Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Gearage Pwnage!

W00t! I went back to Hilton's Tent City today, and I got myself nearly the total package of major items. I purchased boots, a tent, a sleeping bag, and there's a backpack on order for me (it's a popular model, and they were out of the size frame I needed). I'm confident in my choices, considering all my anxiety before buying. I especially feel good about the boots, which can be a worrisome item given how hard you'll use them and how hellishly they can go wrong. I bought a pair of heavier ones, all leather, made in Italy. These babies are going to last FOREVER. I tried them on as soon as I got there and wore them all around the store while we did tent-, bag-, and backpack testing, and they were amazingly comfortable, considering they're the kind that require major breaking in. No problem spots in the hour plus I was there.

I did get a 2-person tent. It's a very lightweight model, and is even lighter if you leave off the vestibule in favor of a nifty convertible door--which I could probably do, since with just one person, I can stash my gear inside the tent rather than in the vestibule. No doing such a thing with a 1-person tent. Plus I like the color. Derp.

And even better news! I've taken care of most of the major backpacking/camping items for under a grand! This even counts the backpack, which I haven't actually purchased yet. I think this is some very good work considering how crazy one can go with high-tech gear.

The only big thing I have yet to purchase is a sleeping pad. While sleeping pads do provide some insulation, they're really more of a comfort need rather than a safety/survival need. Given that, there is just too wide a range of levels and options to know want I want. For our Island camping trips, most of which lasted a full seven days, I slept on a thin yoga mat. It wasn't the softest thing, but the lumpy ground never once kept me up at night, and the tacky surface was actually quite nice to prevent the nylon-on-nylon sliding around that is a constant annoyance of camping. My friends and relatives have a selection of sleeping pads, so I think I'll borrow and test before bothering to buy. Or who knows. Maybe yoga mats will be the way to go.

Phew! I think now is the first time I haven't planned what steps come next. There will be test camping, of course, and clothing buying and boot in-breaking, map consulting and food dehydrating. But all these things feel a lot less urgent than anything I've done so far. I guess I'll play it by ear for a while.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Shopping Update

Yeah, I kinda thought right.

REI and EMS are both Chain Stores, and all that implies. REI is, like, in a mall near Fenway, and EMS is in Harvard Square, both looking perfectly at home next to The Gap and Urban Outfitters and etc. They are also both general sports stores, supplying bicycling, running, climbing, snow sports, and various other things, meaning they have less space/attention devoted solely to wilderness sports. No tents set up (though REI did have those adorable model tents that would be just perfect for my cat to take backpacking), no space to try on the sleeping bags, no backpack techs. The salespeople there seemed like typical retail employees, rather than people who have done a lot of the kinds of things I'll be doing. Also, Hilton's prices were a bit cheaper--really, only symbolically cheaper, given the total price of the stuff I'll need, but still. That'll add up. While all three stores carry pretty much the same stuff and from the same brands, Hilton's just felt a lot more serious, and the staff was way more helpful.

So all in all, I went to EMS and REI and all I got was this fetching 50s dress I spotted in a vintage shop on the way from one to the other:

Hooray locally owned outfitters!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Night in Paris

Two Things (Okay, Three):

No. 1: First person to get the joke behind the title of this entry gets brownie points.

No. 2: Today I finally made it to Hilton's Tent City in downtown Boston to check out equipment in person. Since this is my first hands-on foray and the first store I went to, I knew I wasn't ready to buy. I just needed some information, to make a few tests, and to see what's available in my area. And this (shortened and paraphrased; we spent over an hour) is what the salesman said:

"Where you headed? What time of year? Cool! Here are some tents. Here's the most popular. Here's one I like. Here are your options in sleeping bags. I really think this is the best brand of backpack. These are its features. We've got some new sleeping pads coming in, so stop by and check those out. Anything else? Okay, have fun comparison shopping!"

No pressure to buy, no sneaky "recommending" only the most expensive items, no snobbery. This makes me like them. The dude's suggestions were based on both his own experience and what I'll use it for. They have all the details you want in a good outfitter (tents set up instead of just pictures, weights to put in the backpack to test how it feels, some serious boot-trying-on space). They have a big selection, and they give a discount if you get the whole outfit (tent, sleeping bag, boots, pack) from them together. REI and EMS, my next stops, are both chains, with I assume the advantages and disadvantages of same (less individual attention, more selection; inexperienced salespeople, lower prices; etc.), but we'll see. For now, I got some socks.

Things I learned include: While 1-person tents are lighter, the minute size and coffin shape sort of wig me out, so I think I want a small 2-person tent. Springing a little extra dough on a more advanced tent will cut the weight to almost as low as that of a 1-person.

