Friday evening, Deb and I had settled around our campfire, which had generated a lot of smoke but been stubborn to start (coincidentally, how I’d also describe our early dating days). We had set up our old tent, which was a lot like one of our cats in that we aren’t sure how old it is but it feels like we’ve had it forever. All our equipment was in place, namely a stove, a vintage propane lantern, a cooler and a bin of cookware. We were all set for our long weekend.
I mention our gear because that was when our neighbours pulled in. They arrived in a Jeep towing what looked like a small utility trailer with some kind of a rack on it. On top of this rack there seemed to be a tarp. The trailer was also hauling wood, a propane tank along with two red and two blue tanks, presumably for gasoline and water.
The Jeep and trailer backed into the site, and the driver swung out of the cab, hitting the ground with purpose. He was in khaki and had many, many pockets.
As I watched (stared, Deb says), Pocketman unfolded the tarp on the upper rack into a platform that extended beyond the trailer. And from this platform emerged a tent that you reached from below by ladder! Then Pocketman zipped sides underneath the platform to create a living space, and the trailer itself became the kitchen! As camping gadgets go, this was by far the most amazing thing I’d ever seen in my life.
But was it necessary?
It seemed like a whole lot of work just for a place to sleep. (And I haven’t even mentioned the solar panels.) In the end, was our neighbours’ sleep any different than Deb’s and mine, i.e. not fantastic? Was their camping experience that much better because of a ladder? Admittedly, the ladder was pretty wicked…
I think about “stuff” a lot, and not just because I don’t have it. In this case, we’ve been brainwashed into thinking we need so much specialized “stuff” to do the simplest leisure activity. Sportswear, for instance, isn’t just something you put on anymore. It also has to “breathe.” At some point our clothing developed lungs. The global yoga clothing market is valued at $31.3 billion USD. These are clothes you wear for lying down and bending. By contrast, the global sleepwear market is only $19.5 billion USD, and sleeping is something everyone does. Some of us a lot.
But back to camping: As part of our weekend, Deb and I hiked parts of the Sentier Frontalier, a network of trails that run this side of the Maine border from Chartierville to St-Augustin-de-Woburn, with a side-trail up to Mont Mégantic. Specifically, we climbed Montagne de Marbre and the following day Mont Gosford.
We put little planning in our hikes, even less in our hiking gear. My shorts: the same khaki numbers I’ve been wearing all summer. Up top: layers. On my feet: the first pair of running shoes I spotted in my size at Winners.
I don’t even want to tell you what Deb was wearing.
We were, as in most things in our lives, over-achieving and under-prepared.
As we walked through the woods, along rivers, up hillsides and around boulders, we encountered every type of hiking pants, hiking shorts, spandex tops, boots, poles, zippers, snaps, flaps and backpacks. Even the dogs had backpacks! People had outfitted themselves in the equivalent of a tent that unfolds from the top of a trailer. With many, many pockets.
As for Deb and me, we hiked splendidly, casting nary a thought that our H&M tees and cotton/polyester hoodies were inadequately wicking moisture away from our bodies. And believe me, there is nothing more satisfying than bombing up a steep, ragged trail, your hoodie tied around your waist, past a person half your age outfitted in enough gear to put the global yoga clothing market to shame.
Granted, on the start of our second day of hiking, I felt a little “uh-oh” about the way my discount Adidas were rubbing. My mind instantly went to a search-and-rescue helicopter airlifting me off the top of Mont Gosford. But everything eventually settled into place. And I will also grant you that, although clambering the slick switchback up the mountain was fine, we did not feel confident in our footing to venture back down, so we took an easier return route.
So, yes, proper hiking boots would be a good investment, and perhaps I will someday say, “I was an idiot for wearing 5-pairs-for-$10 socks to hike.” But in most things, I suspect we will continue to make do because, despite the efforts of marketers, most of the time that’s enough.
But I really did like that ladder…