My backpack and I have been a lot of places. When I was 18 I bought her with my high school sweetheart, Drew, so we could go backpacking together. I had never tried it; realistically, I don’t think I knew backpacking existed. I remember driving to the Encinitas REI and trekking up and down the stairs strapped into every backpack (loaded with ten to twenty pounds of sandbags, naturally) that I could try. I left with sore quads and my blue pack.
I took her for her first trip in Big Basin State Park in Santa Cruz, hiking a whirlwind fifteen miles the first day from base camp via Skyline by the Sea trail and almost reaching the ocean. We were so close that we could feel the waves pounding the sand from our campsite. The next day we hiked out the same route, up the switchbacks back to base and veggie burgers from Saturn Cafe. Nothing had ever tasted so good. After that, I was truly, deeply, hopelessly in love with backpacking.
The next trip I took was with my first true love, Zach, through the switchbacks of the Lost Coast. We had just started dating, and neither one of us really knew what to expect from each other, or even what we were. I remember warning him as we started down a trail strewn with loose gravel and pebbles that my ankles often roll, and if I fell just to get out of the way because I knew how to fall and he would probably get hurt. Lo and behold, minutes later I was sitting in the middle of the trail, giggling, a little skinned up but totally fine. About a mile later, my ankle rolled again, but I didn’t fall. Instead, my overloaded pack bent me 90 degrees and somehow, suddenly, I ended up barreling at an alarming rate face-first down the trail, unable to fall without faceplanting but equally unable to stop my momentum. Zach managed to catch up with me and grab onto my pack, wrenching me upright and allowing me to skid into a sit. The rest of the journey was otherwise uneventful, minus almost being bitten by a rattlesnake sunning in the trail as I sprinted barefoot to the ocean, just a short distance from our campsite (Zach saved me that time too, knocking me out of the way before I stepped on it); finally striking up the courage to ask if he wanted to be exclusive as we stargazed out the door of the tent he used since he was a boyscout; spotting a bear right after arriving back to the car; and locking our keys in the car when we stopped to get gas in the tiny town of Honeydew. Sitting on the porch of the Honeydew general store, watching rednecks pull up on ATVs and leave with beer, waiting for AAA to come so we could go back to Santa Cruz, we ate ice cream and I fell in love with the town and the boy sitting next to me.
My backpack, Zach, and I traveled all over California, to Yosemite for my 21st birthday with Kevin and Irina; to Catalina Island a year later (where we camera-hunted buffalo and snorkeled naked until the boyscout camp came to our previously deserted paradise for a swim); and another year later, after I finished my Master’s degree and teaching credential, to Ecuador. We trampled through the cloud forest of Maquipucuna, the old city of Quito, and the Galapagos Islands. We didn’t always get along though all our adventures, but our mutual love for the outdoors and hiking miles into the wilderness with each other and everything we would need for a week on our backs always brought us back together. Walking with our backpacks to the boat which would take us from Isabella to San Cristobal, it crossed my mind that I never wanted to be with anyone else. Zach and I moved into a tiny studio on Lincoln street in Santa Cruz, together. We took our backpacks out as often as we could, but life started getting real when I got a long term subbing position and Zach juggled multiple jobs and internships along with a packed school day. We realized that we were at different places in life but we made it work, and no matter what I always was grateful to wake up next to him in the morning.
Once he finished school, we moved back to San Diego, and back in with our respective parents; I got a job at my dream school; and we drifted apart. My backpack and I took a trip, this time with my sister, across the American Southwest. We went though lightening storms, countless breathtaking rock formations, a few herds of bison, and lots (LOTS) of tortillas and apples. Shortly after our return, Zach decided we would better off following our own paths, and suddenly it was just me and my backpack.
I left my backpack in the closet for the rest of the summer. I sought to distract myself, tried running, positive thoughts, online dating, paddle boarding, etcetera. My anchor was gone; I felt like a piece of paper blowing away in a gust of wind after the paperweight was removed. I attempted to embrace this, booked a trip to the Peruvian Amazon, hoped something to look forward to a few months in the future would magically produce the end of the tunnel I was tired of walking in. I started teaching. Zach and I talked again, then dated again, then stopped. Lather, rinse, repeat. I met Daniel. I finally felt like I was starting to heal.
My backpack was exhumed, stuffed with bug wipes and camera equipment in preparation for my first solo trip ever, and hauled to Peru where everything I saw and heard reminded me of one or another of Zach’s stories from the Ecuadorian Amazon. Shortly afterward, Daniel, myself, and my backpack took a trip to Santa Cruz. We ate goat cheese, drank Fireball whiskey, and sang Devil Makes Three songs with Zack and Theadora on New Year. We laughed with Brooke and Paul over a bottle of wine and our old Tinder accounts, showing them how we met. We watched the sunrise from the back of his truck in Big Sur, and decided this was something we really wanted to do. We returned to San Diego just in time for me to empty the Fireball from my backpack and replace it with base layers and a tripod, then board a plane to Iceland with Lydia to seek the northern lights and Viking legends.
My backpack has since been more or less dormant yet again; apparently adult life catches up with us all at some point and my teaching and Daniel’s firefighting caused us to become couch potatoes, bingeing on red wine, delicious home cooking, Game of Thrones, and trying to mitigate moving on from the ghosts of our pasts while holding ourselves and each other together. I thought seriously about throwing my tent into my pack and disappearing into the desert for a weekend, especially after seeing Wild. Daniel and I played one day of hookey to visit Zac and Michelle in San Luis Obispo and see the Devil makes Three, but it wasn’t enough to scratch my travel itch. I resisted the urge to book a ticket to anywhere, holding out for a trip to Alaska with Daniel. Eventually I caved when it became clear what my options would be, and started planning a trip to Bulgaria, which sold out the day I decided to book it. My mom wisely advised that something better would come up, and it did. Here’s where my backpack and I are going next.
We’ll be flying to Greece in mid July to spend a few days puttering around Athens, and hopefully spending some time with my coworker Valerie, born and raised in Greece (life lesson 126: never pass up a chance to hang out with a local in her home country, especially if you can go visit her home town). Then, I’ll be jetting off to Budapest and meeting up with a big group of 18-28 year olds to tour the sites of Hungary, the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, and Poland, making new friends and travel buddies and perhaps being joined by Dan to share in a bit of traveling for the tortured soul. I’ll get to see the homeland of my ancestors (on my father’s side) between roaming the cities of Eastern Europe and visiting the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, and finally wrap up with an extension into Berlin in hopes of finding Jayme in her most recent habitat.
My backpack has outlasted two serious relationships, and aside from the undying affection of my cat, has been the most consistent part of my life. Like me, she’s wearing thin in places. The duct tape patching over the small frayed places may not hold much longer. It pains me to think that soon she may not be fit to travel the world, or worse, that I should leave her behind on this trip in favor of a hard shelled, lockable, more secure soulless suitcase (I have no idea where I’ll be staying along the way in Europe). In the spirit of Daniel’s wisdom, I’m working on embracing “here’s to now,” which for me means trying to give everything I can without losing myself. For now, I’ll put my concerns, and my backpack, to the side and eagerly await this next adventure. Por Vida!