The guidebooks I read led me to think I'd prefer a mid-weight boot, but the salesman recommended the heavyweight, if for nothing besides durability. I was considering the option of getting two pairs of boots to make sure they'd last the whole trip, but a heavy boot would eliminate that necessity.

I should buy a backpack last, after I know how big my tent and sleeping bag and other items will be.

No. 3: Last week, I rented a cottage on Cape Cod. I'd gotten some of the same doubtful reactions to that vacation as I have to this trip (namely, "By yourself?"), but I had a fantastic time traveling solo. Not only did I relish the solitude, but I also found myself more willing to chat with strangers than I normally am in Boston. Obviously, a cottage on Cape Cod is a far cry from backpacking in a wilderness (but I biked there!), but most of the fears I had about being weird for traveling by myself or simply being too introverted to reach out if I did want some company were substantially eased.

Seems like I've let life sneak back in and interrupt my obsession, as evidenced by the long gap between updates. Some more shopping should fix that!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Making Contacts

Until now, I've done almost all of this planning on my own. I've told most of my friends and family about the general outline, but figured it didn't make much sense to go into details that are extremely likely to change, or to blather on about things (equipment, food) that won't really affect anybody but me (I feel like I'm capable of blathering, even though others often say I don't talk much). But over the holiday weekend, I visited my family in Vermont, and I started sharing more of the details and getting more input.

I'm a pretty solitary person, and sometimes I forget just how far I can take something in my head without telling anybody else--when I finally did talk about the trip, I was surprised at how much planning I've already done, at least on paper, without telling anyone. I was also somewhat astonished that I hadn't mentioned the trip at all to a few of my close relatives (or that the rest of my family hadn't mentioned it to them). I think about it so much that I subconsciously assume that everyone else must hear the racket in my head. I'll have to get better at that.

I got a lot of encouragement, especially from friends and relatives who have made similarly long journeys (an aunt who bicycled across the United States, a friend's brother who took off to Tahoe to snowboard for a couple of years). I was especially encouraged when I shared the plan with my father's brother, Doug, who lives in Olympia and whose home I'm hoping to use as a sort of Pacific Northwest base camp. (This is yet another reason I need to be better at communicating--for about a month, I've been sitting on the idea of staying at my uncle's for some undefined length of time, and I hadn't even asked him yet! I need to make sure I don't show up at people's doorsteps with muddy boots and a week's worth of B.O. having neglected to ask if they mind me coming.) Doug and his wife Barb were enthusiastically welcoming, and I learned that Barb is an experienced backpacker with years and miles and probably lots of tips and advice under her belt. She's planning her own big trip around the circumference of Mt. Rainier for next year. They're laid-back folk, and happily invited me to hang around Seattle/Olympia for as long as I need or want to, and sounded interested in coming along for parts of the trip.

My dad is also excited about the journey, and definitely wants to take part in some form or other. I'd imagined he would like to come along for the PN, so that he, Doug, Barb, and I could all visit, but he also floated the idea of taking his motorcycle across the country to meet up with me at some other juncture. He and Doug have explored quite a bit of the Pacific Northwest together, and they both might like to go somewhere they haven't been before. Mom mentioned an old friend of theirs in San Francisco I might meet up with. A friend mentioned that an old schoolmate of ours is a guide with a Colorado Plateau rafting outfitter. Connections were made. New possibilities were opened.

Sharing more of my planning with my family has shown me the importance both of nailing down reassuring specifics and of keeping parts of the trip free-form and open-ended. I'd like to firm up my schedule so I can let my family know where I'll be and when, and also allow others who might like to come along to make their travel plans. But I also want to keep things open, since others might have less flexibility in their schedules than I do. If my friends say they plan to hit Vegas on New Year's, I don't want to miss out. 

With all that in mind (okay, aside: gosh it sometimes feels weird to write this blog as though I'm addressing an audience even though I don't really have one yet), I'm publishing this blog more widely. Hi, readers! Please leave comments! In the spirit of irony, please enjoy this video about the folly of sharing your plans with others!

A note about equipment that I couldn't find a logical place to fit in the above: While in Vermont, I swung through an outdoors store. I was leery of getting things I couldn't return locally, so I wasn't looking to buy just yet. But I did check out a couple of tents, and they threw a little wrench into the guidelines I'd made for myself. I'd mostly settled on a buying one-person tent to cut down weight. But seeing the one-person tent in person made me doubt. It's so teeny! My current tent is a spacious two-person, and I'm so used to having, like, a living room in addition to a sleeping spot that the one-person took me aback. I'm not sure if I'll have to get over that and save myself the weight, or if it's an indication that I simply can't do without a bit more space. I hope things will become more clear once I've seen more options.