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!