Gearing up

This past week has been a quiet one, what with Emma having caught a cold in karate class, and Eleanor staying indoors to avoid Tucson’s spring pollen.  (Yes, even in the desert there is pollen, although much less than in other parts of the country.)  Without my two companions to go hiking or bicycling, and no friends visiting from out of town, I’ve stayed indoors as well to contemplate future expeditions.

With the shift in emphasis away from full-time RV’ing, our options for travel have expanded.  I have long wanted to get back into the backpacking mode that we enjoyed before Emma was born. Even though the Airstream is much more comfortable, there is something attractive to me about hiking out into the forest with only the gear one can carry, and pitching a tent in the midst of as much wilderness as modern America can allow.

We live in a terrific part of the country for backpacking.  Not only is there a virtually year-round climate suitable for it, there are dozens of fascinating national forest sites all over Arizona that can only be reached on foot, or by small vehicle.  We have mountain ranges a-plenty, with Native American and Spanish names that evoke mystery and history, like Chiricahua, Sahuarita, Santa Catalina, Dragoon, Tortolita.  And despite the influx of spring pollen, this is a superb time of year to go explore them.

In the mid-1990s when Eleanor and I were childless and at our backpacking peak, we owned all the gear.  Since then, much of it has disappeared, been donated, has worn out, or isn’t suitable for a family of three.  We unpacked everything and realized that much of it was not going to make it into the 21st century, in a radically different climate, and in a situation where an 8-year-old was part of the equation.  The tent was too small, the mosquito netting wasn’t needed, and the boots — victims of far too many muddy northeastern caves — were beyond hope.

We have been slowly acquiring the missing pieces, through sales and bargain-hunting.  The collection of gear is now mostly complete, and the next step is to test it in real-world situations.  It might seem self-evident that the camping gear is ready for use, but that’s often not the case.  Will the lightweight pot balance on the stove without tipping our spaghetti into the dirt?  Does everything fit into the backpack?  Does the 20-year-old inflatable sleeping pad still hold air? Are the new boots comfortable for 10 miles of hiking with a 40-lb pack?  Are we able to carry enough water for desert treks?  There are many questions, and the best way to find the answers is to just go ahead and try.

Besides, it’s fun to play with the gear.  I love the campstove, for example. I’ve had it for about 15 years and it still works great.  Tonight  I will fire it up on the patio and boil up some dehydrated dinner.  We’ll eat with the backpacking plates and utensils, and wash the dishes exactly as we would on a backpacking trip.  The test will even extend to doing the dishes exactly as we would on the trail.

Once the pollen settles down, the next thing will be to camp out a night in the tent, without Airstream support.  Then we’ll go on an actual backpacking trip, probably in one of the nearby mountain ranges. The big goal is to be ready for a Grand Canyon through-hike in September, which will include two nights of camping and about 24 miles of hiking. If we work up to it and test the gear in advance, the big trip will be easy and fun.  Plus, we’ll have the 8-year-old ready for it, which is no small consideration.

All of this might seem like we are being far too methodical, but you have to remember that half the fun is the preparation.  On a quiet week indoors, working up the gear lists, shopping for deals, and testing the toys is a great way to get psyched for the trips yet to come.

About the Author

Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine