Monthly Archives: September 2017

Packing Light as Light Can Be

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At 18, I had dreamy visions of traipsing around the world, my guitar slung over my back. Except… I didn’t own a neck strap and my massive, overstuffed orange backpack took up all the available space on my back.  (Photo by Justin Clark on Unsplash)

I have never been a good packer. I wish I could put my hands on the photo of me in my late teens wearing bib overalls and sagging under the weight of my bright orange (very uncomfortable, rigid frame) backpack. Draped over the top was a very thick, voluminous wool poncho (it wouldn’t fit inside the bulging pack). Because I couldn’t squeeze everything I wanted to take inside, I also had a large shoulder bag as well as my camera slung around my neck. And a purse. Oh yes, and a leather passport holder, tucked inside my shirt. I looked ridiculous for various reasons, but if you knew what I had inside the pack you’d really be laughing…

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Several books (assorted recreational reading as well as guidebooks and train timetables and hostel guides and such-like), a collection of notebooks and pens, a dozen spare rolls of film (because heaven knows you couldn’t buy film in Europe), a stash of tuna fish, a tin opener, spare shoes, multiple pairs of jeans and sweaters and tops and shorts and sandals and… and… and…and… Yes, I do believe I also started that trip to Europe with a guitar. Not stuffed into the pack, of course, but bashing against my leg in its unyielding hard case. The guitar was one of the first things I ditched at a hostel somewhere along the way, collected later as I retraced my steps from hostel to hostel, collecting possessions I realized I did not have any use for.

What a difference a few decades make. I don’t have the least bit of interest in pack-muling my way anywhere these days. I just weighed my pack for the Camino and it came in at a whopping 12.5 lbs – including the pack and a super lightweight sleeping bag. Not only have I pared down what I need to carry on the Camino to a bare minimum, I have way more computing and camera power tucked into an outside pocket than I could even have imagined on my last backpacking trip. Train timetables? Thank-you, Internet. Hostel guide? Internet. Books – recreational and reference plus a bonus stack of magazines? Digital library. Communications center? No more waiting to find a Post Office in some remote village each week so I could send home a TELEGRAM (!!) all of three words long – AM ALIVE. NIKKI. Occasionally I would splurge and make a three-minute phone call back home to let everyone know more or less where I was and where I was likely to be during the following week. Facebook posts? An up-to-the-minute Instagram feed? Hah! Postcards lovingly scribbled and then mailed (usually from the same post offices where those telegrams came from) took ages to get back to Canada and by the time they did their contents were very old news.

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And the new pack itself? We found a used Osprey pack online and it compresses down to carry-on size while still having tons of room for the modest amount of stuff I am taking. And it’s so comfortable compared to the Orange Beast I schlepped around way back when. Granted, I was a lot younger, but still…

That orange pack nearly killed me when, after renting a sturdy shopping-style bicycle in the Lake District I decided (somewhat ambitiously) to ride across England to visit some relatives near Newcastle. In a single day. With all that crap strapped to my back and stuffed into panniers and tied to the back of the bicycle.

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This is pretty similar to the bike that nearly met its end in England’s last patch of wilderness….    Photo by Khachik Simonian on Unsplash

Things went very sideways when I took a shortcut (you can hardly blame me, I was trying to avoid the massive mountains in the middle of England) and wound up slipping off a slick, moss-covered smallish cliff thing, doing a summersault, and crashing down into the forest below still clutching my handlebars. Said handlebars were somewhere up and behind me where the bike landed and wedged itself against the base of the cliff. Unfortunately, the sturdy frame of the backpack (still on my back) jammed itself into the frame of the bike rendering me helplessly pinned to the ground, unable to get up. Lying there, staring up at some picturesque English trees, I had visions of people, years later, stumbling across my skeleton entangled in the rusty bike frame. I imagined them flipping through the mouldy pages of the Collected Works of Franz Kafka pulled from the tattered and faded remnants of that pack and wondering if the tuna fish was still edible.

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The Lake District is a gorgeous place – until you have to pedal up and over those mountains to leave… Photo by James Qualtrough on Unsplash

Obviously, I managed to extricate myself eventually and other than the fact the bike chain popped off, neither I nor the bike suffered any serious damage. Unfortunately, the bike chain was cunningly protected by a steel shield and though I had all manner of things with me, a screwdriver was not one of them. That meant I had to carry the bike over hill and dale to get to a tiny farm way down in the valley below in order to get some assistance from the resident farmer… but not before being charged by a very angry ram protecting his harem. That was a very long field to cross, I can tell you – being battered and bashed by a furious sheep every step of the way.

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Photo by George Hiles on Unsplash

Fortunately, the bike served me well as I held it up between me and the curly-horned monster like a shield and managed to stagger backwards all the way to the gate — and safety — on the far side…

But, I digress. I have no intention on this trip of straining myself unduly. I am still a few weeks away from my departure date so I will repack and reconsider several times more, but before I set off I’ll post the exact contents of what’s in the new pack – just because I can!

Buen Camino! (because, I think, once a person has packed the bag the trip has already begun!)

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