Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Definitions: Dirtbagging

By one definition, this is super ultralight backpacking, or ultralight backpacking, or possibly, backpacking. Period.

What is this backpacking anyway?

Nobody cares. I mean why?

It sounds like the kind of thing the lower classes might take to, doesn't it? Either for work, or for entertainment while inebriated, but really — is that something people like us really need to know about? Would we want to? Which leaves out dirtbagging entirely.

This cannot be good, this dirt-bagging. Dirt. Dirty. Bagging. Bags. It must be. Something the homeless do. It must be.

The definition here, give me a moment to find it...oh wait. This is distressing. We have several. Several definitions. Imagine.

Well, there is that super duper ultra light backpacking definition. Whatever backpacking is, let alone that flock of mindlessly flapping adjectives: the duper, the super, the light, the ultra. Which leaves backpacking itself at the core. That could be it. Do you want to hear more?


You are persistent, aren't you?

All right — thorough. Inquisitive. A bit kinky perhaps? No, not kinky then, simply interested in learning. No matter where that leads you.

Well, dirtbagging is that residual hard crusty presence left when everything inessential is removed from backpacking, whether by being rubbed off, torn away, stolen, through decay, through forgetfulness, or because it all was simply discarded by some smartass who wanted to make a point.

Despite the obvious connotations of the term dirtbagging, you are allowed to wash if you think that's fun. Not everyone does. But it is allowed.

What isn't allowed is up to you, but mostly dirtbagging is a frame of mind. It is thinking about doing without. First think about going without a roof and doors and windows and the invigorating sound of neighborly lawnmowers at 7 a.m. each Sunday, and then you do go without, exiting the house into the out-of-doors, and then once there you do without the rest. Without the expected things. Like a tent, a stove, underwear, more than a nibble in the way of food.


Maybe you decide to do without a sleeping bag (or that bar of soap, or even a lightweight picture of a bar of soap with the margins neatly trimmed back). And without (much) food. Did we say that already? Can't hurt to repeat it for effect.

And when it gets dark, and you're all alone out there (Because who — really — would go with you?) you sleep in a pile of leaves next to a fire, for example. This is one option. Not one that is often tried more than once by any single person because fire. Because leaves. Because dumb, eh?

OK, really, this is getting scary, people.

Let's go to an alternate definition of dirtbagging, which is stripping backpacking down to a reasonable list of only essential essentials to freshen up the experience by approaching it from another angle which requires the using your wits more than your wallet kind of thing. Kind of.

Kind of cool, but only if you're smart about it. And remember — if you've left the sleeping bag at home and you are out there in a pile of leaves, there is no way to get away from the mice. Mice may not know how to work tent zippers but they sure do know everything there is about how to swarm through a pile of leaves, homing in on that distinctive aroma of noodles and peanut butter left on your lips after supper, no matter how meager that supper actually was.

Too bad you left the soap at home then, innit, Mr. Live-By-Your-Wits-But-Dumber-Than-A-Mouse? (They're all guys you know, the ones who try this.)

— specimen —

False Dirtbagger. (Not dirty enough. Too wimpy.)

So let's call it a Dirtbagger Wannabee and explore some of its characteristics then, 'K? Just for the hell of it.

  • Hat found on trail one day.
  • Facial fungus. Seems to be permanent now.
  • Homemade 10-ounce pack.
  • Duct tape holding pack together.
  • Doofus-level shoulder strap pocket (also homemade).
  • Homemade shirt.
  • No pants. Wears cheap bicycling shorts.
  • Underwear (not shown because of that restraining order).
  • Amateur-level (under $200) trekking poles.
  • Leg scabs from lost mouse fights.
  • Limited ability to fake looking happy about it all.
  • Dirt (displayed in background for dramatic effect).

Photo from 2004. Reality may have gotten even uglier since. If encountered, approach cautiously if at all. Try to remain upwind. You have been warned.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Definitions: Confluence

Remember what you do if you find a fork in the road? The same thing you do if you find a box full of hundred-dollar bills: You take it.

Likewise, you might be hiking along, happy as a fly on a tuna-salad sandwich, and there you are, face to face with a stream. Worse, a confluence of streams. Even worse yet, a confluence of two equal-sized streams. This is a fork, and if you are a dummy, then you are "forked". Officially-speaking.

So then what?

Time for lunch!

Sit down, shoo the flies off your food, eat, think about it and see if things get better while you wait. In case they don't, remember that no matter what else happens, you're still going to die, and that maybe today is your day. You know? Maybe today. It could be worse.

