The First (But Not Last) Time

My first week in Virginia featured little-to-nothing hiking related until my daughter suggested a trip to the Richmond area to shop her favorite HomeGoods store. Well, that would be a five-star yawner for me, except for the fact that HomeGoods shares a parking lot with the Glen Allen location of REI. Where I lived in Maine, the nearest REI was a less-than-leisurely 3.5 hour (traffic permitting, of course) sojourn to (nearby?) Reading, Massachusetts. Given that I had never been in a physical location, and that I had a $9.58 dividend burning a hole in my account pocket, I was thrilled with the invite.


I was hoping against hope that they might have a Granite Gear Crown 2 in stock so I could set some eyes on one. It was a longshot, for sure; even Granite Gear has been out of them for weeks. And my now-local REI didn’t disappoint. Nary a Crown 2 to be seen anywhere.

Still, they had a pretty solid array of packs, about half of which are represented in this photo:


I was able to strap on the 48L version of my trusty Kestrel 28, and give consideration to a few others. But by the end of my hour-long trip through the backpacker’s candy store, all I walked away with was some GU hydration tablets which, after my staggeringly huge $9.58 dividend, set me back a grand total of $3.75.

Still, it was great to spend some time in an actual REI store rather than burning through page after page on their website. And I enjoyed the experience of proudly whipping out my membership card when asked if I had one…

From Bum to Backpacker. For Only $5

In September I took a practice hike from home to a local recreation area to set up my new tent and carry 20+ pounds for six miles. Less than half a mile from home I was stopped and essentially asked if I was a homeless person. I was unshaved that day (I never shave on a hiking day; it’s tradition) and carrying my trekking poles on my pack instead of using them (appreciate the stow-as-you-go attachments on my Kestrel, Osprey), so apparently I had that permanently-address-free thing going on that morning.

Then I spent $5 on protective tip covers for my BD Ergo Cork poles in mid-January.


Fast forward to last Thursday. I decided to duplicate most of the route I took last fall (though I didn’t set up my tent; there’s snow on the ground in these here parts and winter camping I’m not doing. Yet) and built up a solid rhythm using my tip-equipped aluminum sticks and carrying 20+ pounds on my back. And no shaving the face, of course.

This time, not only did I not get stopped by a concerned citizen of the greater Hermon, ME area regarding my residence status, I actually got smiles and waves from a few passersby.

Moral of the story? It only costs five dollars to go from non-itinerant vagabond to full-fledged member of the backpacking community among the outdoorsy folks of Hermon.

Lesson learned.

Treated Like a Vagrant

Monday morning was an absolute beauty here. Bright sunshine, barely a cloud to be seen and temps in the upper 50s. Perfect practice hike weather. I had been wanting to set up my tent in a smoke-free environment (both of my neighbors are diligent in their work as mobile chimneys) so I opted to load my shelter and some additional ballast (for a total of twenty pounds) into my trusty Osprey Kestrel 28 and head to my local recreation area. Last time I felt naked doing this particular trip without my trekking poles, so I brought them along for use on the off-asphalt sections (still haven’t bought those pole tips!) of my short five mile hike.

I had barely left the house, traveling less than half a mile down our road when a neighbor I don’t know who lives beyond us drove slowly past, then stopped and backed up. He powered down his window and, to keep the story short, essentially assumed I was a homeless drifter who had been camping in the woods nearby. After I convinced him otherwise, he moved on, and I did the same.

I guess I should have shaved before I left home.

The rest of the jaunt to the recreation area was uneventful, though I felt a bit paranoid after the above incident. I enjoyed a few miles of gentle hiking on the trail and fields, then stopped to do a quick pitching of my tent:


I roughly timed my effort at seven minutes which, considering I’d only pitched it once before, and that in my living room (without stakes, of course), I was pleased. Granted, I didn’t shoot for the perfect pitch. I didn’t bother adjusting the tensioners or fiddling with ideal staking. I also didn’t have to spend time searching for and prepping my site. Still, I feel that with practice I can do it a bit faster, which will no doubt come in handy on days out in the actual wild with pouring rain and/or high winds.

I slipped inside to check it out, then packed it up and headed for home. Less than five hundred feet from my driveway I spotted a couple walking down the hill towards me, and I decided to go on the offensive and crush any “Oh look, dear. A bum!” thoughts before they were fully formed. I gave them a big smile and said, “Good morning! Yes, I live here. No, I’m not homeless,” to which they responded by cracking up. After assuring them I was out doing a practice hike, we continued on our respective ways with smiles all around.

Moral of the story: Hike in the woods. Or shave. Or, if possible, both.


Tent Talk: I’m a complete newbie to backpacking, but it seems to me that, for a first tent, I made a solid choice, especially factoring in my limited budget. It pitches quickly and easily without instructions, and comes down and packs up just as quickly and easily. The weight is tolerable, too. The only mystery is why they only included five stakes when the tent/rainfly has six stake-out points. They do include a length of paracord, so I’m assuming that the sixth point, mid-rainfly on the back of the setup, is meant to be anchored to a tree, rock, or maybe even a trekking pole (on non-windy days). It’s definitely not a deal breaker. After all, the internal tent is freestanding, so it would be possible to just use one of the corner stakes on the back side. Body and gear weight would keep the tent from bouncing up and down in that one corner. I’ve read lots of good things about MSR Groundhog stakes, so if I try the included shepherd ones and they’re not to my liking, I might be willing to trade them in on a set of ‘Hogs.