SO THERE I WAS, hiking the desert backcountry in Big Bend National Park last January when I stopped for a snack. It was the perfect time to hike the high desert, cool and clear—perfect backpacking.
The War Department led the way, heading for a natural spring we’d read about. She set the pace and was in her element of fresh air, sunshine, and exercise.
It was killing me.
I swung the pack off my shoulder and plopped it onto a boulder. I studied the backbreaker for a minute, thinking back to a hike in the Tetons in the early 1980s. Back then the technology was exterior aluminum frames that tended to straighten your spine whether you wanted it vertical or not. The shoulder pads weren’t bad, but the waist belt came directly from the patent for chastity belts.
Don’t ask me how I know.
Today’s backpacks even look different, more like the rucksack style back in the day. Those old rucksacks were nothing more than a giant purse any woman could have filled in a matter of minutes.
I thought about the MOLLE pack I wanted to buy, but decided against it. I was afraid someone would take me for a military wanna-be. They’re cool, though, and the idea of attaching individual pouches to the exterior has more appeal than you might imagine. That feature became even more relevant as I dug through my pack for a snack.
There wasn’t one, or at least there wasn’t one readily available. My REI pack has two outside pockets, but neither contained snacks of any kind, though there were several PowerBar wrappers left over from previous outings.
Stomach growling, I licked the inside of one elderly wrapper and unzipped the top pouch which is truly designed more for carrying glasses or shades. Instead, it was full of wires for various electronics, a phone charger adapter for car cigarette lighters, though no one has a lighter any longer, earplugs, a mini-jack umbilical cord to plug my IPod into the truck’s radio, three solid quarters, and an empty Welches Fruit Snack package.
I squeezed it and found a petrified gummy.
“I need to clean this out before we leave next time.” My voice startled me in the silence as I talked to myself. “Looks like the technological world has taken over even here.”
Popping the gummy into my mouth, I waited for this mysterious food group to rehydrate, or at least soften, while I unzipped the main front compartment. No snacks were in evidence, but an early excavation revealed a mini-towel for cleaning glasses, and one wrinkled blue tee shirt that said, “When a Man Tires of Women, He Can Always Hunt Ducks.”
I never wear that one around the War Department, in fact, she thinks it went into the ragbag for washing the truck…and it did, but I rescued it for hiking emergencies.
Hey wait! This was an emergency, in one sense.
Just for grins, I exchanged my nylon shirt for that one and enjoyed the feel of a soft cotton shirt that has been washed a thousand times. It seemed a little tight in the waist, but probably from shrinkage.
Stomach growling, I sipped water from a bottle that rides in a mesh pocket on the side, and recalled the old days when we had to buy special bottles with little red plugs to carry water. The plugs kept them from leaking, or at least that’s what the guy at the backpack store told me back in 1979.
It always leaked, resulting in slightly damp and mildewed shirts, pants, and socks.
A pleasant surprise arose when I found a fresh pair of socks. It was a real treat, so changed them for those I was wearing.
They felt glorious.
Leaving my hiking boots off, I continued the excavation.
“Huzzah!” My exultation echoed off the nearby rocky ledges. “My binoculars!”
I held them up and examined my surroundings. Yep, they worked, because I could see the War Department waiting in the shade of a mesquite about 100 yards away. She always outpaces me on upward slopes.
I replaced the binoculars and found a large case with my spare specs. I don’t go anywhere without a spare set of glasses, and extra nose pieces.
Digging deeper, I discovered the bottoms to the Frog Tog rain gear I’d borrowed from Wrong Willie a hundred years earlier. I pulled them on as an experiment. They stopped halfway between my ankles and knees, because he’s several inches shorter.
I dug deeper into the pack. “Huzzah!” It was a soft cotton scarf that I use for a headband to keep the sweat out of my eyes. Holding opposing corners of the shortened Texas flag, I whirled it into a long roll and tied it into place.
By that time I was halfway down to the bottom in my search for snacks. I came up with a lockback knife, a compass, magnesium fire starter, one stick of fatback kindling, and a small hand ax…
…I wondered where that went…
And a cigar in a protective tube. I stuck the cigar into the corner of my mouth thinking that all I needed now was a card game.
“Woo hoo! My Zippo!” The lighter had gone dry, but that didn’t matter because I had windproof matches that are sticks from hell when lit, and there it was.
It was the true gustatory abomination called a Pumpkin Seed Flax energy bar the War Department stuck in there. Hungry beyond imagination, I bit off half of one chunk. It did not taste like pumpkin, or any seed I’ve ever eaten. In fact, it tasted like old, dusty sawdust.
I choked it down, and I was thinking about eating the cigar when the War Department re-appeared. “What in the world…!!!???”
I rose to my full height amid the contents of my pack strewn on the trail, the empty snack packages, my spilled water bottle gurgling into the sand, the damp socks drying on a rock, and my new, updated apparel, the rain pants that probably looked like knickers.
“Have you ever heard of such a thing?”
Her eyes widened. “What?”
Email Reavis Wortham at [email protected]