Sunday, February 26, 2006

backpacker contest

Backpacker Magazine offers an intriguing contest titled ``Win a Gear Makeover'' in its annual Gear Guide issue now on newsstands.
What an idea. For years, and especially recently, I've thought about shoveling my hiking gear into a pile in the closet and starting from scratch. And I might do it, too, if I had a stray couple of thousand dollars.
Well, winning this gear makeover contest would solve the money problem. Backpacker outlines the essence of the contest, as I see it, in this sentence, ``We need a deserving reader to help us demonstrate a few organizational tricks and gear upgrades that will help any hiker get out more often.''
According the contest's opening query, I cant imagine ANYONE being more deserving than I am. When Backpacker asks the following, it has touched me to the core: ``Does it take five hours to get packed for a weekend hike? Would you like to start the hiking season with a shiny pile of gear optimized for your body and region, plus a tricked out storage system for keeping it organized?''
YES! I my internal backpacker screamed.
``Then you may be the ideal candidate for BACKPACKER's first gear makeover contest.'' ``May'' my foot! I ARE the MAN.
Yes, oh, yes!
Alas, despite my perfect qualifications, I have little chance of winning the contest. I never enter contests, for one thing. I've never bought a single raffle ticket, for example.
Mainly, though, I surely would be outclassed in this contest. Here's why. ``To win, your entry must standout,'' say the contest guidelines. ``We like out-of-the-box thinking, so feel free to submit additional materials, such as video.''
That suggests that some young techno whiz will use his I-Pod or cell phone to document his case and cart away the prize: ``If you win, we'll collect your sizes and gear and deliver it to your house one Saturday this June.''
If that turns out to be the case, BACKPACKER will have missed a chance to show its mettle, so to speak. I mean, backpacking makes up a significant portion of my profession, and it has done so for more than two decades.
Yet, I suggest no other hiker in the country has greater need of the ``organizational tricks'' suggested by this contest. My years in the profession, for example, contribute significantly to my being the ideal winner of this contest. That, and the pack-rat particulars of my personality.
I've spent some of my happiest moments strolling in gear stores and delving in catalogues, primarily REI and Campmor, picking up items that any pro backpacker should have.
Who could have too many stoves? I have a dozen, at least, including four Whisperlites, a palm-sized Sno-Peak, a Sierra Zip wood burner, an alcohol burner and a Sterno burner.
I have a dozen methods for purifying water, with three water filters and half-a-dozen new cartridges stuffed away, just in case.
Tents, several. Sleeping bags, a few. Mattresses, a bunch.
Alas, much of the gear has passed its prime. Most of my gear has received heavy use, of course, and much has been made obsolete by updates. In fact, few editions that I now rely on (including tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, stoves, water filters, et al) can be found in the recent Gear Guide edition.
Well, my newest Whisperlite stove, for example, ranks as an exception: the MSR Simmerlite, advertised as ``The lightest, smallest liquid stove on the market.'' Unfortunately, I can only occasionally make its simmer effectively as advertised.
Anyway, I've patched my newest Therm-A-Rest mattress four times. And my latest tent, the Eureka! Zeus 2 EXO single-wall, generates rain-forest condensation.
You get the point.
I own more gear that I need, although I've done plenty to keep gear companies in business. It's a professional obligation.
As a result, the overwhelming problem I face isn't the gear itself. It's getting what I need together fort a hike.
Some often-used gear resides in a handy plastic box.
Some of it is, golly, who knows.?
Seldom do I get ready for a trip when I simply can't find something, my compass, my cup, my spoon or so on.
My wife bought me a cabinet for storing gear, but it's full and blocked by other gear, so that I don't use it.
Therefore, let me emphasize my qualifications. A few days ago, I didn't take the sled for a winter camping trip because the thought of getting my gear together was too daunting. Clearly, I need a gear makeover and all of the organizational tricks that this contest promises.
Yet, I won't be entering the BACKPACKER contest. It would be like buying a lottery ticket.
Besides, as a pro, it's something that I should take care of myself.
I guess.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Potato gun


Waylin, a heavy man in his
mid-40s, carried his usual
mouth-open, eye-wandering
expression though the front
door and into the living room.
Maggie the Mutt circled
around him, sniffing his legs
and shoes as he sat in the big
chair by the window. Actu
ally, he didn't sit in the chair
but perched his bulk on the
chair's edge.
Gramps said, ``Hi, Waylin.
How's it going.'' And glanced
again at the television, tuned
to the U.S. Open with Agassi
playing Dent.
When Mary Lou had ar
rived earlier, he'd turned off
the TV's sound but let the
picture play. He glanced at
the picture often, to keep
track of the score. He wanted
Agassi to win, and he'd lost
the first set in a tie-breaker.
Mary Lou is Gramp's and
Granny's daughter and
Waylin's ex-wife. Mary Lou
sat on another chair in the
living room. She had taken
Granny to the emergency
room earlier that morning.
Gramps had left the house at
6 a.m. to take his son Billy
Bob to Ellensburg to buy a
car, which the seller was haul
ing over from Tacoma, or
halfway between his place
and Walla Walla.
Granny had stayed in bed
for awhile. When she got up,
she felt funny, with a numb
ness in her hands and arms.
She'd been unable to open the
lid to the coffee maker be
cause she couldn't make her
hands function properly.
She'd called Mary Lou and
been unable to express her
self clearly. Mary Lou had
rushed her to the hospital.
She'd improved after being
told she'd experienced a mini-
stroke.
Gramps had been back
home for about an hour when
Waylin arrived.
``How do you feel,'' Waylin
asked Granny.
``I'm fine now,'' she said. ``I
feel a lot better.''
Waylin, Granny and Mary
Lou talked, and Gramps split
his attention between listen
ing, nodding and watching
the tennis score.
After awhile, and after a
segway that Gramps didn't
catch, he heard Waylin talk
ing about him and Erskine
deciding to make a potato
gun.
Erskine was Gramp's
youngest son, who would be
closing in on 40.
Gramps looked at Waylin
and saw a businesslike,
unsmiling expression on his
face.
``We drove over to Lumber
man's and bought some PC
pipe for $7.57,'' Waylin said.
``We went to Bi-Mart and
bought an igniter, like you use
in a Coleman lantern. And%2