items that have more value than their weight. These items are emotional, supportive, indulgent, or nostalgic. Most hikers have something like this, something that is worth more than the extra weight it adds.
Toast is from Chattanooga. She’s a nurse by training. On her first night in Georgia she unpacked her sleeping bag and found a small stuffed dog, keychain size, in the bottom of the bag. One of her roommates had placed it as a small comfort and form of company. She kept the dog. It’s clipped to the outside of her pack and swings back and forth while she hikes, smiling back at me .
Prime is currently from nowhere. He’s a middle-aged man with many talents and experiences. He’s lived in Alaska, traveled to Thailand and most recently was in Baton Rouge, LA. He got his trail name because he bought all of his gear on Amazzon [Prime] and researched thoroughly. He’s one of the more stringent hikers when it comes to weight. Through his hike he is trying to raise money and awareness for the Brain Behavior Reserach Foundation (BBRF) which provides funds directly to scientists for mental health research. Just under the top of his pack is taped a picture. The photo is of a girl, who was killed by her mother, who then killed herself. A tragedy connected to mental health issues. When a woman heard about Prime’s hike, she asked if he would carry the picture.
Overkill. Allegedly his pack weighed close to 80 or 90 pounds at the beginning of the trail. I never saw it, but I’ve heard stories that he made himself a two-wheeled cart that was connected to the bottom of his pack and rolled behind him as he hiked. I met Overkill at some trail magic [awesome people set up and gave us free tomato basil soup and bananas] in Georgia. He no longer had his cart, but his pack looked quite heavy.
I sat down next to him, with a bowl of soup and asked about his life off the trail. He’s a dairy farmer from Idaho. One of his responsibilities, is to carry semi truck tires up and down mounds of dirt to hold down plastic liners of waste disposal sites on the farm. He says he’s built to carry heavy things. He does look it — a heavy set man, beard and genuine determination.
Before I left, he pulled out a bag of lettered beads and began to make me a pendant with my trail name, Blueberry. I was a bit frustrated that he let holding me up, I wanted to get walking. My mood was probably evident. When he handed me the pendant though, I felt differently. His reasoning behind this bag of beads, extra weight, was touching.
Stealth has quickly become a dear trail friend of mine. He’s former active duty military who now lives in Hawaii, gardens a lot, explores food, [I just learned] loves Ritz Crackers. Stealth and I share a love of coffee. He now carry’s a titanium french press and is waiting for his coffee bean hand grinder to come in the mail. He’s promised me a cup of coffee in the future. I’m really looking forward to it. For Stealth, a good cup of coffee paired with a slow, enjoyable morning taking pictures of his surroundings or reading, is worth the extra weight [not much though] and items.
A few weeks ago in the Smoky Mountains I met Space Bear. I was drawn to the mandolin strapped to the outside of his pack. He’s a banjo player by training, but that’s definitely not weight worthy [BUT I have met a hiker who is literally carrying a full sized banjo. Truly.]
Turns out, Space Bear and I have close mutual friends. It was the first connection I’d made on the trail that brough together home and trail life. Our mutual friends are centered around music, and the band that I’m in back home [Companyon].
I asked Space Bear about his decision to carry an instrument.
The things we carry on our backs are meant to sustain our bodies: food, water, shelter, clothing. A journey like this requires a mental game like no other. The emotions I’ve experienced on thee trail come from all directions, and take various shapes, moods, colors and instensities. We need more than the necessities out here. Hiking for months on end, and thousands of miles requires more.
Backpacking is an endless negotiation of how uncomfortable you’re willing to be. Each hiker has a different threshold of discomfort and finds his or her balance over time.
More music! Space Bear played us some music that night and it was so lovely to hear. These are full audio clips, so not cleaned up or clipped. It’s a fun listen.
To Crows (left) & Prime (right)