At least you're out in the woods where everything is all clean and pure and where there's no sound except the flowing water some fly buzzing and a little faint whimpering. (From you, of course.) Hey — not completely terrible. We all snivel from time to time, and at least no one can hear you, or see that funny face you make when you cry. So there's that.

And if you don't die right now, right away, you can kill time (literally, for once) by thinking. By thinking about what a confluence is, by remembering that a confluence is a meeting of streams — usually two streams, but maybe more — that a confluence is a meeting of streams at the place where they flow into each other, which is how streams do it.

So if you're still not dead yet, then try walking some more. That might be enough. Or try to get across these here streams. To do that? To cross? Go detouring upstream and take them one at a time, since each stream is smaller by itself than the combined flow after the streams have joined together. Maybe.

Unless this is the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, in which case a larger detour is in order. Unless you want to die right away, but there's no hurry for that. Death will get you when it wants you, no rush. This isn't so bad then, the detour thing. In case you were hiking in the Rockies or the Cascades, you're probably several hundred miles off course by now anyway, so enjoy it, enjoy your detour. See the country.

Stop for supper somewhere nice. Then float downstream and maybe take in Mardi Gras, and continue, and see what happens after that. Sluice. Just sluice it, sluice along, get nice and sluicy. Flow together with the waters as the waters do flow. Even a dummy can do that so it should be easy for you.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Definitions: Amenities

Amenities were prehistoric sea creatures belonging to a Swiss Protestant group of the subclass Ammonoidea in the class Cephalopoda, phylum Mollusca.

Now extinct, they were related to the modern genus Nautilus, which inhabits a chambered shell that is curved like a coiled snake, and were influenced by the teachings and tradition of Menno Simons (1496-1561).

Members of the Anabaptist tradition, they could pump air into empty chambers in their shells and float at different ocean depths, possibly at will, while desultorily scavenging for descending bits of organic matter, upon which they subsisted.

Committed to nonviolence, nonviolent resistance, reconciliation, and pacifism, amenities died out during some especially testy religious conflicts accompanied by the celestial bombardment known as the K-Pg extinction event, though a few small groups are rumored to have survived and migrated to America by way of Alsace, England, and Russia, and to still be living quiet, discreet, and inoffensive lives in shallow ponds.

Another definition of this word is simply Fun Stuff — anything that enhances your experience or comfort. Anything usually referring to legal or mostly legal or at least partly legal substances, events, foods, or people. This includes but is not limited to clean underwear, regarded by some thru-hikers as only a sissified affectation.

Things you might do alone while naked are not discussed here.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Definitions: Campground Host

Your non-official buddy.

A campground host is an unpaid, volunteer "eyes and ears" at a campground, providing the paid, non-volunteer rangers and bureaucrats with information about what you are up to, or what they think they suspect you might get up to if you are left unsupervised too long. Like what facilities you use, and how you use them, if you sighted any wildlife and what you tried to do to it (or them, and when, etc.).

And safety stuff. Did you go around reading a suspicious number of bulletins? Well, maybe your campground host took notes.

And what about the time you ended up with your head and shoulders stuck in that bear-proof garbage can trying to get your car keys back? Thought nobody saw you? Thought you got out of it without embarrassing yourself, didn't you?

But betcha they grabbed a photo of your butt up in the air, and got that photo pinned to the wall in the main office by now. Betcha. Maybe they even throw darts at it. (Photo credit: camp host.)

If you want to give up backpacking and join the other side, you get to wear a Volunteer-In-Parks (VIP) uniform, and will be reimbursed for it if you are a good toad.

Sure, there is a training period, so they expect you to put in at least three months doing that, and you have to be on call in all weather, and at all times of the day or night, and they won't let you carry a gun or handle money, but there are probably ways around that, and you might get to see some interesting people in their underwear.

You'll have to disseminate information about campground regulations (boring) and food storage regulations (boring). But you can make up plenty of stuff about bears and mountain lions, backcountry camping, hiking, fishing, road conditions, poisonous flying lizards and so on.

As an experienced backpacker you probably already know enough to ad lib plausible stories about any of these, at any time. And more.

And if a family of six from Denmark suddenly packs up one evening and scrams back to the old country because of what you told them — about mountain vampire mice and how they hide in sleeping bags and chew off toes and such — well hey. It's not like you're going to see them again, is it?

And you get to keep the uniform. Could be a babe magnet.

Keep in mind that the word "host" originally meant army, and "guest" originally meant enemy. So the host is kind of the lord overseeing all the dangerous strangers, and is expected to act like it.

If you try the volunteer campground host thing and it works for you, well think about joining the Park Service and getting paid for it. Maybe they'll let you carry a gun too. Legally this time.

A uniform and a gun: Babe Magnet Combo special of the week.